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DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Pace

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 21, 2001 11:00 AM EDT

Friday, December 21, 2001 - 11 a.m. EST

(Also participating was Marine Corps General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Rumsfeld: Good morning. Hello! You're in your new role today. Very good.

The campaign to deal with the terrorist problems in Afghanistan continues. It continues without pause, although in a somewhat different phase. There's still much to do. As you undoubtedly know, there are pockets of resistance throughout the country. The president intends to see these campaign(s) in Afghanistan through until the al Qaeda and the Taliban forces have been rooted out and dealt with.

There's an article that appears in today's paper that quotes a military official speaking about the issue of rules of engagement, and there's been some speculation on television about it. Let me say that the rules of engagement we have issued are aggressive, they're appropriate, and they have our forces leaning forward, not back.

General Franks and his team at Central Command are doing a fine job. The soldiers understand the rules. They are checked periodically to see that they understand the rules. We don't discuss precise aspects of rules of engagement, but I can say that there are areas where they are permitted to assume that anyone in there is an enemy and may be dealt with.

There are other areas where it requires reasonable identification, which is certainly understandable, and a belief that they are an enemy, to engage them.

Any suggestion that at any level of the command structure, from the secretary of Defense down to the soldiers, that anyone should be leaning back would be inaccurate by a wide margin. They are instructed to understand the rules of engagement, to follow them. And the rules of engagement are leaning forward, and that is well understood.

I would like to thank some people who reflect the spirit of the season, people who have made a difference in the lives of those people affected on September 11th. We've got some terrific Pentagon chaplains. We've got hundreds of families and schools and communities across America who have sent in messages. You see them in the halls here and elsewhere in the building. As a matter of fact, I got a -- up in -- near my office is an American flag done in --

Pace: Origami.

Rumsfeld: -- origami.

That's one of those words that I haven't mastered yet. And it's an American flag, and it is just beautiful. If anyone's up there, they ought to take a look at it. It's really a special thing. It came from an elementary school in Hawaii -- I think Honolulu, but I'm not sure of that. And there are people who have given enormous amounts of money to all the people who have suffered, and the outpouring certainly has been wonderful.

Also, I would wish everyone here a merry Christmas.

And Pete, do you have a comment?

Pace: Sir, thank you. I think it's a great time, with the secretary, during the holiday season to say thank you to the magnificent young men and women who are serving our country overseas, and to their families here at home, who are making it possible for all of us in this room and everyone watching on television right now to enjoy a happy holiday season. So the secretary and myself and all of us in uniform -- to all of you who are overseas right now, thank you.

Rumsfeld: Questions? Sir?

Q: Mr. Secretary, no bombs have been dropped on Tora Bora, or perhaps all of Afghanistan, for three days. Are you --

Rumsfeld: I don't think that's correct.

Q: How about Tora Bora? We were told this morning that there were 183 sorties yesterday over Afghanistan, and no ordnance was dropped.

Pace: None in Tora Bora. There was an attack on a convoy of leadership that was identified through various intelligence means, and that was done within the last 24 hours.

Q: Where was that?

Pace: I do not have -- I cannot give you the location.

Rumsfeld: I saw it. I can't remember either.

Pace: It was --

Rumsfeld: But it was a large convoy, and there were a lot of people killed and a lot of vehicles damaged -- or destroyed, I should say.

Q: Sir --

Rumsfeld: The -- let me -- the reason that kind of question comes up is because, as I indicated in my first remarks, we are continuing without pause, but it's in a somewhat different phase. And one does not bomb unless there is something to bomb. That is to say that you have an identified target that you feel would be worthwhile to attack. And it is not appropriate to be bombing in Tora Bora when in fact you have people crawling around in caves and tunnels. That would be highly inappropriate.

Q: Which is my question, sir. Are U.S. troops now in the region, helping Afghan forces search those caves and tunnels, and are, as has been reported, hundreds more, perhaps, on the way to thoroughly search that region?

Rumsfeld: Yes. And yes.

Q: Could you tell us how many --

Rumsfeld: Hundreds more --

Q: -- are going to be sent?

Rumsfeld: No. Let me say yes, and whatever is needed will be sent. And it won't be just U.S.; it'll be coalition forces.

So what you have is a bunch of caves. They're being triaged and put in priority order. Then the Afghan forces and coalition forces are going into those caves and looking for information and evidence and people and weapons and determining -- trying to determine what we can do to deal with terrorists all across the globe. And I must say that there have been -- there has been information that has been gathered in Afghanistan that has directly resulted in the arrest of people across the world -- in -- other side of the globe and undoubtedly have prevented other terrorist activities. So it's a very worthwhile thing to be doing.

Q: Were those troops U.S. Marines -- the troops that are being sent?

Rumsfeld: We're not going to get into it.

