Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001
(Interview with Brit Hume, Fox Sunday Morning)
Q: For a further discussion about the war, we are pleased to be joined by the man who is in overall charge of it, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Welcome, sir.
Myers: Good morning, Brit.
Q: Let me take you back through, if I can, a couple of things that Steve Harrigan reported on. Intriguing reports there about Osama bin Laden being seen outside the caves, on the move. What do you know about that, General?
Myers: Well, obviously, we're still on the hunt for all the al Qaeda leadership. And UBL is part of that, but not the only part of that. In the hunt up there, we think we know in general where he is. Can't be sure, but we think we know.
And we've got -- we're approaching it from a couple of different directions. One is we've got opposition folks that are prosecuting the war against the al Qaeda up there in the hills. The fighting has been very, very intense.
We also have some small number of U.S. forces up there that are trying to get their eyes on to some of these targets, so they can help either the opposition, or help our air strikes on those locations.
Q: You doubtless have heard the same report Steve Harrigan had heard about bin Laden being out and around. Do you credit those reports, or you just don't know -- what?
Myers: I don't think we have absolute ground truth on that. We are able, through many different types of intelligence, to try to track bin Laden. But again, let me just remind you, it's not bin Laden that we're after. If we got bin Laden this afternoon, this would not be over -- (off mike) -- in Afghanistan, or the al Qaeda leadership. And the Taliban, too, who have supported the regime. So we've got to get the Taliban leadership as well.
Q: Well, speaking of Taliban leadership, what do you now know about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar?
Myers: Just like UBL, we think we know where he is in a relatively large area. And we'll continue to hunt for the Taliban leadership, not just Omar.
Q: Now, will that hunt be carried out principally by our own forces, or more by the Northern Alliance?
Myers: It could be either. We have relied, through this whole conflict, on the opposition forces, because our objectives are intersecting quite nicely. So we hope the opposition will be helpful there. But we also are prepared to do that unilaterally if required.
Q: Steve Harrigan was saying that Kandahar remains kind of a dangerous and uncertain place. What's your assessment of how well that's been subdued there?
Myers: I think Steve had it about right. There's still a lot of uncertainty. As somebody described yesterday, I think it's sort of a Wild West place in its worst sense right now. And it will take some days to sort that out.
Q: Now, you're not planning, or are you to send in U.S. forces to be part of the security force there, right?
Myers: In Kandahar?
Myers: The primary purpose for the Marines in Afghanistan, in the vicinity of Kandahar, is to try to block any escape routes from the al Qaeda or the Taliban leadership. And they're doing that very nicely.
Q: Now, there have obviously been a lot of people getting out of Kandahar. How successful have you been in intercepting and dealing with escaping Taliban and al Qaeda fighters?
Myers: We think we've been relatively successfully. And you've got it just exactly right. We want to get any leadership that's trying to escape, or any al Qaeda or non-Afghan fighters that might come back to fight another day. So, we're looking quite hard for them.
It's -- again, it's impossible to know. Some of them can blend into the villages and so forth quite easily. But we're working that very, very hard.
Q: Give us a sense of the situation in Tora Bora. That's been described as a pretty tough battle up there, a fierce defense offered by al Qaeda forces. How is that going now?
Myers: Well, the forces up there, as I said before -- the al Qaeda forces that we think are ensconced up there, in some respects trapped up there, are fighting for their lives. So, it's a very tough battle for those opposition forces that are going in, trying to locate them, and either kill them or capture them. And by all accounts, the fighting there is very, very fierce.
Q: Now, obviously, we're supporting them to whatever extent we can. Can you report progress on that front up there, or is it hard to tell, or what?
Myers: I think, if you have a longer time-scale, if you look back a couple of weeks ago to the day, yes, there's been moderate progress made.
Q: It sounds as if you think that Tora Bora situation is going to take a while.
Myers: Yes. In fact, the whole -- I think what we have to tell the American public, is that we've got to be prepared for a long war. We've been saying this from the very beginning, that this is not going to be over if we get UBL, if we get a couple of his top lieutenants. We're talking about disabling the al Qaeda network, and it's going to take some time.
