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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Voice of America

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 23, 2001 12:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2001 - 12:00 p.m. EDT

(Interview with Alex Belida, Voice of America)

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for joining us on the Voice of America.

Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed.

Q: Appreciate your visit.

Sir, we're now in the third week of military activity in Afghanistan against the al Qaeda network and the Taliban supporters of al Qaeda. Can you give us an assessment so far of how this campaign is going?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's going along about as one would have guessed. It seems to me that it's important to put it in the broader context. This is not simply a military effort. It is an effort of law enforcement, and people are being arrested across the globe. Several hundred people have now been arrested and detained and interrogated. It's an intelligence-gathering effort that, again, goes across the globe. And it also involves the Treasury Departments of coalition countries who have been blocking bank accounts of terrorist networks all across the world.

So the military is a piece of that. And it involves things that one can see and things that one can't see. The bombing obviously of military targets in Afghanistan can be seen on television. On the other hand, things that are taking place on the ground cannot be seen.

Q: Speaking of things that may not be seen at the moment, are we any closer to getting Osama bin Laden today than we were three weeks ago when the military activities began?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't think degrees of closeness -- you know, either you have him or you don't. And if you don't, you don't. And we don't.

Q: Are we close?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know what close means. You don't know that until you accomplished it. It's the kind of a thing that until it happens, one won't know. There's no question but that we have made an effort to see that the al Qaeda organization and the Taliban leadership have not had an easy time of it. That is to say, they are being forced to move quite a bit. They're being forced to watch what they do and be careful. And our goal is to roll up that terrorist network and stop them from killing innocent people.

It's important to say this is not against the Afghan people or against any religion, or against any country even. The Afghan people have been badly treated by the Taliban leadership and by al Qaeda.

Q: Do we have a rough idea of where Osama bin Laden is?

Rumsfeld: You never know until you catch him. You don't believe me. It's a fact. Until it's done, it's not done. Close doesn't count. This isn't horse shoes.

Q: Do we want Osama bin Laden dead? Do we want to capture him? What's the preferred option?

Rumsfeld: The goal is to deal with terrorists and terrorist networks and the countries that are harboring those terrorist networks all across the United States and the world. Al Qaeda, as one example of a terrorist network, has 50 or 60 different cells in 50 or 60 different countries. So it is a big problem. If bin Laden were not around tomorrow, the problem would still be there; the task would still be there. He is one of the leaders there. There are many key people in the Al Qaeda organization.

Q: But he is an important symbol, especially in the United States, given the events of September 11th. People do tend to key in on him as a prime culprit.

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that people do, because the press does. But the reality is he's one person. And our task is to deal with the terrorist networks that cover the globe. And the threat to the American people -- we've lost thousands of people on a vicious attack here in the United States. And the threat that still exists, not just to us -- there were people from dozens of countries killed in the World Trade Center and in the Pentagon of every religion and every race. These people are on the loose [and] are a danger to the world. And it's our task, with very wonderful cooperation from countries across the globe, to find them and to see what they stop terrorizing the world.

Q: There are those who suggest that capturing him and bringing him back for a trial in this country could lead to other terrorist acts on his behalf. It could be a public relations disaster for the United States. I mean do we really want to capture him and bring him back alive?

Rumsfeld: I don't know how I could say it any clearer, that our task is not him. It is the network that he is a part of and all of the people in it and stopping them from killing people. That is what we're trying to do. That is what we're trying to do. That is what other countries are helping us to try to do. And I do not get up in the morning and worry about any one individual. I worry about the terrorist acts that these people have brought to our country and that they are threatening to bring to our country prospectively.

