Sunday, Nov. 11, 2001
(Interview with Bob Schieffer, CBS Face the Nation, and Gloria Borger, U.S. News and World Report Correspondent)
Schieffer: Today on Face the Nation, the Northern Alliance takes a major city in Afghanistan. We'll talk about it with the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Over the weekend, the Northern Alliance captured Mazar-e-Sharif. How soon now before they get to the capital city of Kabul? Are U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan inevitable? And does Osama bin Laden have nuclear weapons? These are the questions for the secretary of defense.
Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on airport security back home.
But first, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Face the Nation.
And joining us, as we say, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. Rumsfeld, thank you very much for coming.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Schieffer: Let's start right out with what Osama bin Laden said this week in his latest tape. He says he has nuclear weapons and he has chemical and biological weapons. Is he telling the truth?
Rumsfeld: He certainly wants them, there's no question. We have a great deal of intelligence that says over a period of years the al Qaeda organization has been actively trying to acquire chemical, biological and radiation and/or nuclear weapons. I think it's unlikely he has a nuclear weapon. It is certainly reasonable to assume he might very well have chemical or biological and possibly even radiation weapons.
The biological are probably the easiest because they can be developed in very small rooms, laboratories, mobile trailers and that like.
Second, the terrorist networks of the world have been working with terrorist states. And if you look at the terrorist states that are on the list, a great many of them have biological and chemical weapons. And several of them have been actively seeking nuclear and/or radiation capabilities.
So, it doesn't take a real wild guess to assume that they either have chemical or biological or that they may have or will have at some point in the future. I think it's unlikely that they have a nuclear weapon, but on the other hand, with the determination they have, they may very well.
Schieffer: Well, let me just get back to what you said. Did you use the word "likely" that they have chemical and/or biological weapons?
Rumsfeld: I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume, given their desire to have them and their close relationship to nations that do have them, that they may very well have them.
Borger: Well, Mr. Secretary, there are reports --
Rumsfeld: Chemical and biological.
Borger: But there are reports this morning that the United States has actually identified sites in Afghanistan that show the possible production of cyanide gas and even anthrax. Yet, you have not bombed those sites. Can you tell us why?
Rumsfeld: There are reports on everything in the world this morning and every morning.
There's no question that there are places that people speculate may have been used at some time for the development of chemical or biological weapons. In many instances, they're the same places that may or may not have been used for the development of the narcotics trade.
We have bombed some of them. We don't know where all of them are. You can be certain that if we had very good information as to the location of a chemical or biological development area, that we would do something about it.
It is not an easy thing to do, but we certainly have every desire in the world to prevent the terrorists from using those capabilities.
One thing I should add on this subject is, it's one thing to have the chemical or biological capability. It's another thing to have figured out how to weaponize it or develop the ability to deliver it. And we have a lot of information that they have the first step. We have less information with respect to the second step.
Schieffer: Well, that was exactly my next question. Do you think it is likely that if he does have chemical and biological weapons, that he would use them? And how would he use them?
Rumsfeld: There is no doubt in my mind but that the al Qaeda network would use chemical, biological, radiation and/or nuclear weapons if they have them and if they decided that that made sense. They don't worry about the loss of life.
Schieffer: Well, you're talking about delivery systems. And I think a lot of laymen may wonder what you mean by that. What you're saying is that if he had a nuclear weapon, he certainly doesn't have a rocket to put it on. He would have to move it around in a pickup truck or something.
But what about delivery systems for these other weapons? Could they be used on the battlefield in Afghanistan as well as, say, snuck into this country in some way?
Rumsfeld: There's no question but that there are a variety of different ways one can use chemical or biological weapons. And they run a good spectrum of techniques, and they can be terribly lethal.
Borger: A journalist this week was taken to interview Osama bin Laden, to an undisclosed location, which he said could have been in northern Afghanistan because he could hear gunfire. Do you know where Osama bin Laden is, or do you have a better idea of where he is right now?
Rumsfeld: Well, certainly if we had coordinates, precise targeting information as to where the leadership of al Qaeda or Taliban were, that we would do something about it. And we have been trying, energetically.
You always think you have a reasonable idea of where they were or might be, but we have not been able to thus far stop them. That is to say, kill them.
Borger: Do you have any sense that there is friction within al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: Interestingly, we've not detected any friction or problems within al Qaeda. al Qaeda is very much under the control of Osama bin Laden and his top 10, 15 people.
Rumsfeld: Between al Qaeda and Taliban, yes. It appears that there is at least some reason to believe that there is a difference of a view, competition between Omar and his immediate lieutenants and Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants.
Differences as to who should be in command of what, differences as to where forces should reinforce or not reinforce, differences as to where supplies should go.
Schieffer: Well, how serious is that?
Rumsfeld: We won't know until it plays itself out.
But if you think about it, we have been putting a lot of pressure on the al Qaeda organization and the Taliban. Pressure in terms of freezing bank accounts; pressure in terms of arresting people in other countries across the globe, interrogating them, finding out scraps of information that then help us know more about what we need to do in Afghanistan and in other countries; pressure by special forces activities around the country in Afghanistan; pressure from the air in terms of that. We're supplying ammunition and food and winter gear to the Northern Alliance and to some of the southern tribes.