Q: Well, that of course could be, in a sense, a worldwide project. But when you say a long war, do you consider that we could still be engaged militarily in Afghanistan for a very long time?
Myers: Sure -- nobody knows. And I'd be the last one to try to guess on that. And I think, if you ask General Franks down at Central Command, he would sort of guess as well. We think that we're making some progress. But I think we have to be prepared for a long war.
Q: Do you know anything about that bin Laden tape that's been described as one where he is gloating happily over the success, in his eyes, of the World Trade Center attacks?
Myers: I know a little bit about it. I've seen small segments from it, not fully translated. I think --
Q: So you've seen segments from the tape itself, or just excerpts?
Myers: That's correct. Excerpts of the tape.
Q: And so, this is the real thing. There's no doubt about it's authenticity?
Myers: Well, I can't vouch for its authenticity. I think the intelligence community is going to have to do that. And I know they're trying to evaluate and see what other intelligence might be in those comments, and so forth.
Q: That sounds like this could be powerful evidence if he were captured. What's your sense of that?
Myers: I don't want to opine on that. I think that we'll leave that up to the intelligence community, and also to the political leadership to decide if that's something they want to -- (off mike).
Q: And what about the disposition of John Walker? He's described as a detainee -- a battlefield detainee seems to be the term I've seen. What does that mean, exactly?
Myers: That means that he is -- exactly what it says. That he's under detention right now. He's under control of U.S. forces. He is at this forward operating base we call RHINO, under the control of the Marines. And he's being accorded all the rights and privileges, as if he were a prisoner of war, but he's not. He's a detainee right now.
Q: And how does the decision get made as to what will happen to him -- whether he will become a prisoner of war, whether he'll be charged? What's the process for that?
Myers: Well, the first part of the process is to see if there's -- if he has valuable intelligence that either can help us in the conflict in Afghanistan, or perhaps in ensuring the security of folks back home. If he has knowledge of any further terrorist actions here in the United States, or for that matter around the world. And then, right now, the process is going on to determine his final status.
Q: Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz has been quoted as saying that he has indeed -- Walker has indeed provided useful information. What about that?
Myers: Well, I think that's right. He's been pretty close to the action, and I think he has provided, at least from the Afghan viewpoint, some useful information, and probably will continue to do so.
Q: Is there any doubt in your mind, sir, that he was armed and fighting for the Taliban?
Myers: I think it's pretty -- well, I just better not speculate, being in a senior leadership position. I think we'll let the folks that are putting together whatever case, one way or the other, they want to put together.
Q: Well, will you have a say in that?
Myers: At any time if there's military equities involved, I'll be able to provide advice to the secretary and for the rest of the National Security Council as required. But I think the evidence is pretty strong that he was right in the middle of it.
Q: Now, one wonders, of course, whether if he's helpful at this stage, that would tend to be a mitigating circumstance for him. Is that a fair assumption?
Myers: That's not a military question. But I think all that will be taken into consideration. Right now, he's a detainee. He's being treated -- medical treatment. He's been given medical treatment. He's being fed and cared for. And in fact, he's even had a visit, I think, by the Red Cross. So, we're taking care of him, I think, in the way we should. And the future disposition will have to be determined.
Q: You talked about the exit routes around Kandahar. There are questions, of course, about other exit routes from the country. There had been some thought that ships on the high seas might be a way that people are getting out of there that we would like to have. Questions about routes through Pakistan -- what is your sense about those kinds of escape routes -- ships and through Pakistan?
Myers: A couple of comments. Obviously, we'd like to prevent the escape of any of the senior leadership. The Pakistan border is -- there are many routes across -- vehicular, footpaths. Almost impossible to seal the border. We have cooperation from the Pakistani military to help us with that problem.
In terms of the ships, as you're probably aware, we have boarded a couple of ships, looking for suspected al Qaeda members who are trying to use ships to leave Afghanistan.
