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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with CBS Face the Nation

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
November 18, 2001 10:30 AM EDT

Sunday, November 18, 2001 - 10:30 a.m. EST

(Interview with Bob Schieffer and Gloria Borger on CBS Face the Nation.)

Schieffer: Today on Face the Nation, is Osama Bin Laden still in Afghanistan? And what is the next stage of this war? We'll ask the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz.

Kabul has fallen, and much of Afghanistan is in control of the Northern Alliance. Are special operations forces close to finding Bin Laden? And what if he goes into Iraq or Iran? We'll ask the deputy secretary of defense.

Then we'll talk about the future of the Northern Alliance. Do they want to rule Afghanistan? Will they share power? We'll ask their spokesman, Haron Amin.

Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on airport security. But first, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Face the Nation.

Announcer: Face the Nation, with chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now, from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer: Good morning again. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. Let me ask you first about some very late breaking news. There's a story that's just moved on the wire, and I'll just quote it, "The U.S. Navy was searching Sunday for two U.S. sailors missing in waters of the Persian Gulf after the sinking of an oil tanker they and other security forces had boarded." This was apparently an Iraqi oil tanker. The thing sank. Ten people have been pulled off. Do you have any late information?

Wolfowitz: The best information we have as of now is this was one of many tankers that we seize and confiscate. And apparently it was very rusty. It started sinking, and we put people on board to figure out what was happening. I don't think it's more than that, but we'll know later.

Schieffer: So, it appears to be an accident at this point? This would be an Iraqi tanker that was seized --

Wolfowitz: As part of the -- as part of the maritime interdiction operation. It is a reminder that at the same time we're conducting a war in Afghanistan, we have military engaged in Bosnia, and in Kosovo, and in Iraq, and in Korea. The world remains a dangerous place, not just in Afghanistan.

Schieffer: We take these tankers because they've violated an embargo --

Wolfowitz: That's why they're confiscated, yes.

Schieffer: Okay. All right. Well, that clears that up, at least as far as we know it at this point. Another late story on the wires -- Afghanistan opposition forces say the Taliban have offered to surrender in the northern city of Kunduz. We know this is that last stronghold they have along with Kandahar. Any late information on that?

Wolfowitz: We have heard the same thing you have. Kunduz is clearly a place where some of the worst people are holed up, and it may be in fact that the Taliban is offering to surrender and some of the Arab and other foreign terrorists that are fighting with them are not surrendering, and we'll have to see.

But, I think -- you know, I think there are two lessons out of all of this. Lesson number one is that when you govern by terror, and the Taliban have ruled by terror, you don't have a lot of support once people start being afraid. And secondly, I think there's a lesson for all terrorists around the world, and all governments that harbor terrorists, that it's not a distinguished or glorious future that's facing these people.

Borger: Do you believe that Osama Bin Laden is still in Afghanistan?

Wolfowitz: To the best of our knowledge he is, but it -- I mean, I think we understand he's not -- I hope people understand he doesn't go around advertising his presence. In fact, this is a man on the run who is doing his best to hide. If he does leave Afghanistan, I can't image any government in its right mind harboring him. So, this is a man who is in very great danger.

Borger: Well, if he does leave Afghanistan, and say he goes to Pakistan or any other country, would you chase him down in any country he goes to?

Wolfowitz: We are going to continue pursuing. Let's also remember we're going to continue pursuing the entire al Qaeda network, which is 60 countries, not just Afghanistan and worst of all here in the United States. And as the president has said, this is a campaign against all the global terrorist networks and the states that support terrorism.

Schieffer: What is the state of the Taliban right now? And what is the state of al Qaeda?

Wolfowitz: I think they are in great disarray, and they are on the run. It bears repeating, I think, every state that supports terrorism also rules its own people by terror. And we understood going into this campaign that we had a great advantage working for us in Afghanistan because the Taliban was very widely hated. And I think that the reception that the Northern Alliance troops and the Pashtun rebels in the South are receiving is testimony to that.

Schieffer: This seems to be going better, faster, than some people thought in the very beginning. Why do you think that is? What tactic has been used here that's made this go better than even some who were for all of this thought it would go?

Wolfowitz: Well, when it's going well now, perhaps we should also remind people that patience is order. A few weeks ago, people were saying it's not going fast enough, and we said, "Let's be patient." There's still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan. And our main objective, let's not forget, is getting al Qaeda and getting the Taliban leadership, and there's a lot of work still to be done.

To come back, though, I think the fact is that this was a government that ruled by fear. And when you remove the fear factor, it fractures everywhere. And I think they -- they're in trouble all over the country now.

Schieffer: Well, I guess what I was driving at, this is not just air power this time. This is people on the ground calling in the air strikes. Has that made a difference?

