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DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 04, 2002 12:45 PM EDT

(Also participating was Gen. Richard Myers, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Rumsfeld: Good morning. A few comments, first, on the operation in Afghanistan:

U.S. and coalition forces have been conducting a sizeable operation over the weekend. It most likely will continue for the days ahead. General Franks will provide details on the operation in a press briefing this afternoon from Tampa, Florida, that I believe is going to be fed in --

Staff: Yes, sir.

Rumsfeld: In here.

We need to all remind ourselves that thousands of Americans and other nationals were killed on September 11th. When we began the attack in Afghanistan on October 7th, we made clear that our goals included removing the Taliban government and ending Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists, and we've made very good progress on both.

But as I've said repeatedly, the task is far from over. Not all Taliban and al Qaeda forces have been defeated. Substantial pockets of resistance remain. They're determined. They're dangerous. They will not give up without a fight. They are hiding in the villages and in the mountains and just across the borders, in a number of directions from Afghanistan, and they're waiting for their opportunities. We have said that repeatedly.

Their goal is the opposite of ours. Their goal is to reconstitute, to try to throw out the new interim government of Afghanistan, to kill coalition forces and to try regain the ability to use Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations and, as a by-product, repress the Afghan people. And we intend to prevent them from doing that.

The pocket of al Qaeda at Shahi-Kot area, where this operation is taking place, south of Gardez, appears to have several, a number of pockets of enemy forces, in reasonably large numbers. They're obviously well organized. They're dug in, they're well armed, and they're fighting fiercely. We knew they would resist strongly, and anticipated a fierce fight. That was -- that is exactly what's taking place.

Together with a number of coalition countries that include Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway and some others, U.S. and Afghan forces are heavily engaged.

I deeply regret that a number of U.S. servicemen and several Afghan fighters assisting us have been killed in action. At last count, there were nine Americans. That includes those that were involved in the helicopter crash. And there have been several Afghans as well. There have been a number of wounded U.S. and Afghans, although close to half of those are already back in the battle, and of the remainder, relatively few have life-threatening wounds. All of the individuals who were wounded have been fully evacuated from the area and are en route to appropriate locations to receive medical attention.

We also mourn the loss of the U.S. Navy pilot who was killed after ejecting from his aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea. His battlegroup is en route to Northern Arabian Sea for service in Operation Enduring Freedom. We're deeply saddened by the loss of all these brave men, and I extend my profound sympathies to their families.

The enemy forces have sustained much larger numbers of killed and wounded, and there will be many more. We intend to continue the operations until those al Qaeda and Taliban who remain either surrender or are killed. The choice is theirs. We have ground forces in position to check any large-scale effort to escape, and we will continue to add pressure until they have been taken care of. As I said, General Franks will have the current details on the operation at his briefing in the afternoon.

I should also add that the coalition forces are operating at somewhere between 8,000 and 11,000 feet, which is, it's cold, it's a difficult environment, and it is also a difficult environment not just for the human beings involved, but for the helicopters. They weren't really designed to fly at those altitudes. But coalition forces are well trained, they're professional, and they're doing an excellent job.

As intense as the activity in Afghanistan is today -- and this will not be the last such operation in Afghanistan -- it's important to remember that we've been very clear that this is a global effort against terrorism.

As I have noted, some activities will be seen and other activities will not be seen.

Activities elsewhere in the world have received attention of late, and we are keeping the pressure on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. That's what we're doing in Yemen, the Philippines and elsewhere. A global war on terrorism must be just that; it must be global to be effective. The terrorists do not have countries, normally; they have cells in many, many countries, 30, 40, 50 countries. As we drive them from Afghanistan, we must not allow them safe haven elsewhere.

We'll continue to train and in some cases equip forces in selected countries that face terrorist threats. It is part of the global war on terrorism. We'll establish, or in some cases reestablish military-to-military relationships with nations committed to the war on terrorism as part of this global effort, and we will with our coalition partners, intensify our efforts to identify and disrupt terrorist networks, activities, wherever they exist in the world. This may include direct military attacks, as it has in Afghanistan, military interception of terrorists and their weapons, as with the maritime interception effort, stepped-up intelligence gathering in specific countries, as we are doing in several now, training and, in some cases, equipping, as in Yemen and the Philippines, and possibly at some future time in Georgia.