Q: Can you in any way elaborate on what you just said, to whatever extent you can, that there have been arrests and terrorist incidents prevented by --

Rumsfeld: I believe that's true -- that, in fact, the effort that's gone into searching houses and caves and compounds in Afghanistan -- to gather information, translate the information, communicate the information on a widespread basis -- has resulted in arrests and interrogations, and, I'm guessing, surmising, from the evidence that we've seen, prevented those people from doing things that they intended to do which would've been harmful.

Q: I have the feeling I'm going to get a very short answer, but can you be more specific than that?

Rumsfeld: No. I thought I did well! (Laughter.)

Q: (Inaudible) -- never well enough! (Laughter.)

No, seriously: Can you give us any sense -- was there anything like that?

Rumsfeld: I could, but I won't.

Q: Oh, okay.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you say there's pockets of resistance still throughout the country. Can you give us a sense of -- what does this mean for forces who might be going into some of these hidden areas? Does that mean that there might be --

Rumsfeld: It's dangerous.

Q: -- al Qaeda ready to pounce in some of these caves that they're going into?

Rumsfeld: You don't know till you get in there.

Q: Dangerous. What faces these people? You talked about the problem of ROE. What --

Rumsfeld: What phases them?

Q: No, what phase --

Rumsfeld: Oh, I see your question. Yeah.

Q: -- are we in, and what faces the individuals going into those caves, the type of danger that they are encountering? You say they've got varied types of rules of engagement.

Rumsfeld: Oh. Well think of it this way. We were doing an awful lot of bombing. Now we're doing relatively little because there -- we don't have a lot of targets where we find concentrations of military equipment or military people, enemies.

The people that are going into these caves obviously understand what they're up against. They're going into areas that have been heavily bombed. The assumption is anyone in there is dead. And -- but if you make that assumption, you can get in an awful lot of trouble awful fast, so they're exercising a great deal of care. And they're properly trained, and they're doing a good job.

Q: Has that occurred? Have they been attacked at all by any forces or any remnants that are still hiding in the cave areas?

Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge in a cave. Certainly outside there have been dust-ups.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've mentioned --

Rumsfeld: Ask General Pace something tough, will you please?

Q: Mr. Secretary and/or General Pace -- (laughter) --

Rumsfeld: There you go.

Q: You've both mentioned a few times that it's at least possible that Osama bin Laden is dead from a U.S. bomb in whatever area. Is part of the job for those teams going in, forensic teams to look at the bodies and to identify those bodies in the caves? And secondly, do you have any specific intelligence that bin Laden is still alive?

Pace: I, for one, have never mentioned that I thought that he might be dead. We don't know about Osama bin Laden. We don't know if he's alive or dead. The commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command, General Franks, as he sifts through and triages, as the secretary said, the various caves, will go into those that he feels from intelligence indications are worthy of being looked at.

It's certainly conceivable that if they found bodies in a cave that seemed to be of the leadership that we may want to have some further identification. But we're not going to know until we actually get into that type of business what we're going to find and what we're going to need to do with what we find.

Rumsfeld: Let me footnote that.

There's a truth, a truism, in the intelligence world that is appropriate to the question of where is bin Laden, and it is the following: that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, or the general, could you try to clarify to us the U.S. relationship with the incoming international security force? We understand that General Franks somehow is going to remain in control of those troops, even though the United States is not directly participating in that force. You know, we're pursuing an active war campaign --

Rumsfeld: Right.

Q: -- in parts of the country, and there are Brits and others coming in, too, as a security force.

Rumsfeld: Yeah. I can.

Q: What about conflict?

Rumsfeld: I can and I will do so. It is as follows:

There -- I believe in London, at the present time, they're working out an understanding as to how that will work. You're quite right; you're going to have an international security -- and there's an A in there -- force -- I forget --

Pace: Assistance.

Rumsfeld: -- assistance force that will be multinational, a group of willing nations. For the time being, they'll be in Kabul, and they will have a -- they would -- functioning under a U.N. mandate, which is not a U.N. command. It is not U.N. control militarily; it is a mandate, under their auspices. The lead nation is the United Kingdom. They will have relationships with the U.N. because of the mandate. They'll have relationships with the interim government because they will be functioning in the capital, where the interim government will be located. And clearly they will be -- have relationships with CENTCOM and with General Franks' people.

And you're quite right; it's important that that be deconflicted. It will be deconflicted. And the relationship, I would suspect, will be rather intimate, given the security environment that exists there. And further, the United States, I am sure, will -- has been called on and will provide some sorts of assistance in various ways, but not forces, because we have other things we're doing.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is there -- is it necessary to send U.S. troops -- additional U.S. troops into the mountains because our Afghan allies are not proving as zealous about this task, or is it a time problem or -- what's the reason?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, it's awful tough for anyone sitting in Washington, D.C., to be critical of the Afghans, given what they've gone through. So far be it from me to do so.

