Thursday, November 15, 2001 - 12:15 p.m. EST
(Also participating: Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander in chief, Central Command)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. You asked that when General Franks was back in town, that I bring him down here. I have done so. (Laughter.)
Franks: Thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: He was delighted to be here. Right? (Chuckles.)
Franks: Sir -- delighted! (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: I think what I'll do is just let General Franks give you a sense of what's taking place in Afghanistan, and his assessment. We're going to be having meetings later this afternoon with the principals of the National Security Council. And then, tomorrow morning, we'll have a National Security Council meeting where a number of us will be on secure video, which we've done on a number of occasions. And General Franks will then return back to his headquarters in Tampa.
Franks: Thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: General Franks.
Franks: Where we find ourselves today, I think it's important that we pause, reflect a bit and remember the mission that we undertook when we started these operations, just after the 11th of September. That mission was the destruction of the al Qaeda network. That mission involved the destruction of the Taliban regime that harbored the al Qaeda network.
Now, since the 7th of October, there's been a lot of discussion, and certainly there will continue to be discussion, about the number of tanks destroyed. There will continue to be discussion about the air defense systems destroyed. We'll continue to talk about the territorial gains or the geographical gains that have been made by opposition.
But what's important to us is the destruction of the al Qaeda network, a terrorist network with global reach. So we remain fixed on that mission, as well as on the Taliban that provides safe harbor for that.
As we have moved through this, we have worked hard with the Department of State on the humanitarian assistance effort. That humanitarian assistance effort gets better, that situation gets better every day. I learned this morning that over the last three days, more than 6,500 metric tons of humanitarian supplies have been brought into the interior of Afghanistan for the Afghan people -- large numbers of people. And we intend to continue to provide support to agencies, nongovernmental agencies, international organizations, other nations who are working humanitarian assistance.
Our operations are on the timeline which I have described each time I've spoken with you. We in fact have the initiative. We intend to maintain that initiative, and as the Taliban fractures, we'll continue to be about the mission that I described initially -- the destruction of the al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban which sponsors al Qaeda. That objective has not changed. We'll remain steady on the course.
And I think at this point, Mr. Secretary, I'll stop and take questions.
Q: General Franks, you said that you remain fixed on the mission and that the destruction of al Qaeda's calm out here. You've had two bombing raids in the past two days in Kandahar and Kabul that have gone after senior leadership. You say that leaders have been killed -- you can't say whether they're senior or not. My point is, are you going to have to eventually put troops on the ground -- troops on the ground, American and allied Western troops -- to root these people out if they go to caves?
Franks: Charlie, a different day, of course, but same question. Will we at some point put conventional forces on the ground? I think our president and I know the secretary has said many times that we will not take the issue of conventional forces off the table. This certainly remains an option.
What I would do at this point is remind that we do have Special Forces on the ground now. We have our teams with these opposition leaders. And so this gives us the capability to have situational awareness, not to an extent, I'd be quick to add, that we'd like to have, because these small teams, these small numbers we have on the ground certainly can't be everywhere all the time. But we do have situational awareness and we believe that we'll be able to know what's going on as a result of each one of these efforts which you described.
Q: General Franks, may I ask you, on the humanitarian front, now that the Taliban have been largely removed from the north, is the environment there benign enough that international organizations rather than the U.S. military could take the lead on the humanitarian relief?
Franks: It is premature to say that things are stable enough in northern Afghanistan so that we should feel very comfortable with all of our humanitarian resupply efforts. I'll use the case of Mazar-e Sharif. Mazar-e Sharif is in fact, according to the accounts we have, as calm as a city could be after the years of turmoil that Mazar-e Sharif has been through and the fact that we just had a major battle there but a few days ago. The route from Termez, Uzbekistan, to the south down to Mazar-e Sharif, we have had our people on several times, and they have not been fired on. However, what we want to do is, we want to have an opportunity to look over the territory. We want to spend two or three days to be sure -- so that we satisfy ourselves that the environment in places like Mazar-e Sharif is secure enough for these non-governmental organizations and international organizations to be comfortable that they can do what they want to do.
