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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Media Availability in New York City

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
December 11, 2001

Saturday, Dec. 8, 2001

(Media availability in New York after USS Bulkeley commissioning. Wolfowitz' remarks at the ceremony are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/2001/s20011208-depsecdef.html )

Wolfowitz: It's a great day. The weather for a commissioning like this is just fantastic.

I must say, I am a New Yorker myself. I was born in upstate New York. New York is doing the country proud and the country's proud of New York. It's great to be here.

This is a fantastic ship. As I guess you've heard the man it's named after is truly an American hero, a really remarkable naval officer. But I am impressed serving in the Department of Defense now the true American heroes we have serving now in different uniforms around the world and typically in Afghanistan. We're lucky to have them.

I guess I'm here to answer questions.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: There are a lot of maybes in there, and that's I think a good summary about what we know about Osama bin Laden. The one thing we know for sure is he's a man on the run. The network that supports him has collapsed completely. Clearly his ability to commit evil deeds has been severely curtailed. But at the same time we have to consider him dangerous and the people connected to him dangerous.

I wish I could say we knew with great precision where he is. If we did, we'd have caught him by now.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: We'll keep hunting him everywhere they go, and to make sure that every country in the world understands that they would be making an absolutely fatal mistake to harbor him. We are looking for him in Afghanistan. We are looking for him on routes out of Afghanistan including [tape skip].

We got a lot of offers at the beginning of this conflict from various allies to send naval ships to help us out, and some people's reaction was, well the last time we checked there's no sea coast in Afghanistan. Why do we need these naval ships? We are discovering now that they are very useful in helping to check out ships at sea, check out movements. People say he might go to Somalia, he might go to Yemen. Again, there are a lot of maybes here.

We try to get the best fix we can on where he might be. Usually that's some combination of a little bit of technical intelligence and mostly it's the famous rumor intelligence. In the news business you know how many rumors are reliable and how many aren't. That's what we're working with.

But it's also important not to forget that this is not just about Osama bin Laden. It's about a whole terrorist network. And it's not just al Qaeda, it's a whole intersection of these networks around the world.

The world network is important. The internet is a network. And the definition of a network in many ways is something that doesn't run just a single node. [tape skip] the whole system.

Al Qaeda we estimate is in 60 different countries, Afghanistan is one of them. This country is unfortunately one of them. We really have to work on them around the world.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: My understanding is that he's still in the custody of the Northern Alliance and we are considering where we would take custody of him when we take him. There are various options which are under consideration. I can't tell you which ones have been settled on.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: I think I'm going to take a bit of a pass on that because I'm not a lawyer and we're talking about very precise issues of legal rights of people who are combatants or lawful or not lawful combatants. He is an American citizen which obviously puts him in a different category from the kinds of individuals that the president has suggested might be candidates for military tribunals. We are going to treat him fairly and humanely, but we have real problems with him on this.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: Here I can say why not. It is absolutely not appropriate for any official to comment on the guilt or innocence of someone with charges that might be brought against him. So I can't comment on that.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: I think we've made it clear that the leadership of Taliban are, in our view, wanted for criminal activity. It doesn't matter where they are. There are also many Taliban fighters who probably didn't even have much idea of what they were fighting for and were prepared to switch sides. And there's been a lot of switching of sides, I think, as you know. In fact I think a reason the Taliban regime collapsed so quickly is that so many people who were supposed to be fighting for them decided rather early on that it wasn't a winning ticket.

Clearly Mullah Omar and the top leaders are in a different category. We will be going after them wherever they are.

There are, we're pretty sure, some people trying to escape into Pakistan. I think the key to catching them is going to be cooperation with the Pakistanis themselves. It's a sovereign country. In any case, we couldn't do the job by ourselves so we depend on a lot of cooperation.

Frankly, we've been very pleased with President Masharraf's attitude from day one. It's been very much a stand-up attitude. I think he understands that his own country is very much threatened by the penetration of terrorists and extremists. This is a real opportunity to work with the government of Pakistan.

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: Indication, yes. I think [tape skip], but if you told me he turned up on a ship in the Indian Ocean tomorrow I couldn't be totally surprised.

These people are hiding. There are a lot of places for them to hide. They're not wearing uniforms. They're not wearing signs saying I am Osama bin Laden, or I am Mullah Omar. And people should have I think a realistic attitude of how difficult it can be to find individuals wanted, and even in this country there are numerous examples.

I think the most important thing is that they are running, they are hiding. They are not able to focus on the evil deeds as they were doing before. A lot of them are being caught and quite a number [killed].

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: I think I might ask the secretary of the Navy if he wants to add to that. I believe he was the first American to command a naval vessel. Was he the first?

(Inaudible response)

Wolfowitz: I'd have to check. I'm seeing head nods from the Navy information. But there are a lot of Hispanic Americans in the Navy and in the armed forces playing a very, very important role. And this administration, like others, considers it extremely important to develop that role. (Inaudible) Hispanic American commanders. It's not only great for the ship but I think it's great for the whole Navy. This is a [tape skip] opportunity, and I think the armed services have been a channel of opportunity for immigrants and minorities of all kinds. Hispanics have distinguished themselves for our country and they're doing it today.

So I think it's a wonderful mixture of symbols that we're here in New York with a New Yorker who is also an immigrant, a Spanish-American (inaudible).

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: Focus on Afghanistan. Let me emphasize -- a lot of people say the war is over in Afghanistan. It is not at all over in Afghanistan and I think that is the most important point that we would like the American public to understand and be prepared for. We may be chasing these people weeks and months from now. It is, I think, very gratifying that things have progressed as rapidly as they have, that the Taliban regime has collapsed as rapidly as it has, but we have a lot of work left to do. I think the focus is going to be that in Afghanistan on the two areas where we get the most reports of Taliban or al Qaeda people which is to say around Jalalabad and Kandahar in I guess you'd call it the eastern part of the country, and Kandahar in the south. The focus has to be on making more and more progress in getting Afghans to help us do that job.

But of course one of the things that may change in this stage of the campaign is that where [tape skip] we had in common with our Afghan allies the objective removing the Taliban leadership, our particular concern is going after al Qaeda and the terrorists and we need to do the best we can to make sure that our Afghan allies share [tape skip]. It's not quite the same thing.

Any last questions?

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: It is a fairly unique situation. We don't have books and books about this. I guess [tape skip] unusual war in many respects. I would say we have a major concern and priority to make [sure] we follow procedures that are [tape skip] legal standards and standards of justice.

We also have an interest in learning as much as we can from him about [the organization] he's been working with. He has already told us quite a bit.

I would suggest there is as much perplexity as those comments suggested. True, we haven't figured out what to do [tape skip]. I don't think it will be a problem.

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