Wednesday, November 7, 2001 - 6 P.M. EST
(Interview with Jim Lehrer for PBS NewsHour.)
Lehrer: A month ago today, the United States and Britain launched the military campaign in Afghanistan. With us now for an extended Newsmaker interview, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Lehrer: A month ago, how long does it seem to you?
Rumsfeld: A lot longer.
Lehrer: Yeah. In general terms what has been accomplished in this month?
Rumsfeld: Well, if you go back to the September 11th, almost two months ago, the first phase was necessary was to position forces in the region so that you had the ability to begin the operation in Afghanistan. Of course that involves a great deal, moving a lot of people, a lot of equipment, getting over flight rights, basing rights from various countries, negotiations and fashioning a plan.
The second month, as you point out, is one month ago now, on October 7th, we began the bombing campaign with coalition forces. What has been accomplished since then has been basically this: We have the first phase of it was to eliminate the air defense capability to the extent you're able to. That means radars, it means jet aircraft that they have, MiGs, some of their helicopters and transports -- also to address the SAM -- surface to air -- missile threat.
You cannot really deal with the man portables surface to air missiles that are of a much shorter range. They still have a good many of those and they probably have larger surface to air missiles. But for the most part we're now able to operate over the country in the air at altitude.
Lehrer: But helicopters still --
Rumsfeld: Exactly, still at risk. And from the manned portable surface to air missiles, so that was the first phase. The second phase was to attack the terrorist training camps, the large military targets -- when I say large, medium sized military targets because there's nothing. They don't have an army or a navy or an air force as such to tackle. So it's a totally new situation. There's no road map. This has been never been done before.
The next phase has been to work with the forces on the ground that oppose the Taliban and oppose the al Qaeda who are really people from the Middle East who aren't from that country.
Lehrer: The al Qaeda people, Osama bin Laden's people.
Rumsfeld: Exactly. And to go after them, to assist the opposition forces that are opposing those people -- and we're doing that by going after their tanks, their armored personnel carriers, their people, their soldiers. And that process has gotten a lot better because we have been able to put some forces on the ground who are assisting with communications, they're assisting with targeting.
As those people got into the various factions on the ground, the targeting has improved and we've been able to do a much better job of destroying Taliban soldiers and equipment.
Lehrer: These are our people you're talking about?
Rumsfeld: U.S. forces.
Lehrer: Let's go through the Taliban now. Is the Taliban still in charge of Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Not really. It never really was a government. It's more of a movement. But given the fact that we are putting so much pressure on them, we're drying up money in bank accounts, we're arresting people around the world for -- that are al Qaeda connected. And we are bombing.
Forces on the ground are pressing forward somewhat. And we're creating a situation where life is not easy for the Taliban or for the al-Qaeda. That means that they're really not functioning as a government, as such. There's still -- they're still a force to be contended with. They've got thousands of troops.
Lehrer: How many thousand?
Rumsfeld: They have tanks.
Lehrer: How many thousand?
Rumsfeld: No way to know.
Lehrer: 40, 50 thousand they claim.
Rumsfeld: Probably in that range.
Lehrer: Armed, trained people?
Rumsfeld: These are fighters, you bet. Most of the people that are left are fighters. Think of the Soviets pounded that country. These countries -- These factions have been fighting against each other for years. It's a situation where the people who don't want to fight have pretty much left.
Lehrer: Now what about tanks and armaments?
Rumsfeld: They have tanks.
Lehrer: And good ones that work.
Rumsfeld: You bet. They have tanks that move and shoot; they have armored personnel carriers. They have artillery.
Lehrer: When you started a month ago, you had some information about the Taliban. What have you learned about the Taliban in the course of this month that you did not know going in? What's the most important thing?
Rumsfeld: I guess one thing, it was unclear to me -- and I think to most people -- we knew that the Taliban had invited in the al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and the foreigners from the Middle East and that they were harboring those terrorists.
We knew that the al Qaeda was giving money to the Taliban, and it was not clear to me the extent to which they were philosophically and ideologically or religiously connected to al Qaeda. It still isn't, but the fact that they're hanging on and linking themselves so directly with al Qaeda, refused every offer to turn them in, every suggestion that they throw them out of their country, suggests that they're pretty well together now. They are one. That's fine. They both have to go.