There must be no safe harbor for terrorists. It's a threat that cannot be appeased. And it cannot be ignored. The power and reach of weapons today are too great and too lethal to do otherwise.

In addition to military force, coalition actions involve all of the broad instruments of national power -- diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement, financial tools designed to stop the receipt or transfer of money to terrorists and their supporters.

I've said from the first day that defense against terrorism requires that we go on offense and force terrorists to think about their defense as we take the battle to them. That is the only successful defense against terrorism. As President Bush said last November, we are coming to know those who have plotted against us. There is no corner of Earth distant or dark enough to protect them. However long it takes, their hour of justice will come. General Myers?

Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

As the secretary said, on Friday evening we started this campaign with Afghan, coalition and U.S. forces against what we thought was a large pocket of al Qaeda and non-Afghan Taliban fighters. To put it in perspective -- I'll just piggyback on what the secretary said -- this is a very difficult environment. This is like being out in the middle of the Rockies, the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter. It's cold, ice and snow. We have a map there that shows you some of the terrain they're dealing with. And, of course, the higher you go, the air gets thinner for flight operations, so some of the helicopters are right up against their operational capability. So it's some of the very toughest sort of conditions.

As I said, we believe there are several hundred al Qaeda fighters holed up in the mountains, in the valleys and the cave complexes. They're well dug in, well reinforced, and apparently have lots of weapons.

When we began this operation, we knew that the al Qaeda and their supporters there would have two choices: to run or stay and fight. It seems they have chosen to stay and to fight to the last, and we hope to accommodate them.

While we've hit resistance, there should be no doubt about the outcome in this case. The only choices for al Qaeda are to surrender or to be killed, and we're prepared to go on as long as that may require. We're using both ground and air forces. And since the operation began on Friday night, we have dropped more than 350 bombs, using about 10 long-range bombers, two to four AC-130 gunships, and about 30 to 40 tactical aircraft each day.

And I would just like to end by adding my condolences to those family members who lost loved ones in the area of operations of the last few days.

Rumsfeld: Questions. Charlie?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said that -- I believe nine have been killed in the current operations. We were told earlier that six have died in the helicopter shoot down; that one had been killed early on Saturday, and another was killed --

Rumsfeld: The latest count is nine.

Q: But were there seven killed in the helicopter shoot down? We were told six --

Rumsfeld: General Franks will give details on that this afternoon.

Q: Okay. Well, could you comment on, then, reports from the area that Afghan forces are saying that perhaps U.S. Special Forces were not fully prepared when the operation started and were forced to +

Myers: U.S. forces? No. I can I address that?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Myers: During my trip to Afghanistan, now it's been almost two weeks ago exactly, I was briefed on this plan at Bagram by the commander who's running the operation in Afghanistan.

And at that time, they had great detail. So any thought that they went in there unprepared or didn't know the terrain they were going into is just not true. It's like we said before. Look at the map. This is very difficult terrain to operate in. The enemy is a very determined enemy, willing to die for their cause. Our brave men and women are over there to see that we take them out and we keep them from pursuing other acts of terrorism in the world. That's what they do.

Rumsfeld: It's conceivable that that story is -- I don't know this, but as they moved in, some Afghan forces were -- took heavy fire and a number of their trucks were destroyed and some of their people were killed and wounded. And because they didn't have transport sufficient, they did go back, regroup, get additional equipment and then have moved forward subsequently, and it may be that that --

Myers: And there were U.S. Special Forces with them, so maybe that's how it got --

Rumsfeld: But that was a direct result of enemy fire.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes, Bob?

Q: Does this appear to be al Qaeda's last stand in Afghanistan, or are there similarly large and similarly well-organized groups elsewhere in the country?

Rumsfeld: I would doubt it. I think that it would be an incorrect reading of the situation to think that this would be the last stand. I say that because, as we've said repeatedly -- and I hope it sinks in to everybody -- that it is -- in that country, it's, what, bigger than Texas, and with borders to four, five, six countries. It is very easy to move across borders and then come back in. It's very easy to slip into the mountains, into tunnels and caves and stay there for periods. It's very easy to blend into the countryside, into the villages and then come back and reconstitute. So the thought that all of the people, all of the Taliban who oppose the interim government that now exists, that Karzai is leading, all of the al Qaeda are gone and disappeared or changed their minds or gone benign, I think, is just unrealistic. I think we have to expect that there are other sizable pockets, that there will be other battles of this type.

