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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Middle East Broadcasting Center

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
December 10, 2001

Thursday, December 6, 2001

(Interview with Thabet El-Bardicy, Middle East Broadcasting Center)

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for this interview.

First of all I would like to ask you is there any breaking news that you can break with MBC, either regarding Kandahar or --

Wolfowitz: I'm not in the position of breaking news because if we get some of our (inaudible) for themselves. The only thing I would say that's different, the things we get over the news and the things we get from our own sources (inaudible). For example right now we're hearing a lot (inaudible) in terms of Kandahar. And I imagine there's a lot of [fire] behind all that smoke but I can't tell you right now for sure (inaudible).

I do believe one thing is certain, not new, (inaudible) the Taliban is deciding (inaudible) Kandahar. I wish I could tell you it was going to happen tonight. I can't guarantee it.

Q: Will there be any chance (inaudible) Mullah Omar or (inaudible)?

Wolfowitz: I think the secretary's made it very clear that the man is guilty of terrible crimes against not only the American people but his own people (inaudible).

Q: The war on terrorism, what does it entail? (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: First of all let's be clear as to actually (inaudible). The war on terrorism is not just a military campaign. It is [primarily] a military campaign. I would say some of the first salvos for action were taken by law enforcement and intelligence services around the world. We talk about a coalition. Very often what the coalition members are doing is helping to round up terrorists in their own countries (inaudible) intelligence. I would say throughout the Middle East you'll find all kinds of countries cooperating with (inaudible) -- you might be surprised by. There are some who will openly acknowledge their cooperation and others who will deny it. But the intelligence and law enforcement is a major part of the campaign. So is the effort to freeze assets and track down (inaudible).

So Afghanistan was the beginning of the military piece. It's very far from over. We've accomplished a lot in a short time thanks to the Afghan people themselves, but our primary task which is getting the Taliban leadership and getting the al Qaeda leadership and getting rid of the al Qaeda network is just beginning. Maybe that will go quickly too but it could be a very long search from one cave to another.

Q: You have mentioned the success that has been achieved in such a short period, to which you attribute that being the air campaign, or what other factors do you think have contributed?

Wolfowitz: I would say let's start, the fundamental thing that contributed to the success of the campaign was the actions and behaviors and attitudes of the Afghan people themselves. The reason I think the Taliban has collapsed so fast was because they were so hated throughout the country, and once people realized you could resist them successfully they didn't have much to rely on outside of their innermost circle. They didn't have much to rely on except fear.

What the United States was able to contribute was the ability of people to resist the Taliban and it was a combination of bringing in just basic supplies. Believe it or not sometimes it was saddle gear for horses that we didn't expect to be flying in saddle gear for horses. Sometimes, very importantly, it was bringing in some very brave American soldiers who would link up with these local forces and enable the local forces to get support from U.S. aircraft, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft. In fact we talk here in this country in the Department of Defense a lot about military transformation, and often people think that means bringing in the most advanced technology. We're thinking about this. We had transformation in this case, and what we had that was transforming was we had 50 year old bombers, because the B-52 is a 52 year old bomber, supporting local forces riding horses, which is a 19th Century military instrument, but what made it 21st Century was those amazing communications that allowed the men on horseback to use the bombers from Missouri.

Q: The major goal was to capture Osama bin Laden. Is the U.S. close to that? And what will you do afterwards? If you capture him alive will you try him there somewhere in the ocean, or will you bring him here? I understand the trial will be a military one.

Wolfowitz: First of all let's be clear. Our major goal was to eliminate the al Qaeda network and particularly the al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, and that's much more than just Osama bin Laden. There's a tendency sometimes for people to say, "Well, he's the number one target." You could take him out and still have a whole network capable of doing very evil acts. You could take out the whole network and he could be hiding in a cave somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan and he might not matter anymore.

So it's really that objective, and it is first and foremost a matter of self defense. Yes, we want to bring these people to justice, but even more importantly we want to prevent them from doing other evil acts in the future.

The president set up this system of military tribunals as a way to give him an option for trying people that we might capture -- foreigners, not American citizens -- and clearly Osama bin Laden would be one of the people who would possibly qualify for a military tribunal. But the president hasn't made any decisions on who would be submitted to a military tribunal, who might be submitted to regular American courts, and I think there may be some other countries that want to try these people.

So I'm not saying that we haven't thought these issues through and, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, he has his own preferences, but until the president makes a decision none of us have a recommendation yet.

Q: When you achieve your goals to you have plans to stay in Afghanistan? Do you understand that the Soviet Union has tried that and failed; the British tried that and failed. What makes your operation different?

Wolfowitz: You mentioned some very relevant experience. There's a long string of foreigners who have established themselves in Afghanistan and become very quickly unpopular. In fact the al Qaeda terrorists and some of their foreign followers are the latest example.