And I think it's important to note that we certainly will not be giving them instructions. What we will be doing is giving them information, upon which they can base their decisions about where to move the humanitarian assistance.
Q: General Franks, yesterday, the teams in the South doing interdiction were talked about, that they're setting up roadblocks at some points. What are their rules of engagement?
Franks: Their rules of engagement are the standing rules of engagement that we use with our -- with all of our forces. When they're threatened, when property is threatened, when they come in contact with enemy forces identified as enemy, they destroy those -- they destroy those forces.
Q: Have there been --
Rumsfeld: In the back.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask the two of you a question each? Is that permissible? I know only one question, but since two of you august gentlemen are there? (Laughter.) I'd like to start with General Franks if I may. General, do you feel exonerated after the criticism in the past last time you were here that your campaign is too timid? And is the Taliban now destroyed as a viable fighting force?
Franks: Sir, the second question first. The Taliban is not destroyed as an effective fighting force from the level of one individual man carrying a weapon until that individual man puts down his weapon. And so there still is a capable -- capable fighting force on the side of the Taliban. We'll continue to do our best to eliminate that force of the Taliban. The secretary has previously referred to this as "draining the swamp."
Your first question, about do I feel better about this in the face of criticism -- I will tell you that this is like the National Football League. And if we were to go through this worrying about each time that a linebacker takes a shot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we'd get little else done. And so no, sir, I don't feel exonerated, because I never felt vilified. I am simply a soldier doing his job, and I'll continue to do that.
Q: General Franks?
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: My question to the secretary, please, sir: I believe you said in an interview with the New York Times that Osama bin Laden perhaps could escape via helicopter maybe to a landing field in the mountains with a small aircraft. How is that possible with surveillance satellites and aircraft watching every move in that part of the country, particularly around the South now?
Rumsfeld: It may not be possible. But it is -- anything is possible in that country. You've got porous borders in a number of directions. You have deep ravines, and to the extent they may or may not have any helicopters left, which I think they may, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that they could go down one of the valleys and not be detected. It's not possible electronically to detect everything at all times. It's also possible to go across as a -- on a donkey or a burro to -- a mule, a horse, a truck. I mean, you can't cork -- it's not a bottle that you can cork. It's a large country with a lot of borders, and one has to be realistic. I think we'll find him either there or in some other country. But one has to be realistic.
I would say one other thing about the Taliban and the extent to which they're in disarray. If you think about the different ways they can behave: They can go across a border and wait and come back. They can drop their weapons and blend into the communities. They can go up in the mountains in the caves and tunnels. They can defect -- join the other side -- change their mind, go back. So it is not possible to answer the question as to the circumstance of the Taliban.
I think there are several things that are fundamental and important. One is that it is not a good time in Afghanistan to be part of the Taliban. That is good. That is to say that the pressure is working. If one looks at the reaction of the people in villages and city after city across that country where the Taliban have faded away or been destroyed or killed or defeated in battle, those people are happy people, for the most part, and they're pleased to be free of the Taliban.
That is a good signal in terms of the Taliban's future in that country. But it seems to me that we have to be quite realistic about the task, and the task is, as the general said, to go get the senior leadership of both Taliban and al Qaeda.
Q: General, I'd like to ask you about the objective of destroying al Qaeda. This seems to be one of the key objectives, since they've been blamed for the September 11th attacks. Could you give us your assessment of how far the military campaign has achieved those objectives of destroying al Qaeda?
Franks: I think it's a great question. I think that since we started to work on this campaign, we have said that it's all about condition setting followed by our attaining our objectives. The first thing we did was set conditions to begin to take down the tactical air defense and all of that. So we set conditions and then we did that. The next thing we did was set conditions with these Special Forces teams and the positioning of our aviation assets to be able to take the Taliban apart or fracture it. And we did that.
All the while, we have been setting conditions to be able to get closer and closer to the core values of this campaign, which are the ones to which you made reference as well as what the secretary just said. And so we continue to set conditions. It's been said that we are tightening the noose, and in fact that is the case. We're tightening the noose. It's a matter of time.