Q: The length of this campaign. You've been asked many times how long it might go on. Secretary of State Powell seemed to indicate a few days ago that it might be wise, it might be in U.S. interests and coalition interests to have the military campaign concluded by the onset of the Afghan winter. Is that something you agree with?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think that would be a misunderstanding of his words. The reality is that this is going to take years. And how long the military part of the Afghanistan piece will take, no one can know. We do know that it will take a long time to deal with the problem of terrorism. It's spread across the globe. And my guess is it won't end with a bang; it'll end with a whimper. It'll just stop at some point because we will have put so much pressure on terrorists and on terrorist networks and the people that harbor and facilitate and finance them that at some point it'll be just drying up their support and they'll disappear and people will no longer think it's in their interest to do what they're doing and no longer think it's in their interest to help people to do what they were doing.

Q: General Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, has indicated that he'd like to see at least a halt in the military activity during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan for Muslims, starting in mid-November. Is this something you'd consider?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think it's important to be sensitive to the interests and concerns of a variety of countries in the region. And certainly, Pakistan has been wonderfully supportive and helpful in this effort against terrorism.

On the other hand, history is replete with instances where Muslims have fought Muslims and Muslims have fought non-Muslims throughout all of the various holy days, including Ramadan. And it is also clear that in a number of instances, wars by Muslims have started during Ramadan. And it is very clear that the Al Qaeda and the Taliban do not stop during Ramadan. They kept on for the last several years fighting the various tribes in the region.

So it seems to me that we, all of us, have to be sensitive to concerns of people. On the other hand, we have to be concerned about the fact that these terrorists are loose, they need to be rolled up, they need to be stopped. And every day and every week and every month that they're still out there puts at risk not just people in our country, but people from across the globe. And we have an obligation to balance those risks. And my impression is that stopping these terrorists before they use even still more powerful capabilities, which they clearly have the ability to gain access to, is a pretty important assignment, and we'd best keep at it.

Q: Now, there continue to be demonstrations from time to time in support of Osama bin Laden in some countries. Are you concerned that our message is getting out over there, that this is not a war against Islam, but is targeting very specific individuals?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, there were demonstrations long before September 11th in most of these countries. To connect any demonstration today to what the United States and its coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan I think may be a misreading of the situation.

The second, yes, we obviously are concerned. We know that the United States of America is the country that threw Iraq out of Kuwait, a Muslim country, and saved them from being occupied by a foreign invader, a vicious dictator. We know that the United States and our coalition partners helped Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo and provided humanitarian assistance in Somalia. We also know that the United States is the largest food donor before September 11th in Afghanistan, because the Taliban rule has been so vicious on the Taliban -- on the Afghan people, and that President Bush has since announced another $320 million food program. And we're delivering food rations every day to starving Afghans.

Now is it true that that message does not get out as effectively as one would hope? That's true. We see a lot of television, listen to a lot of radio and see a lot of new reports to the effect that people are demonstrating and contending that their demonstrating because of the bombing that's taking place in Afghanistan. We know of certain knowledge that the Taliban are lying through their teeth, that they have contended that they've shot down helicopters, which is not true. They're lying to the Afghan people claiming that the food we're delivering is unclean, which is a flat lie. It's been very carefully handled. And they have lied about civilian casualties day after day after day.

Now, what does one do when those lies are perpetrated by the Taliban? One has to think about who's saying something. And in this case, the people that are saying it are people who have repressed their people, done terrible damage to the women of that country; don't allow them to study anything; don't allow them to learn anything; deny them medical attention. This is a group of people who have been particularly vicious to the Afghan people.

Q: You mentioned casualties. And with a special forces operation a few days ago and the prospect of perhaps more operations involving our forces on the ground in Afghanistan, Americans will be very nervous about casualties. You and other administration officials have talked about the fact this is going to be a lengthy campaign, somewhat open-ended, in fact. Are you worried about the fact that if Americans do start to take casualties that public support for this effort may deteriorate?

Rumsfeld: No, I'm not. I worry about losing lives, because these are wonderful young men and women who put their lives at risk for the American people. But the Americans -- the support of the American people will be steady and firm and understands that we've already lost thousands of lives. And our alternative -- either the United States acquiesces and becomes terrorized and alters our way of life and gives up all of our freedom, we systematically give up our freedom and our ability to function, or we take this battle to the enemy and to the terrorists. And we must do that.