They have lots of considerations, just as we do and other nations do. And they are involved. They have been fighting. They have been going after the al Qaeda and the Taliban. They have been doing so in Tora Bora. They are doing so at the present time.

I've read press accounts that the numbers are higher or lower or something like that. I'm not the slightest bit concerned about that; to the extent more people are needed, coalition forces will supply them, or else other Afghan forces will supply them. But the task will get done, and it will get done with a mix of those types of forces. And I am very satisfied with the cooperation we've received and expect that we'll continue to be satisfied.

Q: So is it a matter of needing more people to get the job done faster? Is that the reason your troops are --

Rumsfeld: We have felt a sense of urgency from the beginning. When you have experienced what we've experienced in the United States with thousands of people dead -- when you've seen the reams of threat indicators that suggest that other things can happen by people around the world, the faster we do this job and the more information we can get and the more we can disseminate that intelligence information to people around the world and the more people that get arrested and the more bank accounts that get closed, the better off we are. So what we do is make a series of judgments as to who can do what best and in what order it ought to be done and get at it.

Yes.

Q: Could you give us more detail about this convoy that was attacked in the last 24 hours --

Rumsfeld: General Pace can do that.

Q: General Pace, who you believe might have been in that convoy, how many vehicles and what aircraft the United States used to attack it?

Pace: Oh, we had some intelligence indicators that were cross-referenced and were determined by Central Command that, in fact, what we had was a convoy of vehicles -- about 10 to 12 -- that contained leadership. Those targets were attacked by AC-130 gunships and by fighter aircraft from the carriers and the compound from which they left. The command and control compound from which they left was also struck.

Q: Where was that?

Pace: I can get you the name of the town. I don't have that off the top of my head.

Q: Could you also tell us whether you believe bin Laden or any other leadership have access to light aircraft? Is it possible that anyone could've escaped that way or that some aircraft could've come in and gotten them?

Rumsfeld: I will respond to that.

In Afghanistan, most things are possible. It is a difficult environment. It's got a porous border. There are mountainous areas with valleys.

The weather is uncertain. There is no question but that there have been various reports that helicopters or light aircraft might have gone in or out. We have not been able to validate it, and I do -- we do not have any specific knowledge.

On the other hand, if you think about it, think of all the planes that are going in and out now -- humanitarian planes. You've got the same problem you do at our airports. How do you -- you have to check things, and you do the best you can.

Q: One would assume you had knowledge of those. So there's nothing that indicates this has happened?

Rumsfeld: We have no reason -- we have no evidence that we could cite that would lead us to believe that that has happened. That does not mean it has not happened.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you give us any better sense of the leadership in this convoy -- Taliban, al Qaeda?

Pace: We cannot do that. I can tell you, though, that the vehicles were destroyed, that people were killed, and the compound from which they left was destroyed.

Q: And Mr. Secretary, you were saying the other day that you thought there were some senior leaders in hand, either al Qaeda or Taliban. Can you give us a better sense of who those folks are?

Rumsfeld: I could, but I haven't decided if I want to, and I don't have the correct pronunciation of the names or the spelling or any of that.

Q: You say --

Rumsfeld: We believe -- we have been looking at -- there are at the moment some number of thousands of people who are in the control of somebody. That is to say they're in the control of -- in Afghanistan, of anti-Taliban forces. They are -- as I've mentioned previously, the Pakistanis have captured and detained -- and you know about it -- a large number of people. And we have a small number of people currently in our control, and we're engaged in this process of sorting through and doing a quick cut at the -- all of the people that are being controlled by somebody else and then making arrangements to get control of those among them that we feel we'd like to have control over. And at any given time, that number is changing.

Now, we do know at the moment that we have some people who have been senior in al Qaeda and in Taliban. And then the question is, what's senior, and what are their names, and I'm not inclined to get into it at the moment. But we do have some of them.

Q: And what would be the reason --

Rumsfeld: Not large numbers.

Q: And what would be the reason for not revealing their names at this point?

Rumsfeld: Simply because it's in flux. We're making decisions about what -- whether we want to keep control of them or not have control of them. Somebody else might be better to have control of them. And it's a moving target. I'm trying to keep up to date with them myself. It's hard enough to try to keep other people up to date with it.

We are working the problem. The other thing we're trying to do is we're trying to identify all these people who have been captured and get a mug shot on them and get some fingerprints and find out who are all these people that have been running around shooting up this place and terrorizing Afghanistan and other countries. We want to know who they are, and even if we don't end up taking control of them, it's a helpful thing just for nations to know who they were, just from visas and things like that or entry permits.

Q: Do you believe some are trying to -- some leadership are trying to disguise themselves as mere foot soldiers?