Q: General, can you talk a little bit about the Special Forces troops in the South? Are they in touch with the Pashtun tribes, and if so, how many of the tribes? Are they offering advice, arms, whatever?
Franks: I'll give you a general answer by saying that -- in many cases we talk about "the Northern Alliance." In fact, each time I talk about this, I talk about "opposition groups." In fact we do have some of these teams with opposition groups in the South.
Q: What are they doing, can you say? Just advice, or initial contacts or --
Franks: They are providing initial contact. They provide advice. They facilitate resupply activities. And they also assist in calling in close air support.
Q: Offering any arms to them as well?
Franks: Yes, they offer arms as well.
Q: Can either of you describe the situation in Konduz, what your estimate is of the real fighting force, the core force there? There is apparently a nasty situation that is developing. And secondly, your assessment of Kandahar and sort of where that appears to be at this moment.
Rumsfeld: I'll take Konduz and he can have Kandahar. (Light laughter.) The -- I don't know for sure -- maybe you do, Tommy -- but in Konduz, I suspect there's -- it's heavily al Qaeda, as -- mixed in with probably a number of people from other countries, as well as some Taliban. But the fighting has been fierce, and it -- and the last I checked, this morning, it was still continuing.
Franks: Sir, I think that's exactly right about Konduz. The estimate, I think -- and one should be careful with numbers, but based -- just based on honesty, I will tell you my appreciation right now is that that number may be 2,000 to 3,000, heavily infested, as the secretary said, with some of the more hard-core people. And so yes, that fight does continue in Konduz.
With regard to Kandahar, we have -- we are working with several opposition groups in the vicinity of Kandahar. We are applying pressure in the vicinity of Kandahar. And we have said over the last couple -- three, four days that in fact we have special operating forces operating in that vicinity as well, working on the routes, interdicting traffic. And so that's what we find in Kandahar. Kandahar is still very much under threat control, although we do see signs of some fracturing there as well.
Q: To what extent, General Franks, do you expect you may need to fight a guerrilla war -- a counter-guerrilla war in Afghanistan for the next stage?
Franks: It's -- pardon the quip, but Yogi talks about the difficulty in prediction, especially when it has to do with the future. It's very difficult to predict.
I will tell you that the term we use to describe our Special Forces is "unconventional warfare forces." Does that mean that I predict that we will wind up going up into the mountains in pursuit of these groups the secretary mentioned earlier? No, I won't predict that. I will simply tell you that the lines of operation which we're undertaking at this point are satisfying to us, and we intend to continue on those lines of operation.
Rumsfeld: Yes, sir.
Q: Mr. Secretary and General Franks, now that the Taliban has abandoned so much territory around the country, have you been able to put people on the ground to check sites where bin Laden and his associates may have been working on chemical or biological weapons? And if so, what have you found?
Franks: The secretary -- that's -- that also is a good question, because the secretary asked me that yesterday, and then we discussed it just a few minutes ago.
The first thing that we did was take a look at all of the intelligence feeds, that we have had over a prolonged period of time, over the last two or three months, to get the potential locations of WMD-related efforts. Now we are about the business of checking those sites out as they fall into -- as they fall under our control. How long will this take? Well, this will not be something that we'll be reporting every 24 hours, because the situation in Afghanistan is still very fluid. But we're about doing that business now.
Q: Any findings?
Q: What do you find?
Franks: We have no substantial findings to this point.
Q: General Franks? Again on Special Forces. Can you give us a sense of how the size and scope of their mission will expand over the next month from classic liaison with Northern Alliance groups and reconnaissance to more direct action, shoot-'em-up, ambush type of situations?
Franks: A short answer, and that is that one should not assume that there has not been strategic reconnaissance and direct action activity over a prolonged period of time. One should not assume that if we've -- that we may begin that tomorrow. In fact we have had forces engaged in this sort of activity for some time. You would not expect me to tell you exactly where or exactly how they're equipped or exactly what they're doing. But we have that sort of activity ongoing as we speak. And so we'll continue with the business of this liaison and advice, as well as with the direct action, reconnaissance, and armed recce which we're undertaking now.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Go ahead. In the back.