You asked earlier what was the key to success. I think part of the key to success is even among the Taliban, foreign terrorists are not very popular people.

So we're trying to take a lesson from that and keep our presence in Afghanistan as small as possible while still being militarily effective. The other implication of that is we want to be out of Afghanistan as soon as we can accomplish our military objectives.

That leaves open the question of whether perhaps some kind of international stabilizing or security force could help a new government of Afghanistan to maintain stability and security in the country. That probably could be a useful function. The Bonn meeting has already indicated a desire for that. Obviously we would like to see that work. I can tell you from the president on down we all would like to see sooner rather than later that American troops are out of Afghanistan.

Q: How much faith do you have in the agreement that has been reached in Bonn? The Northern Alliance, (inaudible) Rabbani, he might be unhappy that he is out and Karzai is the new head of the government. Is there any concern that he might (inaudible) there since he has almost no role there?

Wolfowitz: It seems to me that given the conditions in Afghanistan, given what the country's been through for 20 years, given that there's still a war going on in the country, it's fairly impressive, and I must say I'm pleasantly surprised at how much they've been able to come to agreement in Bonn. I think the choice of Karzai, although I don't know that much about the man, but what I've heard, he is very positive, and the fact that he's a Pashtun I think is very important. I understand that one of the things that led to conditions that allowed the Taliban to come in was the fact that the Pashtun are the largest single ethnic group in the country and they felt that their interests were not properly represented.

However, the premise of your question I think is a valid one. There are a lot of different vies among the Afghans. They have a history of fighting with one another. They're still fighting with one another. I think any realistic person would have to expect that there are going to be bumps in the road along the way. Certainly the Bonn agreement is just a first step and it's an interim arrangement.

So on the one hand I am pleased at the progress. On the other hand, I caution people, you better expect not everything is going to go down smoothly.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm sure you are aware there has been reports that there are some here in the Defense Department that are calling for expanding this war to include some other countries including Iraq, (inaudible). And the Arab world is weary of that. What is your view?

Wolfowitz: Let me say several things. First of all, people who were saying the war in Afghanistan is over, what are you going to do next, are making a fundamental mistake. The war in Afghanistan is not over. It's very far from over, and I think this whole department is instructed by the president and the secretary of Defense to keep our eye on the ball, and the ball is still in Afghanistan, and there's a lot of work to do there. It can be very distracting to try to do too many different things at once.

Secondly, the president from the beginning, including very importantly in that statement he made to the joint session of Congress [ transcript ] stated the goal very broadly. It is a goal not just to deal with Afghanistan and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, it's to deal with al Qaeda worldwide and not just al Qaeda, but there are whole interacting networks of terrorists that help one another, and the goal is to eliminate all of them. Part of reaching that goal, as the president said to the joint session of Congress and he's said repeatedly, is to get states out of the business of supporting terrorism.

Now very simply put there are two ways that can happen. We've just seen in Afghanistan one way of getting a state out of the business of supporting terrorism. The better way is for states to decide voluntarily that this is not a good business to be in, and to look at what's happened to the Taliban and say wait a minute, I don't want that to happen to me.

We in the Department of Defense, frankly, are not looking for extra work. We would much prefer that all those countries that have been supporting terrorism in the past would reconsider what they're doing and end state support for terrorism because it is I think clearly an evil that's gone from being just one of those bad things that happens in the world to being something that's truly intolerable.

Q: But do you sir differentiate between terrorism and terrorism defense in the goals of liberating your own country?

Wolfowitz: I think the deliberate killing of innocent civilians for the purpose of having a political effect on other people is simply never justified. And I understand self defense. I understand wars of liberation. I understand that people can be impassioned to fight and die for causes, and Americans are fighting and dying right now today to defend our country. But I think to deliberate kill innocent women, children, and even men just to make a political point is simply unacceptable and not only is it morally unjustified, but the potential consequences when you open the door to that are not just 5,000 people dying in a single building in New York, but it opens the door to terrorists with biological weapons or nuclear weapons incinerating whole cities. It's a horrible prospect.

Q: But the Israeli government, for example, are doing just that. They are using American weapons and using assassination tactics against Palestinians, and Palestinians are describing that as state terrorism. What's your view on that?

Wolfowitz: I think it is very important when one is using force to try to be as careful as possible to distinguish between the innocent and people -- I don't want to use the word guilty, but the people who are fighting against you. We are trying very hard in Afghanistan not to kill noncombatants. Does that mean that we're always successful? Unfortunately not. We admit, we know. But we're defending our people and there are going to be some innocent people that are caught. But to deliberately kill innocent people for no other purpose than to punish them I think is unjustified.

Q: But if a terrorist, quote/unquote a "terrorist" does that behind the knowledge of his government. In the case of [Arafat], these people who do these suicide bombers, they are outside of his control. Why is he to blame?

