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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Ireland

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 17, 2001

Friday, December 14, 2001

(Media availability en route from Washington, D.C. to Shannon, Ireland)

Rumsfeld: You asked me (earlier) about BRAC [base realignment and closure]. Yes, I slept on it and I am not going to recommend it be vetoed. The BRAC provision, needless to say, I wished had been earlier, but it is in there, and there are a number of very important things in the bill including pay for the men and women in uniform, a sizable pay raise, and other infrastructure improvements. That is the answer to that question.

With regard to the trip, I am going to use tomorrow, Saturday I believe, to visit several countries that are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace activity. I have felt since September 11 that it was important to see that we dealt with the war on terrorism. But also I have felt the events of September 11 have shifted the priorities for an awful lot of countries in the world and their perspectives about the United States and about the problems of the world. It does offer an opportunity, it seems to me, for us to reconnect with those new countries in this new circumstance. So I am looking forward to the three visits tomorrow [to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia].

I'll be going into Uzbekistan after that and then we have the normal NATO meetings which are now at three different levels, the last one including Russia. I have a number of bilaterals scheduled. (To staff:) Do you have that list?

I know one is Ukraine, and I know I will have one with, as I mentioned yesterday, with Minister [of Defense Sergei] Ivanov of Russia. We will be beginning the next phase of that same process we have been in discussing the framework that the United States and Russia want to establish for the 21st Century. I would be happy to respond to questions.

Q: How does the United States want to reward these countries, the former Soviet states, for cooperation against terrorism? Is this an opportunity to help them, militarily and economically, move more quickly toward Western-style democracy and free market economies?

Rumsfeld: It is, I think their economic health depends on their creating an environment that is hospitable to enterprise. It means that they need to take a series of steps that persuade investors around the world that they want to invest there, and until that happens, and unless that happens needless to say their economic circumstances will be something less than they could be. So I think that it is important for the United States to have a relationship with them and in --

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Well for one thing, we are able, at least we believe we will be able, to have military-to-military relationships on a fresh basis.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it has been talked about that perhaps there's a thought that Bin Laden may be surrendered in this valley south of Tora Bora. Without getting into the barnyard and chicken that we don't have --

Rumsfeld: Are you going to give my answers for me?

Q: Without getting into that, is there a chance you could paint a picture of what's happening?

Rumsfeld: I don't know how to do it any better than I do it, I really don't. There are a lot of people who believe he is in that general area. There are people who believe he is not. And you cannot know the answer until you have something very telling and hard and firm and clear. When it is as conflicted as it is, the only way one can answer is the way I answered.

Q: Can you describe the fighting or what's going on there as far as our forces?

Rumsfeld: It has been tough fighting from the beginning of the engagement and it will continue to be tough fighting. There were a great number of pieces of ordnance dropped last evening - a very large number on tunnels and caves and (inaudible) and concentrations. There is no question but that forces are being significantly damaged in the conflict. They are fighting and the fighting in some instances is fierce.

Q: You mean al Queda?

Rumsfeld: I am assuming it is almost all al Queda. But I don't know that; it could be Taliban.

[Here are] the other bilaterals in Brussels: obviously with the secretary general, I mentioned Ivanoff, I am also going to have a bilateral with Turkey, Ukraine, I mentioned, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Q: Mr. Secretary why the ordnance last night?

Rumsfeld: Good targets.

Q: One specific target?

Rumsfeld: No, a series of caves and tunnels. They are just working their way through there, hoping people will surrender and stop fighting, but they haven't.

Q: On these good targets and on these extra troops you've got going in there, these special forces troops, are they helping find more targets?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Is that one of the reasons why you are using them?

Rumsfeld: It is. We have special ops and special forces people in there and they are doing a good job of targeting.

Q: Are they going into tunnels and caves as well? U.S. forces?

Rumsfeld: We mostly thus far have been locating them and attacking them. I would not want to say they have not in some areas maybe that have been finished and cleaned out. I know we intend to gather up as much evidence and documentation as is possible for the simple reason that it helps us know more about the network and we are able to track people down in the Al Queda network all across the world.

Q: Mr. Secretary, have UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] been used in the search for Taliban and al Queda?

Rumsfeld: Off and on. The weather was bad yesterday and I don't believe they were up. I am almost certain of that. But they have been very helpful over a period of time. But I think specifically yesterday, probably not.

Q: Sec. Rumsfeld there is a report that the United States has Osama bin Laden's --

Rumsfeld: Do you notice how loud you are talking because your earphones are on?

Q: No, I can't hear with these earphones on. (Laughter)

Rumsfeld: I just thought that I'd mention it to you.

Q: Well, I'm way in the back.

Rumsfeld: No, I can hear you fine. (Laughter)

Q: It's for the benefit of the transcriber. (Laughter)

Does the United States have Osama bin Laden's DNA as one report suggested yesterday, that would assist in identifying him, either dead or alive if he is captured or killed?

Rumsfeld: I don't know.

Q: I have no follow up. (Laughter)

Q: Let the record say that was Jamie McIntyre.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you have any new information today than there was yesterday, on where is Omar?

Rumsfeld: The question is on Omar and the answer is it is very much like bin Laden. We have got a lot of information that suggests he is within a range of Kandahar and there are a lot of folks looking hard at that. But there also is some modestly conflicting information. We have people, both Afghans and Americans, probing around in areas where he might be.

Q: Any sign of advertising the $10 million dollar reward?

Rumsfeld: I started yesterday in the press briefing. Whether the actual leaflets have gotten out yet, I am not sure, but they are going out.

Q: Without getting to hypothetical here, should bin Laden be in that fight in there, in the valley south of Tora Bora, and we manage to get him, where does this progress from there?

Rumsfeld: Well, if we gain control over him, we then would probably move him to a secure location and there would be a process of interrogation as there has been with everyone else who has been collected, as soon as time permits.

Q: And then the tribunal process would begin?

Rumsfeld: If you will recall that military order by the president to the secretary of Defense. It left to the president a decision as to who he might assign to a military commission, so that would be a call he would make at that time.

Q: Does the U.S. have any other battlefield detainees or prisoners in its control or possession besides John Walker?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: How many?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. What happens frequently is that somebody will be detained. It will happen out someplace where he will be captured or he will turn himself in and surrender. Or he will go to a prison where a group of people are detained and then a process of interrogation takes place. As that process goes forward, or as people are identified, the United States then expresses an interest to the people that are controlling them, that we like to have a fuller interrogation and we then will undertake that. At some point the next step would be to say we want to take control of them physically, as we did with Walker, and move them to a place where we can do it at our leisure. The obvious locations for that are either a compound inside the country, a ship at sea, or back in the United States if one got to that point.

Q: How many people fall under this category now? What is the number of detainees under U.S. control?

Rumsfeld: Well see I don't know. Because sometimes we will take control over them and then give it back. It is a number that isn't fixed. We have preferred not to take control of large numbers within the country simply because we do not have large numbers of people there.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Marines have moved forward from Rhino to the airbase in Kandahar.

Rumsfeld: True.

Q: Is Rhino still an important base that we are maintaining and if so, why? Will other troops come in for security there, possibly to hold prisoners? What is going on at that base?

Rumsfeld: As several hundred people moved out of Rhino to go to Kandahar and begin the process of securing the airport -- and I think they have also made a modest presence in the city of Kandahar -- we have backfilled into Rhino, and they are already there.

Q: Marines or Regular Army?

Rumsfeld: Marines.

Thank you.

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