Q: Mr. Secretary, a London newspaper this morning reported that one of its journalists had found documents in Kabul in a safehouse that purportedly --
Rumsfeld: We saw it. We're checking it.
Q: There seems to be a little confusion about how the Western aid workers came to be in a position to be rescued. Were they freed from prison by Northern Alliance troops? Did the Taliban release them voluntarily, and did U.S. Special Forces have any role in getting them out of the prison before they actually put them on the helicopters to go out?
Rumsfeld: My guess is they'll be describing their circumstance themselves in the period immediately ahead. I do not have hard information. I just know that they were freed by forces that came in. I don't know who it was at the moment. And then they were passed off to a second entity, which then brought them 50 or 60 miles south of Kabul where they -- we arranged to have special operations forces extract them from the country.
Q: Mr. Secretary, or General Franks, or both, there are reports on the ground that Jalalabad has fallen to opposition groups. Do you know that to be true, number one? And number two, how does that fit in to your mosaic here?
Franks: I will say that as of the time I left my headquarters to come up this morning, Jalalabad was threatened. I can't right now confirm whether it's fallen or not.
Rumsfeld: The last I saw was exactly the same; that it's not clear.
Q: Can you characterize how much of Afghanistan U.S.-backed opposition forces now control? And given that they control a large part of Afghanistan, is it inevitable that the bombing will decrease?
Franks: It is -- what is inevitable is that the bombing will become more and more and more focused as we continue through time. The targets that we have been after, as you know, have changed. Initially, we wanted to set conditions, so we bombed a lot of the tactical capability. As we had completed that work, essentially, we began to target the formations of the Taliban that were essentially propping up Mullah Omar and that regime. As that continues to decline and becomes much more fractured, then we simply have more capability to focus on the alligators.
Q: And how much of the country, would you say?
Franks: The secretary may have a better sense of this than I do. But I would say that probably now more than 50 or 60 percent is under some form of opposition control.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there are reports that some of the Taliban are attempting to negotiate their way out of this war, even offering up to deliver Osama bin Laden. Do you have any idea what the seniority of those Taliban officials is, if they have any ability to deliver on that kind of promise? And is the U.S. willing at this point to negotiate?
Rumsfeld: I guess I'd have to get a dictionary on the word "negotiate." Would we be delighted to receive the senior al Qaeda and Taliban leadership through some process where they were offered up without condition? Yes. I don't know that that's a negotiation. But a passover -- someone has somebody and is willing to pass them over, you may have to discuss how you go about doing that. But if one's thinking of some sort of a compromise where conditions are set, no one is thinking of anything like that.
Q: And if I could follow up, please? As many of these Taliban defections are occurring, we understand many include Taliban leadership, is the U.S. cutting any deals with any of these Taliban defectors?
Rumsfeld: The U.S. has cut no deals. Of course, in many cases, they're not turning themselves over to the U.S., they're turning themselves over to opposition forces.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, could you -- two points: Could you clarify whether or not there has been any contact from anyone in the Taliban with the U.S. government even discussing this idea of talking about the turnover of Osama bin Laden? And then I just have a follow up about another clarification about what's happening in Kunduz.
Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge.
Q: And about -- there's a report --
Rumsfeld: That's not a follow-up. (Laughter.)
Q: It's a question. (Laughter.) Can I get a ruling on that? (Laughter.) Is this a follow up? Point of information.
Rumsfeld: Shame on you. (Laughter.)
Q: Published reports report --
Rumsfeld: It's your peers that will get you, not me. (Laughter.)
Q: Published reports and reports from the region say that a pair of Pakistani air force planes landed on Tuesday at the airport at Kunduz. Apparently some permission from the United States to take out some Taliban and Pakistani people. Is that -- is there any truth in that, or can you tell us what the real story is?