Now, will some lives be lost? You bet. We already have lost two fine young men. Will there be more? You bet there will. This is dangerous business. And there may very well be lives lost in the United States from terrorist acts as we go forward. But the alternative, the choice we have either is we change the way we live or we change the way the terrorists are living. And we simply must do that.

Q: Let me switch gears for a minute to the Northern Alliance. Are we more actively cooperating, coordinating our attacks with the Northern Alliance? And would you like to see rebels of the Northern Alliance now advance on Kabul, the capital?

Rumsfeld: We are certainly cooperating with the Northern Alliance factions and with others in the country to the extent we can. We offer assistance, food assistance. We offer other kinds of supply. And we offer to cooperate by using air power to assist in targeting the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that the anti-Taliban and anti-Al Qaeda elements on the ground in Afghanistan are trying to defeat. We hope they prevail. We are -- we are anxious to have them effectively conquer and defeat and expel the foreign invaders, the al Qaeda, and to defeat and throw out the Taliban, which has been such a brutal regime for that country. And we will -- we will do almost everything we can to be helpful.

Q: So if they can move into Kabul right away, they should?

Rumsfeld: I think that -- you bet. Anyone could do anything they want. We don't control what's going on on the ground. We're trying to be helpful to the people on the ground. And we would like to see every city held by Taliban taken.

Q: But at the same time, there are efforts to put together some sort of a coalition government. Is the Alliance ready to assume that sort of responsibility, to move in and sort of set up a government?

Rumsfeld: Well, what's the alternative? The alternative is that we hold back and allow the terrorists to continue to kill thousands of American citizens and thousands of deployed forces and thousands of people in other countries. What do you mean "Are we ready?" Are we ready to stop the terrorists? You bet we are. Does that mean that someone may occupy some city in that country? Of course it does. Does it mean that there ultimately is going to be some sort of a post-Taliban government? Of course there will be. Are we hopeful as a country that it's a good one? Yes. Are we hopeful that it's constructive from the standpoint of the Afghanistan people? You bet we hope it's that, that kind of a government. Are we delighted that people, other countries are working together with different organizations to try to see what might be done to be helpful to the elements within Afghanistan? But in the last analysis, the people of Afghanistan are going to decide what their government's going to look like. They live there. And these other countries don't live there.

Q: Would we have a problem if that new government included so-called moderate members of the Taliban, if there are such -- ?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's a strange combination, "moderate" with "Taliban." I don't know that it's a good fit. The way they've behaved, it seems to me they've been so repressive and killed so many people and starved so many people and been so abusive to so many people, using the word "moderate" is a reach.

Q: Is it a complication, though? On the one hand, you are pursuing a military campaign, and, at the same time, the United States has to look forward to the future of an Afghan government. It seems somewhat contradictory in some way?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, it's not just the United States. It's a series of countries. There's dozens and dozens of countries that are helping in this anti-terrorism effort. And you're right. You want to leave it better than you found it. It would be almost impossible to leave it worse than we found it. Taliban's going to go. Al Qaeda's going to go. They're going to be gone. It's just a matter of time. How long, I don't know. And when they're gone, something else will be there. And we can be absolutely certain it will be better. There're a lot of countries that are anxious to be helpful. There're a lot of people who are anxious to provide humanitarian assistance, as we are. But in the last analysis, people who live there year in and year out are going to have to be the ones to figure out what that government's going to look like. And there isn't any template that could be dropped down on it.

I know I'm not smart enough to know exactly how they ought to be arranged as a government to lead that country. I don't know anyone I know who's smart enough to know that. It's going to be a process. And clearly the United States ought to be helpful, and other countries are trying to be helpful. And we wish them well at it.

But our task, our immediate task is to see how fast we can eliminate the al Qaeda and the Taliban from that country and provide the kind of humanitarian assistance simultaneously that can helpful to the Afghan people, and then, along with other nations, do what we can to create a stable situation for a period while they figure out how they're going to govern themselves.

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: You bet. Happy to be here.

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