Rumsfeld: I wouldn't doubt it, but I don't know it. It's happened before.

Q: And are you getting -- can you update us on a cooperation with Pakistan, in terms of what people might have fled into Pakistan? Is there any follow up there in terms of --

Rumsfeld: Sure. We're dealing with the Pakistani government all the time, and they're doing a good job. They're working a very difficult problem along the border, and they're stopping people and -- from coming in, which allows the people in Afghanistan to do a better job. And the people, to the extent they do get into Pakistan, they're rounding them up in rather substantial numbers.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, a new government is being installed in Afghanistan tomorrow. I would imagine that means theoretically that the United States is there now at the invitation of that government or with the consent of that government. Will you need anything like a status of forces agreement with them, or will the fact that there is now a government there in any way have any implications for your freedom to operate where you want, do what you want, and so forth?

Rumsfeld: I'm sure we'll end up with -- when they are in place and organized, I'm sure we'll end up with probably written, but certainly oral understandings. And I can assure you that we have all kinds of assurances at the present time that they share our desire to deal with the al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership. And the only thing that will have changed is that you've now got the interim government and the coalition forces with the same goal, but it will require interaction between the two of them because they will be a government for the first time, in place of the Taliban.

Yes.

Q: Can we go to this question of the tape? Now that a more full translation has begun to emerge --

Rumsfeld: More what kind of a --

Q: A more full translation than the original one the Pentagon put out, acknowledging very openly that that was not a complete translation. Do you have any particular interest in now going back and getting your translators to do a full translation and see if there's any other intelligence or information to be gleaned from this tape?

Rumsfeld: We had people in government look at that, and I then decided that I didn't feel that was -- I felt -- I felt that it would be more satisfactory, from my standpoint, if we got some people from outside of government to look at it, which they did. And as I understand it, the way it was done is, they looked at it and tried to come to some agreements on things where there were not ambiguities. And they -- if you recall looking at it, there are places where you can see them talking, and there's no words underneath. So it was very clear that that was an area where they didn't feel comfortable about saying what was probably being said.

It isn't -- it isn't our business -- my business -- to speculate about it. From an intelligence standpoint, you can be certain we are interested in the tape and be looking at every bit of it. From the public standpoint, as I stood up here and said, I don't stand behind that; I don't speak Arabic. And it's for everyone to make their own judgment. If someone wants to get another translator, they can do it. But we're looking at it only from an intelligence standpoint -- not trying to go back and get another version for the public. I -- that's not my --

Yes.

Q: From an intelligence standpoint, is there anything you can share with us about what you may have learned from what's on this tape since its initial release?

Rumsfeld: No.

Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, General Pace, is it the mission, if the forces enter a cave where there has been no activity -- or even if there's been evidence of activity but the individuals in the cave have vacated -- is it the mission to make the cave complexes in Afghanistan unusable for future generations of fighters of whatever creed? Are they using ordinance to blow up caves where there was some activity but the individuals have fled, that sort of thing?

Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, we've blown up a lot of caves, but they're still there. I mean, there's still tunnels. There are things that someone could dig out, and -- no, we've not -- we've got so many things to do, we're not running around -- there's hundreds and hundreds of those things. We got a lot better things to do than run around trying to destroy all those tunnels and caves.

Q: So they could be used by some future generations of fighters of some description?

Rumsfeld: Or anyone else. Geologists. (Laughter.)

We have an answer for the question I believe someone had about the location of the air strikes.

Pace: They were around the town of Khwost.

Q: Can you spell it?

Pace: K-H-W-O-S-T. [Corrected spelling: Khowst.]

Q: Where is that? Do you know?

Rumsfeld: Afghanistan. (Laughter, cross talk.)

Pace: It's south and west of Tora Bora.

Q: General Pace, that's a well-known location for terrorist training camps in the past, that you've struck in the past. Do you -- did you see any terrorist training activity at that time, or was this simply a convoy moving through the region?

Pace: I'd like not to address the specific indicators that caused us to strike that particular convoy. But the intelligence that we gathered at the time indicated to us that this was in fact leadership, and we struck the leadership, and we will -- as we will do the next time we get that kind of intelligence.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Pete Aldridge said about an hour ago here that the United States is sending new fuel-air explosives to Afghanistan. They were recently tested using laser guidance. If you're not planning on destroying the caves, why would you use fuel-air explosives against the caves, as he indicated?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, when I said we weren't planning to destroy the caves, I think I elaborated that we -- that there are hundreds of them, and we have not set as one of our tasks trying to systematically destroy all the caves in Afghanistan. I mean, that is a big mountain to climb.

Clearly, we will try to destroy caves if we think there are al Qaeda or other people in it -- in them, and we have done that. We will be happy to do it today, if we can find some more.

With that, we will say: Merry Christmas. Thank you.

Pace: Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you. Merry Christmas.

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