Franks: Jamie, I just heard it for the first time. I hadn't even heard that report. I do not believe it's true.
Q: So you're not aware of anything like that?
Franks: I'm not. No, I'm not.
Q: I know this is putting the horse before the cart in a little way, but already the U.N. is talking about a follow-on peacekeeping force for Afghanistan, and Great Britain has committed some number of troops to that. Is that in a realm of possibility for the United States? Will we see U.S. troops on the ground in a peacekeeping force? Or are they going to be so busy with the continuing war on terrorism that we can't spare them for that effort?
Rumsfeld: I think the latter is the case. The -- and I want to be clear that the United States may very well decide that at some point, they want to put some additional forces on the ground, for example, for the purpose of repairing an airstrip or making an airport habitable and functional and have the force protection that it might require to service various activities, military activities that we're engaged in, such as going after al Qaeda or Taliban leadership, or even possibly to assist in preparing the ground for larger humanitarian efforts at some location. But in terms of taking U.S. forces and having them become a part of a semi-permanent peacekeeping activity in the country, I think that's highly unlikely.
Q: Can I follow up on that, sir? When this present combat phase is over, will there be a standdown of our forces? Or because it's a global campaign, must they go to somewheres else? In other words, do you see a peace dividend on the horizon?
Rumsfeld: We're all captives of history, aren't we? A "peace dividend" -- I've heard that; I remember that. (Laughter.) I think I was still in Congress in the '60s the first time I heard that.
The president has been very clear that this is a worldwide problem, that he intends to pursue it. And clearly, the United States has every intention of trying to deal, in whatever way is appropriate, with the terrorist networks that exist around the world. And as I mentioned, al Qaeda alone has 40, 50 or 60 cells.
Q: We haven't had a chance to ask you yet about this executive order setting up military commissions to try terrorists. So I guess I'd like to get your view on this; what role you see yourself playing, what role you see the military playing. And I guess the practical question, is the U.S. military prepared to try Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the rest of them?
Rumsfeld: I'd have to go back and check, but I think technically it may not be an executive order, it may be a military order by the commander in chief to the secretary of Defense, if I'm not mistaken. I'd have to check that. [ Military order ]
It is -- what you've seen reported, it's a matter of public record, and it is something that I have decided needs to be dealt with in a very appropriate and measured way. And I am asking some people in the Department to invest some of their time to review the historical records and to -- as you know, this is a mechanism that has a long history in our country, dating back to the -- I believe the Revolutionary War, and in most wars since.
It is -- these people will come back to me with some recommendations as to how the Department itself ought to be prepared to deal with that issue, in the event that one or more individuals are assigned to the Department for that purpose.
And it is in the very, very early stages. And I really -- and I have not received any thoughts from anyone else yet, and I have a healthy respect for the importance of this and doing it correctly from the beginning.
And as a result, I'm disinclined to discuss it, probably for some period of time, until we have had a chance to think it through, decide what sort of procedures and criteria and approaches we would want to take.
Q: Can I just ask you -- you said you've asked for advice on this matter -- do you have in your own mind any major issues that you have presented to your advisers, major concerns, issues, elements of this that you have said, "This is what I want an answer to"? What's the major question in your mind on this?
Rumsfeld: Well, what I've done is discussed it with the general counsel of the Department of Defense and told him that I felt that this was an important issue for the Department, for the country, for the president, and it is not something we want to deal with on an ad hoc basis as it happens; we want to, at the very outset, to have thought it through very carefully and to establish -- to take a look at alternative approaches as to how it might be dealt with, to take a look at the kinds of procedures and measures one would want to take to be very careful about how it was done so that it is launched and engaged in the Department properly from the very beginning, rather than having to get started and find it would have been better to do it another way and have to make a correction.
So we're -- I am approaching it in a very measured and conservative, cautious --
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Mr. Secretary, why the military?
Rumsfeld: -- prudent -- prudent, reasonable way.
Q: Why the military rather than civilian? Is this the idea of summary court martials and executions? Why the military rather than --
Rumsfeld: Charlie, what is this "summary court martials and executions"?!