Lehrer: You thought it might be possible to split them off, right?
Rumsfeld: Well, we made that proposal as you may recall.
Lehrer: I do.
Rumsfeld: It was unclear how they would respond because there was pressure in Taliban against Omar to -- that argued that we don't want those people that aren't from our country. We don't want those terrorists.
Lehrer: What have you learned about them in terms their tenacity, in terms of their toughness, in terms of their willing to fight to the last man as they claim they're willing to do?
Rumsfeld: Well, not much. I haven't learned much. These people were that way against the Soviets.
Lehrer: You already knew that.
Rumsfeld: You bet. They have been fighting each other. Those that are left are fighters. That's what they do. When they get up in the morning.
Lehrer: Do you feel like you're against a smart enemy, a lucky enemy, a fanatic? How do you characterize them?
Rumsfeld: Well, certainly, a large fraction of the ones that are left have to be of the bin Laden type, attitudinally, philosophically. And if you watch some of the tapes he's made and read some of his comments, it's chilling. I mean this is a man who rules everyone out who doesn't agree with him. And he's willing to kill as many tens of thousands of people as he's able to find.
Lehrer: Have you had an occasion where something happened on the ground as a result of something we did and you said, oh, my goodness, the Taliban did something smart that you hadn't expected them to do that gave you an insight into their ability to function as an enemy?
Rumsfeld: They've been -- we began with the recognition that people that were left in that country were survivors. They are people who live in a rough country, a hostile environment, difficult winters, a lot of mountains up North. And they have fought against the Soviets and threw them out. They fought against each other.
They've been in many cases quite violent to each other in terms of cruelty. And they also know their country well. They've got lots of caves, lots of tunnels. They use horseback and mule and donkeys to move around. They've been able to find ways to re-supply themselves. But they're not invincible.
There's a big difference between this situation and the Soviets. The Soviets, they had a -- the United States and others against them. There's no one today who is supporting Taliban. I mean the rest of the world is with us and against al Qaeda.
Lehrer: What can you tell us about -- there have been reports now that the Taliban is putting not only troops but also military equipment in residential areas, in mosques and all of that.
Rumsfeld: Yes, sir.
Lehrer: Hoping that we will bomb them and there will be widespread civilian casualties. Is that true?
Rumsfeld: It is true. There's no question but what they are doing is they're taking their tanks and their artillery and their various command-and-control centers, they're using mosques, they're using hospitals, schools and residential areas.
And it's having several effects. One is they have -- it's a win-win for them. Either we don't bomb them because they're in a mosque --
Rumsfeld: -- in which case they're safe. Or if we do bomb them, they bring the press in there with a bus and their cameras and take pictures and say what terrible people the westerners are who are doing this. The third effect, however, is interesting. There's no question but that there are Afghan people who don't like it.
They don't like the fact that they're being put at risk, their hospitals, their schools, their mosques, their residential areas by people who don't care if they're killed. At some point they're going to -- the Taliban and the al Qaeda are going to be functioning in a more hostile environment. And the people of Afghanistan, I think, must know that we're not against them, that it's not against a race or a religion or a people. It's against terrorists.
Lehrer: Am I wrong, isn't that -- what they're doing against international law to put military -- any kind of military asset in a civilian environment?
Rumsfeld: Oh, these people couldn't care less about international law. I mean, they killed 5,000 people in the United States without batting an eye. If they had had weapons of mass destruction, they would have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Lehrer: No question in your mind?
Rumsfeld: No, not a bit.
Lehrer: How is this affecting our strategy? In other words, are we still bombing these sites even though we know there may be civilians in there? How is it affecting our decision-making?
Rumsfeld: Well, what we're doing is we're trying to put pressure on them everywhere, and we have a variety of weapons and weapon platforms, and munitions, some of which are very, very precise.
Bombs tend not to be. You can have an errant bomb. For example, our precision- guided weapons might be 85, 90 percent accurate. We can tell where they're going to go within -- except for the last 10 percent.
