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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Stakeout at NBC-TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 03, 2001

Sunday, December 2, 2001

(Media stakeout outside the NBC-TV studio in Washington, D.C., following taping of Meet the Press.)

Q: How big a role are Canadian troops playing on the ground in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: I have a pattern where I do not characterize for other countries what it is they are doing with respect to the coalition on terrorism.

I can say this. That I stay in touch with the Canadian minister of Defense, that the Canadians have been enormously supportive and helpful and effective and I will leave to them the task of characterizing precisely what it is they're doing.

The reason I do that is because I really do believe that we need all the help we can get, and it is best if they say it in a way that fits their circumstance rather than others trying to say it for them.

Q: What kind of role would you like to see them continue to play, or to play in the future?

Rumsfeld: The Canadian government and the Canadian people have been supportive and leaning forward and helpful from the very beginning of this effort and they are doing exactly that which is appropriate from their standpoint and from out standpoint and we appreciate it.

Q: Would you see them playing some sort of a role in any kind of a multinational force if that were to go in afterwards? Or is this the main role that they would be playing?

Rumsfeld: The question of a multinational force is a complicated one because, or an international force, because ultimately we need to have a stable situation there so we can allow the humanitarian assistance to take place. Already there are a number of places where there are food supplies but the distribution beyond those centers of food supplies is imperfect and people are starving and we need to get that stable.

Whether or not an international force will or will not be appropriate really is going to be something for the forces on the ground and the provisional government once it's sorted out by the Bonn group. And then it will be up to each country to decide whether or not they would like to participate in it.

From our standpoint, we've got so much to do elsewhere that I doubt that the United States would be a likely candidate to participate in an international peacekeeping force as such.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are the U.S. Marines going to help liberate Kandahar?

Rumsfeld: Well, the U.S. Marines are already helping in Afghanistan and indeed helping with respect to Kandahar in this sense. They have been placed there to establish a forward operating base. They are doing it. They're doing it exceedingly well.

One of the aspects of that is that it vastly complicates the life of the Taliban and the al Qaeda in this sense. To the extent anyone tries to reinforce Kandahar they'll have difficulty. The Marines are in position to interdict lines of communication, to prevent people from escaping, and to prevent people from coming in. What other roles they may or may not play is a matter for the combatant commander, Tommy Franks, to decide as we go forward.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there were reports this morning about an anti-Taliban headquarters being hit outside of Jalalabad, and the leader there is pleading with the U.S. to stop bombing civilian areas. Does this become more of a threat as less of the country is controlled by the Taliban?

Rumsfeld: Does what become more of a threat?

Q: That we would hit areas that have been taken over by civilians or anti-Taliban forces which we're working with there.

Rumsfeld: Let me walk at it this way and if I don't capture all of that you come back at me.

The Taliban have been lying from day one about what was taking place on the ground. We have example after example after example of where they have simply lied through their teeth. It seems to me that people ought to -- if someone is a repeat liar to the extent they are, people ought to take what they say and consider that probability, not possibility.

We are bombing in Afghanistan. We are doing it in a way that is as precise and careful as ever has happened in history. There are lots of people shooting in Afghanistan. There are opposition forces, there's the bombs we're dropping, there are people on the ground, there are the al Qaeda and the Taliban shooting and blowing up and killing people, so there's a lot of ordnance flying around and there is no question but that from time to time innocent people, non-combatants undoubtedly are killed and that is always unfortunate.

I hope we hit an al Qaeda headquarters. We are systematically trying to do that. We watch and listen and are attentive to their patterns and any time we find command and control headquarters we go in and attack those headquarters to the extent it's humanly possible.

Does that do it?

Q: Yes.

Q: Sir, what does the recent violence in the [Middle East] mean to the coalition against terrorism?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's a bit soon to say but we do know there are people, terrorist organizations like Hamas as well as al Qaeda that make it a practice to be mass murderers, to go after innocent men, women and children, non-combatants, and kill them in large numbers. It is a particularly vicious thing when that happens.

I believe that the only way to deal with terrorists is not to think that you can defend against them, because to do so means you have to do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week in every location against any conceivable type of attack -- a car filled with explosives, a rocket-propelled grenade over the top of barriers to stop the cars. It can't be done. The only way to do it is to go after those people. Find them and root them out and prevent them from doing it again. That means you not only have to deal with the terrorists and the terrorist networks, you have to also deal with the countries that harbor them.

Q: Do you think, sir, though, that Muslim and Arab support for this anti-terrorist coalition might weaken because of activity in the [Middle East]?

Rumsfeld: Do I think that support would weaken because a bunch of Israelis were killed? That sounds like a non sequitur to me. I can't imagine why it would be.

I think most people are rational and humane and they don't think that it's a good idea to kill dozens of innocent people -- men, women and children in a shopping mall. I don't think that that's the kind of thing that gains much support for anybody.

Q: Does it support the argument that these other groups, the front needs to be wider, that you need to more immediately go after some of these other groups?

Rumsfeld: I think that that organization was already on the terrorist list. In fact I know it was. This isn't a thing that's new. We have been trying to gather intelligence on all kinds of terrorist organizations across the world. Lots of countries have been cooperating, God bless them, and we appreciate it, and we need all that help. How and when and in what order these things are dealt with, we're drying up bank accounts around the world, countries are cooperating. I think more countries ought to cooperate and it's an area where I think we need more help.

But I think it is always a tragedy when a vicious terrorist attack like that takes place.

Q: Does it move Hamas up the list in terms of who you need to go after with force?

Rumsfeld: Those are judgments that the president of the United States makes, and our coalition partners.

Q: There's been a lot of criticism about military tribunals and the international community's suggestion that they might not turn over people because of them. What's your reaction to that?

Rumsfeld: First of all, I don't know that there's been a lot of criticism. There's been a lot of discussion and a lot of consideration because it is something that, while it's historically rooted we have not in the last recent years had military commissions. Second, there have been relatively few comments or countries that have opined on that subject in a critical way, and for the most part it tends to almost follow along with the differences that exist in the world with respect to capital punishment. We know there are some countries that don't have capital punishment. That's their right. And we know that we do have capital punishment for some types of crimes in some jurisdictions, and that's our right.

I think that the discussion has been generally healthy and good. I think I have learned from reading articles and listening to thoughtful people comment on it. The president of the United States has issued a military order which is a good order. It is rooted in the Revolutionary War military commissions, the Civil War military commissions, the World War II military commissions. These are not something that have been pulled out of mid-air that are something that are un-American. Quite the contrary, they're very much rooted in our history as a country. They have advantages for some limited number of distinct circumstances. The president has not yet assigned to anybody -- to me, to the Department of Defense -- for a military commission or tribunal or consideration. He may in the future. He wants to have that option and should have that option.

If he does, I can assure everybody in the world that we will do what we do in a responsible, measured, careful way. We're in the process of talking to some of the most thoughtful legal minds in the country about this issue and giving careful consideration to it. We will do whatever it is we do very much with full attention to the value and the historical background of our country.

Q: You said, sir, I believe, that there are 1500 to 2000 American ground troops in Afghanistan. Do you see that number increasing dramatically?

Rumsfeld: This is a very complicated task. It is a task that's hard. It's a task that -- we're not repeating a set piece from history. There is no road map for what we're doing. It is not knowable what it will take. We do know it's tough. We do know that people are going to be killed. We do know that it's going to take time. And I can't answer the question at the moment how much more. But I do know this. It is sufficiently unknowable that it would be unwise and imprudent and foolish to rule anything out.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

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