Q: To follow up on Bob's question, do you know an estimate on how many al Qaeda may be in the country as a whole? Several hundred, you're saying, non-Afghan al Qaeda south of Gardez, but --

Rumsfeld: It's not knowable, because in the country could be just across the border and in the country tonight and not tomorrow, or vice-versa. In the country could be someone who changes their mind. The stronger the interim government gets, the more effective the security situation in the country gets, the less likely that there will be substantial operations like this. But that's some distance off.

Q: Has there been any intelligence that indicates al Qaeda is operating or planning things in Iraq, Kandahar, Khost, other specific places?

Rumsfeld: We don't get into intelligence gathering.

Yes?

Q: Sir, what do you think the al Qaeda strategy is at this point in time? Is it to seek refuges in inhospitable regions, lie low, and try to escape detection by the United States? Or do they have a more active, offensive strategy to work against the Karzai government and the American forces there? For General Myers --

Rumsfeld: I think both. I think it's opportunistic. I think to the extent they feel they can do the latter, they'll do that, and to the extent they can't, they'll wait for the time being.

Q: General Myers, could you address that?

Myers: Well, I would just add on -- I mean, the secretary's absolutely right; I think it's both of those. And we have indications that the folks that are under attack now were planning to do exactly --

Q: Planning to --

Rumsfeld: We also know that the leadership of al Qaeda stated from the outset that their intention was to kill enough Americans so that we would flee and leave the country over to them, and that they had a series of terrorist attacks planned to create an environment that was sufficiently inhospitable that we would leave the country. And we found information to that effect. It's been said on videotapes. And so we know what their strategy was, and we don't intend to let them succeed with it.

Yes?

Q: General Myers, just to complete a thought -- (inaudible) --

Myers: The secretary essentially did. I mean, he's -- that's -- we're -- we have a mind meld in this regard. (Laughter.)

Q: I would hate to get in the middle of a "mind meld." (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.)

Myers: I hope it's not illegal.

Q: Can you both talk about the role that American forces are playing here in terms of being at the cutting edge of this assault, as opposed to the earlier example in Tora Bora, where the Afghans were more forward and were allowed to do more of the direct combat? There appears to be a lesson learned from there, with the size of the force and the way it is constituted.

Rumsfeld: Tora Bora was a very different situation, a different part of the country, a different terrain, somewhat, different time in the conflict. We learn every day. But the Afghans are very much involved in this effort today -- this operation. And they're doing a good job, as are the coalition forces and the U.S. forces.

Q: What is your feeling, Mr. Secretary.

Q: But if I may follow up, was there an over reliance on local Afghan fighters in the Tora Bora campaign, especially when it came to cutting off escape routes? And have you learned something from that?

Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, one hopes that one learns every day that life -- life is a learning experience for all of us.

I don't know that there's been a lessons-learned effort on the Tora Bora activities, specifically, so I really can't say. But it was a different circumstance at a different time, and we're on.

Yes.

Q: General Myers, can you help us understand -- if the military knew the threat and knew how entrenched these people were and knew how well-armed they were, why did you send in U.S. ground forces so quickly? Why not more days of airstrikes, soften it all up, get rid of more of it before you sent in ground troops?

Myers: Well, this is a -- that's the kind of tactical-level decision that's made by General Franks and his subordinate commanders. And --

Q: But certainly you'd be aware of the answer.

Myers: I might be, but I don't think I'm the right one to tell people that. That's -- the last thing you want me to do is to second-guess General Franks and his folks, and I won't do that. In this case, I think it's totally inappropriate. I think the plan they have -- like I said, we were briefed on this -- I was briefed on it over -- about two weeks ago. It was a sound plan. It combined ground operations with air operations -- I think appropriately so. And --

Q: Can you help us better understand what role U.S. ground troops have been fulfilling in this campaign since Friday?