And then you might have an errant weapon that goes to the wrong place. We have, however, some platforms where they're 100 percent accurate for all practical purposes and very powerful. So, we're trying to find ways to use more of that for the areas where we have to be quite precise.
Lehrer: Because they have them in these civilian areas, right?
Lehrer: How many -- what is the total US casualty figure now?
Rumsfeld: There has been no one killed by the al Qaeda or the Taliban. We've had one helicopter that was in Pakistan standing by to go in and perform a rescue mission, were it to have been necessary, which it was not. And they landed in an area where the dust storm was so severe that the helicopter tipped over and two were killed.
And, as I recall, two were injured out of that helicopter crew. We've had several -- when you use the word casualty I assume you mean not just dead but also wounded.
Rumsfeld: If you go down to Fort Bragg where they have parachute drops in a perfectly controlled situation, when it's over, if you drop 100 people, you're going to have X number of broken ankles, X number of scratches from landings. So when we've parachuted people in, we've had roughly that number.
We had a couple of -- two people who broke bones in their feet. One broke a finger. On one special op, they used some explosives to break in to a building in the southern portion of Afghanistan, and some of the fragmentation from materials that the building was made out of, I don't know if it was wood or plaster or mud, came and hit some people and very minor, minor scratches and wounds.
We received light fire on that mission. So the casualties have been quite minimal. But these people are at risk. And there are going to be people killed. Let there be no doubt about it.
Lehrer: How many Taliban have died so far?
Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. I don't have a number. There's no way I could prove it so I suppose I shouldn't give it. I see these reports come across my desk every day, twice a day. And the numbers are, you know, 20 here, 40 there, 12 here, 6 here. It just keeps adding up day after day after day.
Lehrer: Isn't it important to know how you're doing in terms of killing the enemy? No?
Rumsfeld: I think there's other ways you can measure than body count. You need to know what you're starting with. And that's very difficult in Afghanistan. It's very difficult to know the precise number of MiG aircraft, the precise number of helicopters, the precise number of tanks.
These things are hidden, they're buried, they're in tunnels, they're all over the place. So it's nothing wrong with counting -- and we do; we've got things that we track every day -- but, no, I don't think that's what's determinative.
I think what we need to do is put pressure on their bank accounts. We need to arrest them all across the world. We are. We're up in the hundreds now of people who have been arrested and interrogated. The intelligence we get out of that is terribly important.
Lehrer: But are we into the thousands in terms of dead Taliban fighters?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I would doubt it. I don't know that. I couldn't say it.
Lehrer: What about civilian casualties on the ground?
Rumsfeld: Modest. Very, very few.
Lehrer: What does that mean?
Rumsfeld: You always feel terrible when it happens. We know of one instance where there were three or four who were killed and several wounded. The Taliban, of course, are not telling the truth. They lie. And they've got a report this morning that was amusing.
They said so far they had killed 95 Americans since this started. They haven't killed any. What they do is there will be an attack in an area outside of town or on the periphery of the village. They'll go in and bring stretchers from a clinic, plant people there, bring in the press, have pictures taken and contend that we had done it.
If you think about it, there's ordinance coming from four locations. It's coming from the air where we drop it. It's coming from the ground up where they shoot back. Of course all that -- all of that ordinance ends up some place, and it kills people and it hurts things. And then there's people on the ground, the opposition forces, shooting at the Taliban and the Taliban shooting back.
So you've got four different sources of ordinance flying around. Of course, the contention always is that it is us. I don't believe there's ever in history been an effort that has been this precise.
Lehrer: Why are you being so careful?
Rumsfeld: Well, for several reasons. We have nothing against the Afghan people. They have been just treated terribly by the Taliban. There are millions of them starving. As winter comes you just have to -- your heart has to go out to them.
The second reason is because we don't want to kill civilians. We just don't, so we make an effort not to.
Third, if you kill a lot of civilians, the people inside Afghanistan will believe you're not discriminating and that you are against the people of Afghanistan and instead of defecting and leaving Taliban and leaving al Qaeda, they're going to be more supportive and they're going to be against the United States and the coalition forces. And we don't want that.