Wolfowitz: Well, it is remarkable. And one of the reasons why it took a few weeks before we could make our air power fully effective was we had to get people in on the ground to direct air strikes so that they would take out the Taliban and not take out our people.

If you'd indulge me for a minute, I actually have with me a dispatch that came from one of our special forces guys who was literally riding horseback with a sword with one of the Northern Alliance --

Schieffer: With a sword?

Wolfowitz: -- with a sword, with a Northern Alliance group of several hundred people who had nothing but horses and rifles. And he said, "I am advising a man on how best to employ light infantry and horse cavalry in the attack against Taliban tanks, mortars, artillery and machine guns -- a tactic which I think became outdated with the invention of the Gatling gun. The Mujaheddin are doing very well with what they have, but they couldn't do it without the close air support." And he then goes on to describe how one of his enlisted -- two of his enlisted people, one air force, one army, had called in air strikes, possibly -- certainly from aircraft carriers, maybe from bombers in Missouri -- while Taliban artillery was hitting 50 meters away. It's in a sense a return of the horse cavalry, you might say, but no horse cavalry in history before this could call in air strikes from long-range bombers.

Schieffer: But do these people -- do the people in the Special Forces know how to ride horses? I mean, there is a difference in jumping on a horse and hanging on and being able to ride. Are they trained to ride horses?

Wolfowitz: I can't say for sure, but apparently these guys were. They are trained in an extraordinary range of survival skills and local customs and language, and they're quite an amazing group.

Borger: Well, maybe this occurred -- this story in the Washington Post today -- before these forces got on the ground, but the Washington Post reports that as many as 10 times over the past six weeks air forces have believed that they've seen the top Taliban leadership, al Qaeda leadership, and they could not get them because bureaucratic, you know, a cumbersome bureaucratic process that kept them from striking. Can you tell us about this?

Wolfowitz: Well, first of all, I can only tell you a certain amount, because frankly it's a bit distressing that people go to the Washington Post or to any newspaper with complaints that they apparently unwilling to go to the leadership of the Defense Department and explain.

But here are two basic facts. I mean, number one, we have said from the beginning that one of the major concerns in this campaign is to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, and that we have said from the beginning, and apparently that's what these people are complaining about. But it is part of the strategic success here, I think, that we have in fact been very careful not to kill civilians, not that we've always succeeded, but we've worked hard at it.

Secondly, it seems to me indisputable that we have achieved some significant success on the ground. I think General Franks and his people are really to be commended. Bear in mind, they had three weeks to plan this campaign. No one anticipated a war in Afghanistan before September 11th. They started after -- three weeks after the president gave them the go-ahead. They've been at it for six weeks only now. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is impressive what they have accomplished.

Schieffer: I'd like to go back to something that you are reported to have said early on in this campaign when there seemed to have been a debate going in within the inner circles of the administration about whether you just went after Osama Bin Laden or you also went after Saddam Hussein. And it was reported that you were one of those who said we should go after Saddam Hussein also. And your direct quote on the record, while you never commented on that, was, "This is about more than just one organization." Do you believe that this war ought to be widened now to include Saddam Hussein, Mr. Wolfowitz?

Wolfowitz: I think we have got to keep our focus right now on Afghanistan. There's a great danger that we're going to declare victory before we have achieved our objectives there. But the president has made it clear from the beginning, and as recently -- and recently as well, that this is about more than just Afghanistan and more than just al Qaeda. And he, I think, is -- I have known this about him since I first observed him during the campaign -- this is a man who enjoys debate among his advisors. He encourages it. He learns from it. And he's a president who makes decisions, and when he makes decisions, it's a team that pulls together and focuses on the objective. And the objective right now has got to be on Afghanistan and finishing our work there.

Schieffer: Well, under what circumstances should we go after Saddam Hussein?

Wolfowitz: The president has stated the objective I think very clearly. And the objective is to dismantle the global terrorist networks and state support for terrorism. And there are a number of states that support terrorists. Saddam Hussein is one of them but not the only one. And there are a number of ways one can imagine that they might get out of that business. Frankly, I would hope, as they observe the fate of the Taliban in Afghanistan, some of them would be reconsidering whether this is a promising career.

Schieffer: Well, should Saddam Hussein be worried right now?

Wolfowitz: I think any government that supports or harbors terrorists should be very worried right now.

Borger: Do you personally believe that he had anything to do with the events of the September 11th?

Wolfowitz: There is a lot that we still don't know about the events of September 11th and we are still looking for evidence, we're still collecting evidence. In fact, one of the things we hope to gain as we achieve our objectives in Afghanistan is more and more intelligence about that network. And it's not, by the way, just about September 11th. It is even more importantly about preventing what may happen next year or the year after. This is a campaign not just for vengeance, it is a campaign to prevent future terrorist acts against the United States and our friends.