Wolfowitz: You're drawing me into a subject that I don't feel all that expert about, but I do think there is a principle that governments have some responsibility for what takes place on their territory. There's a very -- I agree, there's a very significant difference between being an active agent of terrorism and simply being somebody who can't perform their adequate government functions.

I'll mention a country that I know much better because I was ambassador there for three years and that's Indonesia. It's the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. There are activities that we don't like that are going on there. I know the Indonesian government itself doesn't like them. And they're not fully capable of establishing their control over their whole territory and that is a legitimate problem.

All I can say is that the people in our government who work closely with the Palestinian authority, people like George Tenet and Secretary Powell all say that maybe Arafat can't stop everything, but there's a lot that he could be doing that he's not doing. I think that's a fair test.

Q: If I may just look, I may be missing one or two questions here.

Wolfowitz: I'm sure that's fine. (Laughter) Don't find the hard ones.

Q: I will continue

There have been some reports about ship movements near Somalia. Is Somalia going to be next in any American operation soon?

Wolfowitz: We have a very rigid rule that we don't discuss future operations. What I can tell you about our present operations is that one of the things we are concerned about is that as the space for al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan gets smaller and smaller we already know that some of them are sneaking out of the country. There is, I won't say where to because I don't want them knowing what we know, but we know they're trying to get away and one place they might try to go to is Somalia. So we're on the lookout for ships that might be taking terrorists to other countries. We're on the lookout for things that might take place not just in Somalia but many other places.

It's important to remind people that al Qaeda, as far as we can tell, has significant presence in some 60 countries including one of the biggest presences we think, we fear is here in our own country. So it's a broad campaign. It's not just Afghanistan.

Q: One last question. About the Arab cooperation with the United States militarily. I understand there has been the Bright Star maneuvers with Egypt. Could you tell us about the cooperation that you're having from the Arab countries so far?

Wolfowitz: I think it's very good. I would say there are very few countries in the world who seem to in any way endorse what the terrorists did, and I would say most countries in one way or another are trying to help us.

I'd like to make one general point. You didn't exactly ask this question. But I think what people in the Muslim world in general, and particularly in the Arab world should think about I believe is if you look at what's happened in Afghanistan, we were not fighting the Afghan people. I think the Afghan people have made it absolutely clear which side they were on. That's why the Taliban has collapsed so fast. And this turns out, I mean we were there for our own interests, we make no bones about it. But I think we also advanced the interests of millions of Muslims in Afghanistan.

This isn't the first time we've done that. I find that even my friends in Indonesia don't seem to realize that if we had Afghanistan six times in the last ten years, the American military has gone into action to defend people against aggression or against war-induced famine. Every one of those six times the people we were defending were a majority of Muslims. Starting with Kuwait, then there was northern Iraq, Operation Provide Comfort, then there was Somalia, then there was Bosnia, then there was Kosovo, now there's Afghanistan. We didn't do it because they were Muslims, we did it because they were victims. We frequently did it because our own interests were at stake as well. Sometimes we maybe didn't move as fast as we should have like in Bosnia.

But I think it's an important fact that I hope my Muslim friends in Indonesia will think more about and I would say throughout the Muslim world. This is not a country, the United States, that has any quarrel with Islam as a religion or Muslims as people. We have millions of Muslim citizens of whom we are very proud, many of them serve in our armed forces. This is a war against terrorism. It's a war against people who are not only hijacking airplanes, they're hijacking countries, they're hijacking a great religion, and I think the more we can hear from the Muslim world that that kind of behavior is abhorrent to Muslims, I think that will be another great advance in getting rid of this evil.

Q: If I may say something, Mr. Secretary, they not only hijacked that, they hijacked our American Muslim progress here. We were enjoying much more respect and progress and unfortunately we are seeing times now that because of what they did that we are not as we were before, and I hope the American government will realize that Muslims are not the enemy of the United States as the American government is considering that they are not the enemy of Islam.

Wolfowitz: And I think President Bush has gone to very great lengths to make that message as clear as he can. I would say I know there are exceptions here and there because it's a big country and people have their own attitudes. But I think on the whole most Americans have gotten the message from the president and share it.

I was at an Iftar dinner the other night for our Defense Department Muslims, and I was a bit shocked to hear that they had thought about canceling the Iftar dinner this year because of September 11th. I said thank God you didn't because it would have been a terrible thing to do. And I hope I understand your feeling about a setback, but I think in the long run when we succeed in this campaign against terrorism it's going to become clear that we succeeded because so many Muslims wanted to rid the world of terrorism as well.

The people that are cheering American troops in Afghanistan are probably 98 percent Muslim, and I think Americans should start to understand that we're allies in this conflict. We're not enemies.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.