Q: But I mean, why the --
Rumsfeld: I'm shocked that those words even came out of your mouth. (Laughter.)
Q: Why the --
Rumsfeld: This is a decision by the president. He has announced it. It's a matter of public record. It is a mechanism that has been used throughout the history of this country. And we will approach it in a manner distinctly different from that which you've suggested.
Q: Sir? Sir? May I ask about base closings, sir? I understand that you've declared a little bit of war with Congress by sending some letters up urging the president to veto the defense authorization bill if it doesn't include base closings. Can you tell us your thinking about that?
Rumsfeld: The last way I would characterize what we have done is the way you've characterized it. We have in fact sent up a letter indicating that there are a number of things that are very important to the Department and to the administration, and among those are the base closing initiative, which we feel has been necessary from the outset. Every living former secretary of Defense has supported it, is supporting it today. And we believe that it is important, when there are this many demands and this many stresses and this high a tempo on our equipment and our people, that we not be carrying around a something in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent excess base structure.
And as a result, I have indicated to the Congress the truth, and that is that I and senior administration officials in the White House and elsewhere believe, as do the joint chiefs of staff and the chairman, that it is important that we have the opportunity to address the base structure of this country and have it fit the force structure. And we've indicated that we would recommend to the president that he veto the bill if in fact that is not included. That is simply a perfectly measured communication and heads-up that that is how we feel about it.
Q: Can I follow up to that --
Q: General Franks, there is discussion, as you know, this week that the military strategy in some ways got ahead of the political strategy, in terms of setting up a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. There was similar talk a few weeks back that the politics were dictating the military strategy by U.S. not bombing frontline forces with Kabul. Can you just talk about, for the record, you comments about how politics have come into play in terms of developing a military strategy, and whether CentCom was ever told who to bomb and when to bomb?
Franks: Let me start at the end. CentCom has not been told who to bomb or when to bomb. As a matter of fact, one of the --
Rumsfeld: It has been told to bomb. I'll tell you that. (Laughter.)
Franks: All true, sir. (Laughter.)
One of the good things about our command is that -- I think someone mentioned that we had 15 or 20 other nations down there in Tampa with us right now. What is not mentioned is the fact that we also have very robust representation from the State Department in my command. As a matter of fact, I have a political advisor who is of ambassadorial rank, and what that facilitates is 24-hour-a-day dialogue with counterparts in the State Department. As the secretary works at his level with State and any other agency, we work also. And so, no, we have not been pressured or pushed to begin or halt or whatever. We simply have worked together on the issue of the military campaign inside Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: Last question. Right in the middle.
Q: Yes. Thank you. Secretary, is the fact that the general is in town means you were surprised by the developments there and have to change your strategy? And secondly, do you still characterize this as a long-term campaign?
Rumsfeld: I do characterize it as something that is going to take time. I think we have to be very realistic about it. And it is the application of all kinds of pressures over a sustained period that resulted in what we are seeing today, with respect to the Taliban, and it will be the same kind of long-term pressure across the full spectrum of economic and political and diplomatic, as well as military, activity.
And it is not something that is easily done, because it -- these terrorists and networks are across the globe, and they're -- it is a difficult thing to do. It is a heck of a lot harder than just going out and sinking a navy or shooting down an air force.
To your first question, the answer is no, he is not in time -- town because we were surprised. As a matter of fact, a week ago we arranged that he would be coming back this week. He's met with the chiefs in the tank today, I believe. He's going to meet with us this afternoon.
Franks: (Off mike) -- you this afternoon.
Rumsfeld: And then tomorrow morning there will be an NSC, which had been scheduled for some time. It is important activity that he's engaged in, and he has had a plan. Obviously, as things take place, he calibrates it and then presents it to me and to the president, which will take place tomorrow morning.
Q: Which country is next? (Laughter, cross talk.) See you tomorrow, Mr. Secretary.
Rumsfeld: You're going to see me sooner than that, I think -- (laughter) --
Q: (Off mike) -- this afternoon. All right. Thanks a lot.
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