All of that creates pressure on those folks, makes their life for difficult, makes it more difficult for them to communicate, keeps them on the move. And as that pressure builds, they have less money to pay people. They have fewer safe havens.
Then people in the Taliban begin defecting, and they begin saying, "Gee, I'm not sure we want the al Qaeda to stay in our country, these foreign invaders who have come in. I'm not so sure this a great idea."
The people who are thinking about coming in to help them are thinking, "Well, maybe they're not going to win. Maybe we won't go in and help them."
And all of that cumulatively over time begins to change the center of gravity on the battlefield.
Schieffer: Are you seeing significant defections, for example, from the Taliban?
Rumsfeld: We're certainly seeing defections.
Schieffer: Large, small -- two or three?
Rumsfeld: No, no, more than that. Larger elements. On the other hand, there is some people coming in from other countries that are adding to the Taliban.
So how you net it out -- there is no doubt in my mind but that they're netting a loss. But how big it is or how significant it is, when you take the pluses and the minus, remains to be seen.
Schieffer: How do you think the war is going right now? Just give us an overall assessment.
Rumsfeld: Well, of course, there has just been a success on the part of the Northern Alliance in the Mazar-e-Sharif area. Other Northern Alliance elements are moving today and tonight against targets in their areas.
The bombing campaign has been significantly improved as we have been able to multiply the number of U.S. special forces on the ground, because it provides much better targeting information. It also improves communication for resupply. So the Northern Alliance now is better equipped, has more ammunition. And the forces in front of them are being continuous degraded.
So I would say that the plan -- General Tommy Frank's plan and strategy is in place. It's going forward. The pressure is having its effect.
And does that mean it's going to be long or short? Who knows. It's tough to say.
But it's basically working, I would say.
Schieffer: Do you think it's turned the corner yet?
Rumsfeld: Oh, gosh, I worry about catch phrases like that because you wake up tomorrow morning and there's a counterattack and some town is taken back, and then everyone slings the pendulum over here from excessive optimism to swinging it back to excessive pessimism. And life isn't like that. This is a tough, long, grinding, dirty business.
Borger: Mr. Secretary, the Northern Alliance, buoyed by Mazar-e-Sharif, is talking about now moving into Kabul. The president of the United States has said, "We would like you to move near Kabul, but we don't want you to go into Kabul."
Borger: Why not?
Rumsfeld: This is a complicated set of issues. On the one hand, you've got Taliban and al Qaeda in Kabul, and anyone would want them out. You would want to free the Afghan people from the oppressive regime of the Taliban and the al Qaeda in that city.
You certainly would want to try to do it in a time, in a way that it was clear to the world, to the Afghan people, to the neighboring countries, that everyone understood that the new post-Taliban leadership in that country would be broadly based, would include the various elements in the country, the demographic elements.
Our goal is to get the tribes in the south to oppose Taliban. They have been relatively quiet thus far. We need them to oppose the Taliban. Therefore, we need them to recognize that they're going to have a voice in the post-Taliban government.
A third problem is that the people of Kabul are going to be in a very serious situation, and they're going to need to be fed. And one would hope that at the right moment, we're going to be able to provide the kind of food and assistance, humanitarian assistance and medical assistance that those people are going to need.
That town is called the capital of Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban capital is in Kandahar for all practical purposes. The city of Kabul has been just bombed by the Soviets for years, bombed and destroyed by people opposing each other. It is a terribly sad circumstance.
Schieffer: Well, would we discourage the Northern Alliance if they decide to try to move into Kabul?
Rumsfeld: There is no question when the president met with the president of Pakistan, who has an interest in this, and he, Musharraf is interested in having it, whenever Kabul is occupied, be occupied in a way that tells the Pashtun tribes in the south that they're going to have a voice in this whole process.
Now, that's a perfectly reasonable thing because we're trying to get them to help us oppose the Taliban in the south.
Now, is anyone smart enough to manage that process so that -- first of all, we're not the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance is the Northern Alliance. They're going to attack and take Kabul when they feel like it, and when they think they're capable of doing it, and when they think they're capable of feeding the people, and when they think that they're capable of defeating the Taliban and getting them out of there.
But the political process is an uncertain process, and who knows how fast that will come together? Who knows how successful the neighboring countries, the Afghan people, the representatives from outside, the people from inside, are going to be able to come up with some sort of provisional process that will be the beginning of a post- Taliban government?
I don't think it's possible to manage those two processes in a way that they're going to intersect like clockwork. This is not clockwork. This is rough, dirty stuff.
Schieffer: So we're going to Kabul, but not right now?
Rumsfeld: I don't know what will happen. It's up to the Northern Alliance. And I hope that the concerns of the president of Pakistan and the concerns of the president of the United States are reflected, so that when it is taken, it is taken in a way that sends the right signal.
Schieffer: OK, let's take a signal here to take a little break. And we'll come back and talk about this some more in just a minute.