Myers: Sure. They're trying to root out the al Qaeda and the other fighters in this.

Q: Certainly. But what exactly -- are they going cave to cave? Are they doing --?

Myers: They are --

Q: -- very short-range fighting, longer-range fighting? What exactly are they doing?

Myers: Well, I think we'll leave that -- General Franks is on at 3:00, and he'll talk a little bit more about the tactical situation. And I personally feel more comfortable if he would do it. He's the one responsible for executing the operations.

Q: General Myers, you said early on that the al Qaeda fighters had basically two choices: to stay and fight or to run. If they chose to run, are you confident there are enough U.S. forces on the ground to cut off their escape routes? And was that part of the original plan that was briefed to you in Bagram -- to ensure that there were enough forces on the ground?

Myers: Yes. And it's not just U.S. forces. It's -- Afghan forces play a large role in that, as well -- not only on the assault itself, but to contain them -- and coalition forces were a big part of that, as well.

Q: Yeah, but -- (inaudible) -- plan.

Q: General, you talked about U.S. and allied forces hit some resistance. Can you expand on that a little bit? There were stories over the weekend that there was a retreat by U.S. and allied forces -- a withdrawal -- and also that the attacks stalled. Can you sort of --

Myers: I think that the secretary covered that pretty well when he talked about one of the Afghan pushes where they lost most of their transportation, so they had to regroup, get refitted and went right back in.

Q: So the only time that was, you would say, a stall was --

Myers: Well again, it's a tactical situation that's evolving, and we're not going to know all of that detail. Only the folks that are on the ground will know. But that's the only time that I've heard anything with --

Rumsfeld: The fact -- the fact that people are not moving may not mean that things have stalled.

You may be using airpower to deal with concentrations of al Qaeda while ground forces maintain position. So I think that the word "stall" is a little like "quagmire," and it may be premature. (Laughter.)

Q: One last thing. Is there any U.S. artillery up there? And if not, why not?

Myers: I think the artillery is coming from the attack helicopters, from AC-130 gunships and from the bombers and fighters overhead.

Q: There's no ground-based artillery, to your knowledge?

Myers: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, is there any indication that Osama bin Laden is in with this concentration of people on the ground?

Rumsfeld: I have no current information that he's anywhere.

Q: General?

Q: To follow up -- Mr. Secretary, to follow up on that --

Rumsfeld: Why don't we get a few more hands here.

Go. Go ahead.

Q: In the past, the United States has kind of judged the seniority of the leadership based on the fierceness of the fighting. Is there any indication -- not necessarily bin Laden, but that high- ranking Taliban and al Qaeda people are in charge of their forces in this particular battle?

Rumsfeld: I don't know what you mean by "high level," but there's no question that these people didn't just happen to all meet there. There's large numbers of them. They're very well armed, they're very well equipped, and they're not milling around, they're engaged in a very fierce battle, so there's clearly leadership involved.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: Mr. Secretary, may I follow up on Bob's earlier question, you say that this is not -- it would be wrong to say this would be the last operation in Afghanistan. Could you just explain to the American people, do you anticipate other similar operations in other areas that would also involve large numbers of ground troops just in general?

Rumsfeld: You can be certain that as we find additional al Qaeda and Taliban forces on the ground, large or small pockets, that we will go after them.

Q: There will be large numbers of U.S. ground troops?

Rumsfeld: Whatever it takes.

Q: Your spokeswoman said this morning --

Rumsfeld: Could we maybe get a --

Q: -- that more than a thousand U.S. troops were involved.

Rumsfeld: Could we --

Q: Are you calling in reinforcements? There are reports that you're calling in reinforcements.

Rumsfeld: Why don't we try to get a few more hands from people who have not asked questions yet, just in fairness.

Q: How about right here? (Laughter.)

Q: There you go!

Rumsfeld: But in answer to your question, obviously, the longer things go on, the more you might replace some of the forces that are currently engaged and give them a rest. But to the extent additional capabilities are needed, you can be sure additional capabilities will be provided. But we're not going to get into speculating about what or might not be done in the day one, two, three, four, five days ahead, other than I am sure it will be a well- run and successful operation that will have an ending other than a stalling. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: This area of Paktia Province has long been considered an al Qaeda stronghold.

