Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001
(Interview with Bob Schieffer and Gloria Borger, Face the Nation, CBS-TV)
Schieffer: Good morning again. And with us here in the studio, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. General Myers, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to have you here this morning.
Myers: Good morning, Bob. Nice to be here. Thank you.
Schieffer: Mohammad Amin, who says he speaks for the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, reports this morning that Osama bin Laden himself has taken command of a force of a thousand men in the eastern region of Afghanistan. Do you put any credibility in that?
Myers: Well, you know, coming up with the ground truth in Afghanistan has always been difficult. And previous statements by the Taliban, I think we've -- have been discredited over time. So you've got to be very careful with assuming what they say is the truth. But clearly our objectives have not -- we have not strayed from our objectives of eradicating the al Qaeda network -- not just in Afghanistan but worldwide, and also ensuring that the Taliban are not effective in harboring terrorists there in Afghanistan.
Schieffer: Well, do you -- what is your latest information on where Osama bin Laden is?
Myers: Well, let me just caution again that it's -- bin Laden is not -- not the target, it is the network, his al Qaeda network. Clearly, he's part of that network, but he's not the sole target. And as I've said many times, if we capture bin Laden this afternoon our time, things will not be over. This is going to be -- our mission is to destroy the whole network. Our latest information is, and has been for some time, that he is in this area, the so-called Tora Bora area, and they're in the hills with some other al Qaeda fighters, and they are fighting fiercely against opposition forces, some of our forces, and some of our air -- air attacks, trying to survive.
MS. GLORIA BORGER: Well, there are reports this morning that U.S. planes are joining these Afghan fighters in hunting for Osama bin Laden, literally in the woods. Can you confirm that then?
Myers: Well, we've -- for a long time, we've been working with the opposition groups, and there are opposition groups right now that are working in the Tora Bora area. Very fierce fighting. They are fighting against the al Qaeda, we know that. We know that the al Qaeda forces are relatively large in number just because of the ferocity of the fighting. And we are supporting them, like we have supported the opposition groups in the north and in the south.
Borger: What about the reports that he may have fled to Pakistan?
Myers: Well, I think we will continue to get reports like that. That border is a longer border. There are many ways to get across it, either on foot, vehicular traffic as well. And we've gotten help from the Pakistani military to try to prevent that. And we're trying to prevent that as well. The thought that we can do that with 100 percent surety, of course, would not be right. There's a -- there is always that chance. But as I have said before, if he does leave Afghanistan, he'll be in the second most favorite country. He's obviously very -- he has been very comfortable in Afghanistan; as the support wanes for him there, then he may want to leave. If he does, we're going to follow him and his -- the rest of his leadership wherever they go.
Schieffer: Well, what you're saying is he's going to have a hard time finding a home someplace else?
Myers: Well, I think it's harder and harder. I think the message probably -- we hope the message is clear to those that harbor terrorists, that this is not a strategy that's going to pay dividends in the long run. And that's certainly one of the lessons of this first phase, the first military phase of our war on terrorism, that if you want to harbor terrorists, there will be consequences.
Schieffer: Do you, General, feel that you have now broken the back of the Taliban? Are they still a fighting force of any significance?
Myers: Well, again, we think we've made some progress. We think that obviously politically they're not much of a force. Whether we have broken the back yet, I think probably too early to say that, although we've come -- we're coming pretty -- we're coming closer day by day. They're certainly in disarray. For some time, they've had trouble marshaling their forces in a way that has been significant -- although there are a lot of Taliban fighters left, both --
Schieffer: Let me just interrupt you here, because I've just been told something, and this is bulletin material. I've just been told that one of the wire services has moved a report that British forces -- if I'm understanding -- correct me back there if I've got this wrong -- that British forces say they have captured Osama -- No? I see. All right. Take back the bulletin. The wire says that British forces say IF they capture Osama bin Laden, they will only turn him over to the United States if they are assured that he will not face the death penalty. Do you know anything about that, General?
Myers: No, I've never heard that before. And, of course, we've consistently said we want to bring the al Qaeda leadership to justice. And -- and I don't think anything has been ruled out at this point.
Borger: Well, do you want to try Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar because you want a certain outcome? Would you prefer that than saying having the Afghans try them?
Myers: Well, I think, that's -- that's clearly not a military decision. Our job is to find them, to -- our mission remains consistent to try to find all the leadership, and to get the intelligence we can get. This network is very, very large. It's not just Afghanistan. As we've said many times, the leadership is in over -- al Qaeda is in over 60 countries, to include this country. So, the first step is to get the leadership; second step is to decide what to do with them. But certainly the United States wants to be involved in that.
Schieffer: General, the Washington Post reported this morning, other news agencies including CBS News' Pentagon correspondent, David Martin, have also confirmed that there is some sort of videotape that has been captured by the United States, and it shows Osama bin Laden talking about the attacks on the Trade Towers, and at one point even says that he says, "Oh, it's better than we thought it was going to be" -- or words to that effect. Have you seen that tape? Can you tell us anything about it?