And, fourth, there are a lot of Muslims in the world. To the extent you behave in a way that suggests that you don't really care about whether or not you're killing soldiers and people that are terrorists or civilians, you just don't care, they then take that aboard and it makes life difficult for countries that are supporting us that have large Muslim populations.
Now it's not true. The United States supported Kuwait. We supported Bosnia. We fought in Kosovo, we've been -- humanitarian assistance in Somalia -- 170 million, the biggest food donor out of any country in the world for Afghanistan before September 11th.
We are not against the Muslim people. We're not against Islam. This has nothing to do with that. It has to do with terrorists who are butchering people around the world. Mass murderers.
Lehrer: Osama bin Laden, is he still alive?
Rumsfeld: I would think so.
Lehrer: In Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: I think so.
Lehrer: You think so?
Rumsfeld: Um-hum. He does not carry a locator around to assist us.
Lehrer: As a practical matter, can this war on terrorism, no matter how long it lasts, if that man is still alive when it's over, can it --
Rumsfeld: We'll find him.
Lehrer: You'll find him?
Lehrer: It is on the list of important things.
Rumsfeld: Sure. On the other hand, he could show up today dead and I'd be delighted but al Qaeda would still exist. He has a large organization. It's well financed. He's got a lot of key lieutenants. And it would not end things, nor would Omar end things, the head of the Taliban.
Lehrer: Is Osama bin Laden still running al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: Oh, sure.
Lehrer: And in a very effective way?
Rumsfeld: You really never know until sometime later. Of course effectiveness --
Lehrer: What does that mean?
Rumsfeld: What's it mean? How many people you're killing? How many people have you killed today? Is that the report card for al Qaeda? I suppose it is.
Lehrer: What have you done to al Qaeda, what has the bombing done to al Qaeda's ability to function in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: It's hurt it.
Lehrer: It's hurt it -- in what way?
Rumsfeld: And around the world. The president's program being so broadly based and being financial and economic and law enforcement as well as military overt and military covert, the pressure that's been put on that network around the world is substantial.
We have enough information to know that all the arrests that have been made have disrupted terrorist attempts. We know that the intelligence we're getting from countries all across the globe is helping us run down people who we then arrest and interrogate. We're drying up bank accounts as you reported earlier today.
Lehrer: But we also just reported Tom Ridge saying there's always -- there's still an imminent possibility of another terrorist attack by these people. So something -- I mean they're still functioning, are they not?
Rumsfeld: Of course. Are they functioning as efficiently as they had been previously? No. Are they still there across the globe? You bet. They're in 40, 50, 60 countries, just al Qaeda alone, that one network is out there. And there are countries that harbor and foster and facilitate or at least tolerate that kind of behavior.
Lehrer: There have been a lot of reports that while, yes, the bombing has destroyed a lot of these terrorist camps, these training camps in Afghanistan, there weren't any people in them. In other words the terrorists had all gone by the time we got around to bombing them. Is that correct?
Rumsfeld: Not quite. But there's no question but that by the first bomb went down, people left targets that were likely targets. You know, they're survivors. On the other hand, we've been rooting them out and finding them and killing them.
Lehrer: And? I mean killing them and, you know, just by -- you mean by bombing.
Rumsfeld: By bombing and shooting.
Lehrer: Bombing and shooting.
Rumsfeld: You bet.
Lehrer: The Northern Alliance -- are they ready for a major offensive against the Taliban?
Rumsfeld: I guess we really won't know until they move. But they have capabilities. We've been providing some assistance. We've got Special Forces on the ground with them that have been assisting them with re-supplies, of winter gear and food and ammunition -- targeting, most importantly, so that we can pinpoint where their opposition is.
And it has significantly improved their capability. At what point they'll decide that their capability, relative to the opposition, is such that they're willing to move, as they now are near Mazar-e Sharif today and yesterday, when they're going to go against Tahlequah, when they're going to go against Kabul, we'll just have to see.
But I think that - I think that their circumstance has been notably strengthened.
Lehrer: You said we'll have to see. We're not involved in making those decisions with them?
Rumsfeld: Well, we've got handfuls of people on the ground and they've got thousands. They live there. These are people who have survived. These are people who have fought each other. These are people who have been on both sides from time to time.