Rumsfeld: True.

Q: Several weeks ago, U.S. forces seemed surprised when they found large caches of weapons and residual al Qaeda at Zhawar Kili. And now five months into the war --

Rumsfeld: I don't think they were surprised.

Q: Well, there seemed to --

Rumsfeld: We know there are caches of weapons all over that country. We've said it. It's one of the most heavily armed nations on the face of the Earth.

Q: And it took five months into the war to go after these al Qaeda here in -- around Gardez with ground troops. Was there just a lack of intelligence, insufficient forces to go after these people? Why, five months into the war, is the U.S. military now confronting this large contingent of al Qaeda, when that area has long been considered al Qaeda?

Rumsfeld: Well, I suppose -- Dick, I suppose that's a good question for Tom, but it's a tactical question. What he deals with is the entire country, and he goes about it in a way that is rational from the standpoint of a combatant commander. And you don't go everywhere at once. You tend to work in places where you have the most support, the most information. And that, obviously, was the case. You tend to go in places where you can use the capabilities that you've managed to arrange and array. And that's generally been the case. I don't find it unusual at all.

Myers: I would only add that there's a pretty good likelihood that these al Qaeda fighters and the others in there were fighting with the Taliban forces early on in this conflict, up north, other places in the country, the Kandahar region, and as the Taliban were driven out of power and destroyed, that they started to get together in a place where they could have enough mass to be effective.

And we've been following that, allowing it to develop until we thought it was the proper time to strike. So I think that's probably --

Rumsfeld: Way in the back.

Q: A follow-up?

Rumsfeld: Way in the back.

Q: To what extent are German soldiers involved in combat action?

Rumsfeld: I'm going to have German and every other country characterize their roles themselves. There are some sensitivities, and I would prefer to let coalition forces characterize what they're doing.

Q: Well, was it the first time they joined U.S. forces in combat?

Rumsfeld: He must not have heard me. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Do you have any indications the helicopter was brought down by a Stinger missile, the U.S. helicopter that went down? Do you have any indications whether it was a Stinger?

Rumsfeld: We have no indication that it was a man-portable- surface-to-air-missile at all. We have an indication that one of them was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Myers: That's correct.

Rumsfeld: And I have not -- I don't recall being told on the other, except that it may have been a hard landing.

Myers: I think it was machine gun fire or small AAA-type fire is what the first reports were.

Q: General --

Myers: But first reports, again, can be inaccurate.

Rumsfeld: That's important to remember, that what we're dealing with here is an ongoing operation, and the facts change every two or three hours -- the reports change; the facts stay the same! (Laughter.) But the facts are only revealed over time. And so one ought not to be surprised that they see a number one time and then the number is somewhat different later, and we all ought to expect that and have a certain degree of tolerance for it.

(Cross talk.)

Q: Could the general go into an explanation of what happened with the helicopter, how many people were injured, whether there was a firefight on the ground? Whatever you know.

Myers: I'm going to leave that for General Franks at 3:00. He can get into that as much as he wants to.

Q: General, this is the first use of this thermal barrack bomb we learned about in December, this kind of a silver-bullet kind of weapon. Was this aimed at a large concentration of potential al Qaeda leaders in a cave where you wanted to incinerate them all in one fell swoop?

Myers: It was aimed at a cave complex that we thought was tactically significant. Now -- but I have no indications they thought -- it was just -- we knew it was an active cave; that's all we know.

Q: Active meaning --?

Myers: People.

Rumsfeld: And it tends to be more pressure -- a pressure effect, as opposed to an incineration.

Myers: Right. Yes --

Q: Explain that in layman's language. Pressure meaning --

Rumsfeld: Blast over pressure.

Myers: Blast over pressure.

Q: And you think it was active in terms of people or gunfire?

Myers: People. Correct. Right. You know, the reconnaissance said this was an active cave; we'd like to take it out.

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: A strategy question for either of you. You said you've been observing them coalescing for some time in this place. Was it an active strategy to let them coalesce and strike them as a large body, rather than to strike them in small pieces? Because a lot of us have questioned you know, if you're seeing these people, why aren't you doing something before? Was it an active strategy to do nothing, let them gather?