Myers: I have seen segments of that tape, some of which weren't completely translated. And I think that work, since I have seen the tape, has been ongoing to see what intelligence we can glean from the tape. And then I know that the national command authorities are discussing the tape and its intelligence value and whether or not to release it.
Schieffer: Now, David Martin says one reason that it has not been released is that there was some concern it might contain signals -- that it might have been used to signal Osama bin Laden's people of something or other. Do you know anything about that?
Myers: I would just leave that to the intelligence folks. I don't -- I would rather not speculate on that. I don't know that for a fact.
Borger: Can you tell us, though, what was Osama bin Laden's demeanor on this tape? How would you describe it?
Myers: I'm almost afraid to go into that too much, but I will use a couple of words. He was relaxed. And let me just -- it was a -- it was obviously -- from my view anyway, the few segments that I saw, it was a private -- he was conducting it like it was a private conversation.
Schieffer: Talk about his demeanor in general. This is a man who was very happy to send young people on suicide missions, yet he seems to have gone in hiding when the tough got going -- when the going got tough. What kind of a commander do you think he is?
Myers: Well, he certainly wouldn't qualify for a command of any U.S. unit, you know. We want our leaders to be out front, and they have been. And, he does not appear to be that kind of leader. He's one that prefers that others do the fighting and he does the rhetoric piece of that. And so I would say it's pretty poor commandership from our viewpoint.
Schieffer: What's the state of things in the city of Kandahar right now?
Myers: Still a lot of confusion. You know, there are reports that the Taliban control there has broken down. We think it has to a great extent, but there is still a lot of confusion and there probably will be for several days to come. It's that -- that is, it's not over there. There is still a substantial number of Taliban fighters there, to include foreign fighters fighting for the Taliban. And our -- our main purpose right now, our main goal is to ensure that any of the foreign fighters or Taliban that try to escape, that we can interdict them and capture those we want and interrogate them and so forth. And that's one of the main missions that our U.S. Marines have that are in the vicinity of Kandahar right now.
Borger: Would you say that it's pretty chaotic right there on the ground now, and dangerous?
Myers: Oh, it's absolutely -- well, that's -- you can almost say that about the entire country, but certainly in the Kandahar region it's very chaotic, it's very dangerous.
Schieffer: It's my understanding that some fairly senior Taliban people were arrested or have been taken into custody, some ministers, some generals. Have U.S. forces had access to them as yet?
Myers: In some cases, yet, and in some case, not yet. But we're working that as we speak. Obviously, we want access to these people. Some of these people we want to interrogate for the intelligence benefit that we'll gain from that, and some we may want to keep. So, we're working that issue as we speak.
Borger: Can we talk a little bit about John Walker, the American who is now in your custody, who fought with the Taliban? Do you believe that he committed treason?
Myers: Well, I think it's too early to say exactly what he did. We know he was with the Taliban. He was the last -- with the last group of fighters in Mazar-e-Sharif. We know he was armed. Right now, he is in the control of the United States. He is at this forward-operating base that we call "Rhino." He's with -- under the control of the U.S. Marines. He's been given medical care. And we're treating him as if he would come under the Geneva Convention, although we have not declared that he is a prisoner of war yet. He is a detainee, officially. And we're trying to give him all the care and the rights that he would have if he were. And his final disposition, or the next step is still -- is still being debated.
Borger: Are you debriefing him now? And is he cooperating?
Myers: We are debriefing him. Obviously, he would have some -- some information that would be of great intelligence value that might help protect our troops that are engaged there, and our coalition partners that are engaged there. And that's exactly what we're looking for, Gloria.
Schieffer: Well, is he cooperating?
Myers: He has been -- as I understand it, he has been reasonably cooperative and talkative.
Schieffer: General, in the beginning people talked a lot about with winter coming on that literally hundreds of thousand of people could starve in Afghanistan. We haven't heard much about that lately? What is the situation there? And what will the United States do about that?
Myers: Well, I'm not the expert on -- and I don't think the military is the expert on that. But early on in this campaign, it was General Franks who said, you know, as we start the campaign in Afghanistan, we've got to help with the humanitarian piece of that. And so, you know, very early on, right after the initial bombings, we started dropping the humanitarian rations. That continues today. That's being evaluated. It looks like this bridge down from Uzbekistan will open shortly, if it hasn't already, so we can start using ground transportation to bring in that sort of supplies. I would say the situation, in my -- in my understanding of it, is still dire in some parts of the country, and it's something that we have to, and have been from the beginning, continue to work. It's a very important part of our strategy.
Schieffer: General, I want to thank you very much. It's a pleasure to have you, and good luck down the road. I hope you will come back.
Myers: Bob, thank you very much. Thank you for the opportunity. Absolutely.
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