This isn't the civil war where there's a line and people are like this. This is a way of life for these people. Sure, we're involved. Sure, we give them advice. The judgment as to when a field commander for the Northern Alliance says, "okay, today is the day, we're moving," that's that person's decision. Now, we can --
Lehrer: He's going to tell you though, right?
Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet and he's going to coordinate with the other units, we hope, and that's the way the world works. On the other hand, if we're supplying ammunition and we're supplying supplies and we're supplying food and we're supplying air cover and air support, we have the ability to provide it or withhold it.
Lehrer: Have you had assurances, has the United States gotten assurances from the Northern Alliance that if there is victory, whether it's in this city or in that city or whatever, that they will not commit massacres? As you know, the history here is checkered. One side wins and they massacre the other side and the other side does the same. What kind of assurances do we have?
Rumsfeld: Well, first we should discuss briefly about the Northern Alliance. It is not an entity. It is a group of factions or elements, forces, with commanders that are affiliated in it one way or another but it's not as though it's the US Army with different divisions.
Second, the commanders compete among themselves to a certain extent from time to time.
And the short answer is that we will certainly be attentive to that. There's no question but that there has been a great deal of brutality in that country. It would be most unfortunate if we provided assistance, they moved forward, defeated the Taliban and then behaved like the Taliban.
Lehrer: You told them that? Has the United States told them that?
Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet. You bet.
Lehrer: If we're going to supply you, we're going to help you, you have to act in a civilized manner in case of victory?
Rumsfeld: That that -- that is our strong recommendation and that certainly it will have an effect on our relationship with you. I think they -- they all want to play a part when this is over. And I think their behavior will affect the part they play.
Lehrer: Is it still part of your strategy that if there is major ground troop combat in Afghanistan between the Taliban and the good guys that those good guys, for the most part on the ground, are not going to be our people or coalition people, they're going to be Northern Alliance and other Afghans who are already there?
Rumsfeld: Certainly, the hope is that first of all, we've not ruled out anything. We have determined -- We are determined to get al Qaeda and the Taliban out of there and to either -- Any way we can.
How that happens remains to be seen. Our first choice, obviously, is to -- is to assist the people who have a stake in that country and encourage them and provide the kinds of assistance so they will be emboldened to go ahead and seize back their country from the people who have taken it over and invited in these foreigners, the al Qaeda, to be there to commit terrorist acts around the globe. That is our first choice.
Lehrer: Are you getting the find of -- kind of military help you need from our coalition partners?
Rumsfeld: You bet. It's been wonderful. The offers of assistance have been terrific. We've got enormous number of countries that have liaison offices in Tampa with Tommy Franks, the combatant commander for this activity in that part of the world. He has been working with people, not just NATO countries but Muslim countries, with Turkey and with Jordan and all kinds of countries. It's just been terrific.
Lehrer: There have been suggestions that you have, you, Donald Rumsfeld, have been reluctant to involve a lot of these coalition military forces in this -- up to this point because you didn't want to affect the decision-making, you didn't want to have a big meeting every time you chose another group of targets or whatever and that the Germans wanted to come in, the French wanted to come in, the Brits wanted to come in and you've been reluctant to come in. Is that true?
Rumsfeld: No, it's not true. The combatant commander, Tommy Franks, General Franks, has that issue before him. And what he has done is he has brought all these people who have offered to participate in. They're there in Tampa, they're coordinated.
The Brits have already been involved in a variety of different ways. There are a number of countries that have ships involved with us. There are people supplying all kinds of assistance, and intelligence sharing, base over flight, basing rights; and we have not used very many US forces on the ground as yet.
So if you have a major ground activity you will see a great many countries involved. The countries -- any country that wants to can participate today by air. The problem is that the -- it requires basing rights on the periphery of the area, unless you have aircraft carriers, which most countries don't.
So getting at that target is very difficult. It is -- we don't have big ports and we don't have big air bases sitting nearby that we can use. So, finding the right way to use coalition forces is -- one thing that we have -- people have offered to replace us elsewhere, for example, to backfill us in, for example, Bosnia or Kosovo.