Q: So you had intelligence that led you to do it -- these weren't random searches.
Myers: No, they were not random searches.
Q: Any luck?
Myers: No luck so far.
Q: Now, how satisfied are you with the level of military cooperation on this escape issue from the Pakistani military?
Myers: We're very happy with the cooperation that we've gotten from the Pakistani military, and that continues to grow day by day.
Q: And now, there had been some speculation, I gather, from what you said earlier, that you don't believe bin Laden's left the country.
Myers: Well, to the best of our knowledge, he has not left the country. But as I say, if he leaves Afghanistan, he's going to his second most favorite country. And I think there are - - it will be hard for him to find a home. People, I think in other countries, and other organizations, are learning the hazards of supporting terrorism. And I think we'll --
Q: You say the second most favorite country. What do you mean by that?
Myers: Well, he's most comfortable in Afghanistan because that's where he is. If he goes somewhere else, it will be his second most favorite country.
Q: Your point being, that he's in Afghanistan for a reason.
Myers: He's in Afghanistan, because he's gotten support and he thinks he can evade capture.
Q: Do you have any preliminary indications now as to what happened in the friendly fire incident that killed those forces?
Myers: Well, first of all, let me just offer condolences to the families of all. I mean, that's -- it's a terrible tragedy. And our hearts go out to them.
We -- General Franks and the Central Command, and through his components of Air Force, his various components, are looking at that, trying to gather all the facts so we can determine exactly what happened.
I think there will be -- the evidence will be -- there's enough evidence that I think we can determine what has happened and we'll take steps to mitigate it.
Q: Do you have any preliminary indications?
Myers: I'd rather not get into that. I think the first indications in these cases -- it's usually wrong, or arguably wrong, so we have to be very careful about speculation.
Q: When Mazar-e-Sharif fell, then quickly Kabul and a host of other places, there were differing opinions as to what was going on -- whether this was a rout of the Taliban, or whether this was some kind of a tactical or strategic retreat.
Based on that, based on what you knew then and what you now know, what happened here? Was this a retreat or was this a rout?
Myers: You know, I think it's probably not that clean. I think there were some deals made between various factions. So I think, in some cases, Taliban fighters, if they were Afghanistani, would probably come over to the opposition side. If they were foreign fighters, they resisted, as we know, to the very end. And that's what we had in the case of Mazar-E Sharif.
We had mainly foreign fighters that were resisting to the end. And so, I think it's a little bit of both. And the same thing is probably happening, as we understand it, in the Kandahar region.
Q: Now, let me just ask one last question on humanitarian aid. To what extent is the United States prepared to provide the security for truck convoys and other transport of aid into Afghanistan?
Myers: Well, first of all, if you remember right from the very beginning, humanitarian assistance was pretty high on the list of things that we thought we ought to provide to the Afghani people, and we did that through -- initially through air drops on the third or fourth night of the war. We were starting to drop rations.
If they open that bridge from Uzbekistan, north of Mazar-E Sharif, that will be a big help. The story is that they're supposed to open that today, Sunday their time. And we're still looking for confirmation that they've done that.
We think that the non-governmental organizations that are going to be responsible for distributing the food will be able to do so in most parts of the countries, probably without security. It will never be a totally safe place to do that. So, I think the organizations understand that.
Q: And would U.S. forces be engaged in providing security in those (off mike)?
Myers: That has not been talked about yet. And I -- one of the things that this global war on terrorism is going to require a military force for some time to come, perhaps. And one of the things that we don't want to do is leave a large legacy force in Afghanistan.
Q: And quickly, one last thing. How concerned are you that Osama bin Laden may have changed his appearance in some say, disguised himself so that he would be difficult to recognize?
Myers: I've heard the stories. And I -- of course, we don't know the veracity of those stories. I don't think we're too concerned. I think we'll have ways to identify bin Laden, if that's the case.
Q: General Myers, thank you very much for coming.
Myers: Thank you, Brit.
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