Schieffer: Back again with the secretary of defense.
And just before we broke, Gloria, you had a question.
Borger: Mr. Secretary, if you don't want the Northern Alliance to move into Kabul, would you stop giving the Northern Alliance air support?
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, needless to say, everyone would like Kabul to be freed of Taliban and al Qaeda. So I think to say we don't want them to go into Kabul suggests that we want to leave Taliban and al Qaeda in charge. We don't.
What we do want is, whenever anyone ends up in Kabul, other than the Taliban and al Qaeda, that it be done in a way, preferably, be done in a way that it reflects the need for a broadly-based government.
I think it would be wrong for al Qaeda and Taliban to think that the United States is going to allow them to stay there and impose their repression on their people.
Borger: So that's a no?
Rumsfeld: What we would do about air cover would be a complicated set of issues. And we certainly have some things that we have to do or not do that can help affect it.
But the goal is, as soon as humanly possible in the right way, to get the al Qaeda and the Taliban the dickens out of Kabul and the rest of the country.
Schieffer: Let's talk a little bit about the president of Iran and what he said. He generally condemned Osama bin Laden and terrorism. It surprised me a little bit, I must say.
Realistically, what do you make of his statements? Do you think there's anything Iran can do here? And realistically what would you expect from them?
Rumsfeld: Iran is a bordering country to Afghanistan. They have a legitimate interest in what happens in that country. They have influence in what happens in that country. Some of the tribes, nomadic tribes, move back and forth between the two countries.
I would also add, they have people in that country that are working with some of the elements on the ground. Indeed, we also have people working with those same elements. There are places in that country where there are some Iranian liaison people, as well as some American liaison people.
Schieffer: On the same side we're on?
Rumsfeld: Within the same elements, yes.
Schieffer: I see.
Rumsfeld: Now, what does that mean? It means that they are interested in the outcome. And certainly they're going to be a player in what that new government looks like because they have an interest in that, as do the people in that country.
I found these comments encouraging. I find a number of things encouraging.
How Iran will migrate through the coming two, three, four years, I don't have any idea. There's clearly tension within the country. There's a dynamic taking place among the younger people and the women and the more extreme Islamic fundamentalists in that nation, as opposed to elements that are not interested in that particular approach to the world. How it'll shake out, I don't know.
Schieffer: Well, do you think -- listening to you talk, it makes me think that you see at least the possibility of some kind of new relationship with Iran coming out of this.
Rumsfeld: I think that this event has been so significant for the world that you're going to see new relationships coming out all across the globe on every continent.
When I travel around and talk to people, people have a different perspective, a different set of priorities. And I think we're going to find this has been a momentous event, and that, five years from now, we're going to see that, because of it, because of the different perspectives, the different priorities, the different concerns, the different fears, that we're going to have -- we and other countries, positively and negatively, depending on how wise we are, will have different relationships.
And what we need to do is to deal with this problem, to be sure, but also be thinking out five, 10 years.
Schieffer: Let me talk to you about a new relationship and new ways to look at things.
President Putin of Russia -- I almost said the Soviet Union -- said that he wants to have a new kind of relationship now with NATO. And he says he wants to be -- he says, if Russia can be brought into the decision-making of NATO, then, in his words, Russia can be energetic and effective in assisting NATO.
Can there be such a relationship? Is that possible?
Rumsfeld: Well, I certainly wouldn't rule out the idea that we could find some way for Russia to have a different role than they currently have with respect to the security system of the West, NATO being the centerpiece of the security system of the West.
What it might be, what that formula might be, we're thinking about. A lot of us have been noodling that and seeing if we can't come up with a process, a series of steps that would provide a reassurance to Russia that if they turn West, as they seem to in some respects want to, that there can't be a path that they could go down in that regard.
Schieffer: Could they ever be a member of NATO?
Rumsfeld: You know, that's a question I can't answer. It depends on their behavior. It depends on how the Western security system evolves. It depends on the linkages they end up with economically with the West.
Schieffer: But you seem to be saying there go could be some kind of partnership there?
Rumsfeld: I think that there already is a linkage between Russia and NATO. And the question is, how might that be incrementally modified so that it was reassuring to Russia?
Russia's got a problem. It's got to decide if it wants to turn West or if it wants to end up with the world's walking wounded in North Korea, Cuba, Iraq, Libya, Iran, and have that as their relationships.
Their future, from an economic standpoint, is to the West.
Borger: Mr. Secretary, very quickly, if we have just been through stage one of the war, what can we expect in the next stage?
Rumsfeld: We have not been through phase one. First of all, it's not clear to me that there are phases to this war.
Rumsfeld: We're in the very early period. We were attacked September 11. Today's November 11. It has been two months. The first month we were positioning ourselves. The second month since October 7 we have been militarily active, both visibly and invisibly.
It is a long process. It involves terrorist networks in a number of countries, and we have to rout them out. The nexus between terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction presents a problem so serious for us that we have to address it.
Schieffer: And we have to leave it there.
Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. A very enlightening interview, if I do say so.
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