Lehrer: Tom Friedman, a columnist for the "New York Times," raised some feathers a couple of weeks ago when he wrote a column with a headline on it that said, "We Are Alone." He went through and said, Mr. and Mrs. America, face it. The people who really care the most about -- really care at all about the fact of those 5,000 Americans who died on September 11th are Americans. He went through this list of these Pakistan doing this on this day and all this sort of thing. Is he right about that?
Rumsfeld: He's not wrong in the sense that each country in the world has to make up its own mind as to how concerned it is about this problem first and given the fact that weapons of mass destruction are increasingly available in the world, most countries understand that the danger's big, it's serious, it's real. And it's urgent for us to address this.
Then they have to look at their own circumstance in their neighborhood and make a judgment. If we do this, what's the effect of it? Then they have to look at their capabilities. What can we really do to help? Now, most of them can help by providing intelligence because they have law enforcement capabilities. And this problem is across the globe. Some can help with weapons.
Some have weapons that are usable in this kind of a situation. There are a number of countries that have very fine trained special forces. There are a number of countries that have ships. And the support, oral -- vocal support is also important. I mean, what the president of Pakistan has done is critically important.
Here's a neighboring country that had relations with Taliban that has threats of terrorist acts against it and yet he made a decision to support the United States and has allowed us to participate and to be involved in his country in certain discreet ways which we are doing.
Lehrer: What do you think of the conventional wisdom that's been in the -- some of the writing in the last few days, the last several days, that the support for our military action -- not sympathy for what happened on September 11th but support for our military action -- is beginning to wane because we have not involved more people in what we've been doing?
Rumsfeld: Well, I personally think that Secretary Powell and the president have done a terrific job in forming a set of coalitions, that is to say, countries that will help a whole group on intelligence, a whole group on law enforcement, a whole group on freezing bank accounts, a whole group on providing naval capabilities or over flight capabilities, the first time in history that NATO has stepped up and invoked the attack against one as an attack against all. I think it's been wonderful support that we've received.
And I think that -- I think the impatience you're characterizing is more with the press than it is with the American people. I think the American people understand the truth that the president has said, that this is not going to be fast. It's going to be -- take some time. It is a totally different kind of a conflict. There's no road map for it. There's no silver bullet.
Lehrer: I know you've said this before. E.J. Dionne, a writer in the Washington Post, said wait a minute, Mr. Secretary, it's the conservative Republican writers, not the press, that has been writing saying you guys have been too timid. You've been too slow, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You don't agree with that?
Rumsfeld: There have been a couple of conservative writers --
Lehrer: And military experts, former military people who have said the same thing.
Rumsfeld: I don't have much of a chance to watch television or read papers but most of the military people I've seen on channels have been very supportive and complimentary about the way it's been -- I mean, it's been a month.
Rumsfeld: Think of that. I mean, that's amazing -- to have moved that many people, to fashion that many countries' involvement, to have -- what -- of some 2,000 sorties have been flown over that country, 300 hours of radio programming, leaflets have been put over a million meals of food have been put down by the United States' military.
It is a lot that has been done, and a lot of Taliban people have been killed and a lot of al Qaeda people have been killed and a lot of tanks have been taken out. If there were navies we could sink, we would sink them. If there were armies we could take on head on, we would. If there were air forces we could shoot down, we would. They aren't there.
Lehrer: Personally, when you took this job, when President Bush asked you to be his secretary of defense, did you ever think that you would be running a war like this?
Rumsfeld: No one in the world thought we'd be running a war like this. Imagine, you're sitting in the Pentagon and a plane -- one of our planes is used as a missile to fly into our building and into the World Trade Center. It was beyond one's imagination. That plastic knives and our own commercial aircraft filled with our own people would be used as the implement of war.
Lehrer: How are you doing, 60 days later?
Rumsfeld: Well, I just returned from five or six countries in three days. So, I could use a little sleep. But I am really impressed with the way that men and women in the armed forces, the uniformed people and the civilian people in the Department of Defense have responded to this.
I'm very pleased with the way other countries have responded. I think that we've got a good strategy. I think that the President has shown just enormous good judgment and instinct and decision-making on this. And will. And that's what it takes. I mean in the last analysis, it takes determination and steadiness of purpose and will. That's what he has shown this country and the world.
Lehrer: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
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