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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Dan Rather, CBS

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 04, 2001

Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2001

(Interview with Dan Rather, CBS Evening News)

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you for being with us.

Is it true that the U.S. military is indeed close to moving another force into this country possibly around Jalalabad and the Tora Bora cave section?

Rumsfeld: We don't announce anything with respect to prospective deployments.

Q: I'm going to take that to mean that at least it may be under consideration.

Rumsfeld: It would be a mistake to take it as anything other than a standing Department of Defense and Don Rumsfeld policy that it puts people's lives in danger if we speculate about what might or might or might not happen in the future.

Q: The U.S. Marines southwest of Kandahar. It's a fact and it's well known that they've moved outside their perimeter. Have they or have they not engaged any Taliban and/or al Qaeda forces?

Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge. What they've been doing thus far is providing force protection for a forward operating base and then moving outside of that base for the purpose of being available to interdict lines of communication and roads.

As you know, there is the danger that some people we're interested in conceivably could try to flee either to the west, towards Iran, or towards the east and south towards Pakistan. They're in a position to prevent that. They're also in a position to prevent resupply and the movement of Taliban and al Qaeda troops trying to reinforce Kandahar were that to occur.

Q: Are they available to help take the main Kandahar airport and/or the city itself?

Rumsfeld: Those are questions that are pending and we don't have anything to announce with respect to that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there has been talk that Osama bin Laden perhaps has left the country. Is that your belief? Or do you believe as many in the Northern Alliance do that he is in fact still in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: Well, the reality is that it's not something that we know for sure. If I had to take a guess which is probably worth exactly what you're paying for it, I would guess he's still in the country. On the other hand -- And I would also guess that Omar is still in the country.

You're quite right, the borders to Iran and to Pakistan are porous and it is perfectly possible that one or more of the people we have an interest in can in fact manage to flee the country. That doesn't mean we'll stop being interested in them, however.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think we're heading for a showdown in and around Kandahar similar to the one up north at Mazar-e Sharif?

Rumsfeld: It's tough to tell, Dan. You've been around these yourself over a period of some decades and my impression at the moment is that Omar is pretty much of a dead end there, and he's got some fairly fanatical al Qaeda folks and Taliban folks in Kandahar who may very well decide to fight it out. I hope they don't. They're using the civilians in Kandahar as shields in effect and hiding in there. My hope is that we'll be able to resolve it by their surrendering. But if not, we'll have to resolve it some other way.

Q: We know, it's now well known that there are U.S. Special Forces on the ground in this country. Help us understand what their role is. Are they searching for Osama bin Laden, engaging in combat themselves? Or is it an advisory role with our Afghan allies on the ground?

Rumsfeld: The Special Forces "A" teams have for the most part been embedded in the various elements of the opposition forces that have been opposing the Taliban and the al Qaeda. There are several handfuls of those teams at various locations in the country. They've been involved with targeting, they've been involved with resupply, advising, assisting with humanitarian assistance, and the like.

We also have had from time to time Special Operations teams that have been on specific projects, both the United States and some of our coalition partners have. And there their role has been somewhat different.

Q: Mr. Secretary, we've heard reports that there are truck bombs being prepared, have been prepared in Kandahar to use against American troops and others. Have you heard that? Is that reliable information?

Rumsfeld: Well, it doesn't surprise me. I've heard speculation to that effect. There have been instances in our country's history where we have been the targets of truck bombs as well as various other types of terrorist acts, and I've read speculation in various types of intelligence that that type of a terrorist attack is being prepared now. I know that our commanders are sensitive to it and it's a risk we face.

I think the speculation is that if the United States were to suffer a setback, some casualties, some losses as we have in other countries in prior periods, that it might be sufficient to frighten the United States off of their task. I can tell you and anyone else who is listening that will not be the case. The United States is aware that people's lives are at risk and the American people accept that risk. We've lost thousands of people in our country and the United States military is leaning forward and not back, and life will get more difficult, not less difficult if something like that occurs.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but your basic frame of reference is what happened in the 1980s with the truck bomb in Beirut, Lebanon when it hit, killed well over 200 American servicemen, primarily Marines, and shortly after that we withdrew from Beirut.

Rumsfeld: Well, there is that example. There are several others one could cite. And I know that terrorists have from time to time mused about those incidents. What I'm saying is the fact. Our commanders and our leaders, military leaders from the president down through me to the CINC Tommy Franks to the men and women who are engaged in this process throughout are aware of those risks and those dangers and if and when something like that happens it will not deter us or deflate us. We will be moving forward and not back.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it's been speculated for a long while and it was again today on the front page of at least one newspaper that Osama bin Laden worked hard to get the ingredients for at least a small nuclear weapon. Is it the Defense Department's belief or not that he may now have such a weapon?

Rumsfeld: The United States government has discussed that subject. There is no question but that the terrorist networks have had appetite for weapons of mass destruction, not just nuclear, but radiation as well as chemical and biological. It's also no secret that the nations on the terrorist list, any number of them, have active programs in chemical, biological, and several have it with respect to nuclear weapons.

The relationship between those countries and the terrorist networks including al Qaeda is close and intimate, so it ought not to be a surprise for anyone to realize that terrorists who are willing to kill thousands of Americans are perfectly willing to seek out, acquire and try to use weapons of mass destruction.

Q: Mr. Secretary, turning to the Middle East. If Israel strikes directly at Yasser Arafat it becomes, if it becomes clear they're trying to kill him, is there concern that that might fuel attacks from Palestinian allies?

Rumsfeld: I don't follow the question, Dan.

Q: I didn't ask it very directly, Mr. Secretary.

The Palestinians have states that are allied with them, certainly in sympathy with them.

Rumsfeld: Oh, I see.

Q: If, if Israel is striking directly at Yasser Arafat or does so, there's bound to be pressure from below, from their own populations in some of those countries to act. The question is whether that's under active consideration.

Rumsfeld: First of all, it's hypothetical. Israel has not and is not currently doing that. Indeed, it's my understanding that the Israeli attacks that have taken place are reactions, self-defense reactions against the very vicious suicide attacks that took place in Israel within the last 48 hours.

Indeed, it's my understanding, and I don't even know if there's been a loss of life on the part of the Palestinians thus far in the strikes that have taken place from Israel. But I think it's a question that really isn't front and center.

Q: Mr. Secretary you've been very patient with us. I have one other question. There's been so much talk pro and con about what the attitude at the very top of the U.S. government is regarding Iraq. Could you set us straight on what exactly it is?

Rumsfeld: Sure. The United States is concerned about Iraq. It has been for successive administrations throughout the past decade. The president of the United States is fully aware that Saddam Hussein has a very big appetite for weapons of mass destruction and considers that a danger and a threat to the region, as I do. The president has made no announcements with respect to changes other than what we all know is that the United States military and our coalition partners are currently conducting Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch where we fly aircraft in the northern and southern portions of Iraq to make sure that he does not attempt to invade his neighbors, Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

Q: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.