Borger: But you seem to be saying that you believe that it is still possible that he was involved in some way?

Wolfowitz: Here's what I think we know, and we know it not just about Iraq but a number of countries -- that they consider terrorism an instrument of national policy, and that they pursue weapons of mass destruction. And the combination of those two things has got to be of particular concern to this country.

Schieffer: Let's talk a little bit about what's going to happen next in Kabul, what you want to happen? Obviously the Northern Alliance forces are there. They got there first, with no small amount of help from the United States air power and those people you have talked about on the ground. Let me just be the devil's advocate and say to you why shouldn't they feel that they're entitled to take control of the government here? Why should they at this point think that they ought to share power with some other groups in the country? And what is it that we want to happen?

Wolfowitz: Well, they ought to have learned the lesson from a few years back when they did seize power in Kabul and they turned half the country against them because the largest single ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtun, who largely occupy the South, were not happy at the idea of these other groups controlling their capital. And I think that we can't dictate the future of Afghanistan, but I think many Afghans, including Northern Alliance commanders, have learned something from the miserable history of the last 20 years, that if they want peace, they have got to let others in Afghanistan live in peace. And I --

Schieffer: Well, do you think that's realistic, that they will be willing to do that?

Wolfowitz: First of all, our objective to get the al Qaeda and to stop giving Afghanistan as a safe harbor for terrorists. Beyond that, it's got to be the Afghans and maybe with some help from the international community who have their main -- to determine their own future -- is it realistic that they will behave better than they did in the past? Yes. It's also realistic that there's going to be problems. But I think we have to keep a focus on what are our main objectives in that country.

Borger: Mr. Wolfowitz, Vice President Cheney told CBS News this week that if we do kill or capture Osama bin Laden that the United States should expect some sort of revenge attack. Can you tell us about that?

Wolfowitz: I think we have to anticipate attacks under almost any circumstances. And clearly this is a campaign not just in Afghanistan, and the most important piece of the campaign, which is not military, is here in the United States. Hopefully we've had some success, but we don't know for sure. We don't know what we've disrupted by the people we've arrested here over the last two months, but I think we've had some affect. And we hope that these two things will start to work together, that we get more intelligence out of Afghanistan that will allow them to disrupt things. But yes, I think it's entirely possible that they have plans laid for what they will do if Osama bin Laden is killed. And it's an -- I think it's a good reason not to think of this as just about one man or even just one organization. We really have got to eliminate all of these networks.

Schieffer: The whole idea of weapons, do you think it's possible that they have some kind of what people are calling the "dirty bomb," something that would spread radiation if they do not have a nuclear weapon?

Wolfowitz: It is possible. We haven't seen very much evidence. I guess there are documents that at least one agency got out of Kabul that suggest maybe they have something. Maybe they just have documents intended to scare us. Bin Laden claimed the other day, I think, on an interview that he had or suggested that he had nuclear weapons, but that may have been more to frighten us than for reality. We try to look for every trace we can that there might -- but I mean, obviously, that would be the most colossal danger to the United States. And so far, I can't say that we have hard evidence --

Schieffer: I just want to go back to one thing you said. You seem to be saying this morning that our business is to get in there and get these terrorist and kind of get out of Dodge, that it will be up to others and up to the Afghans to decide what happens after that. Is that basically what you're telling us?

Wolfowitz: I'm saying the military objective, the purpose of our military is to accomplish those things. I'm not -- as a national objective, I think yes, we would like to see a stable Afghanistan afterwards, but that's not going to be achieved by the American military, and it's not even going to be achieved primarily by outsiders. In fact, one of the lessons of Afghanistan's history, which we've tried to apply in this campaign, is if you're a foreigner, try not to go in. If you go in, don't stay too long, because they don't tend to like any foreigners who stay too long.

And so I think the road to constructing a more stable Afghanistan and one that is not once again a harbor for terrorists has got to be providing incentives for the Afghanistan people to live better with one another. And I think a lot of those incentives are going to prove to be humanitarian and economic. And there's a great opportunity here to help educate those women who have been deprived of education for the last five years under the Taliban. There's a great opportunity to provide medical care and other kinds of basic assistance that the Afghan people need. And hopefully, through those kinds of instruments, we will also have the influence to encourage them to do what they need to do, but we can't do it for them with our military.

Schieffer: Paul Wolfowitz, thank you very much. Thank you very much. When we come back, we're going to talk to a representative of the Afghan Northern Alliance, Haron Amin -- in just a minute.

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