Rumsfeld: I would ask General Franks that this afternoon. But, I mean, the reality is, as you see small pockets of activity and you're in an area that has been reasonably hospitable to both the Taliban and the al Qaeda, you then begin to plan an operation. And you have a choice; you can go after and pick off one person individually and ask him, would he please surrender, or you can plan a major operation knowing that it's an area that has been hospitable to those folks, and then do what we're doing. It seems to me that the latter is preferable.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I take to you another part of the world, for a change?

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Q: It's been six months since you had a CINC in SouthCom, and there are some reports that some of the Latin American countries are beginning to feel that they're being left out during the war on terrorism and that they're afraid that you're going to downgrade that position. Do you intend to nominate -- or recommend a new CINC for SouthCom, and will it be a four-star?

Rumsfeld: The answer is yes.

Q: It will be a four-star?

Rumsfeld: The answer is yes.

Q: Too?

Rumsfeld: Yes. (Laughter.)

Q: Is it tied in with the NorthCom commander?

Rumsfeld: We've got a lot of pieces on the board that we're moving, and we have a number that are coming up during this year. We have one that's vacant. We have a number that are coming up this year. We have a number that are coming up early next year. And this being a year when the Congress may very well not be in session late this year, it means we have to look at some six or eight or more key spots. And we're looking at them together, and that has -- the reason for the delay on SouthCom, and we intend to rectify that soon. Eric?

Q: Mr. Secretary or General Myers, can you indicate whether you believe that this regrouping took place? Are they regrouping at a place that was predesignated, say, prior to October 7th? Or does this indicate to you that there is some kind of ability among the al Qaeda and remaining Taliban fighters to communicate among themselves and find their way back to this concentration?

Myers: Oh, I think there's no doubt that the al Qaeda still has the -- and the Taliban that are left still have the ability to communicate among themselves, certainly. And this has been an area -- as somebody mentioned earlier, this is an area where they've gotten support from the locals, local population, for some time. And so it's not surprising the area they picked. The fact that they would be concentrated in a relatively small portion of that area was what was interesting, I think.

Q: How threatening is that capability, then, as you look in terms of their operations and the threats that they pose --

Myers: Well, I think it's like we've said before. The al Qaeda organization is -- still has capabilities. And all the work that's going on, not just the military work, but the law enforcement work, the arrest(s), disrupting their financial streams and so forth -- all a piece of this, and it goes -- it's going on around the world. And a lot of that we don't see, we don't talk about, but it's just as important as this military operation.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you alluded to this in an earlier question about ever-changing information in an ongoing operation like this, for example. But what do you say to the argument that the American public has been denied an objective or unfiltered account of the war on terrorism because of Pentagon policies that tend to restrict reporter access to U.S. soldiers and their battles, as they're ongoing?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't hear that from the American people, I hear it from very small numbers of people in the press. And there are people embedded in this activity, as I understand it. So I think it is not a fact. That is to say there are press people who are embedded in the activities that are taking place. This is one of the few situations where Special Forces are actually engaged in an activity where press people have been embedded with them.

Q: But are they allowed --

Rumsfeld: Just a minute, just minute. Let me finish my thought. And there have been press people embedded with other Special Force units but not particularly when they were actively engaged in a moving activity. Second, there have been press people embedded in ships and other activities. The -- it seems to me that if -- if I were trying to assess this in an objective, unbiased, "Rumsfeldian" way -- (laughter) -- I would step back and look at it and say, "Not bad."

This is a most unusual conflict. It is not a set of battle lines, where Bill Malden and Ernie Pyle (sic) can be with troops for week after week after week as they move across Europe or even across islands in the Pacific. This is a notably different activity. It's terribly untidy. We have bent over backwards to see that every opportunity that we could imagine that press people could be connected to that they were connected to. And they have been. And I think there are a notable number of firsts in this case, from the standpoint of the press.

Second, anyone who wants to in the press can get into Afghanistan and go anywhere they want. It's a free country. It's dangerous, and people are being killed, but it's a free country. Now we have done a lot to see that they're involved. Therefore, your question kind of surprises me, given the current situation. Maybe you weren't aware that they are embedded in this operation.

Q: I was not. I was also thinking of the historical perspective of other wars, going back to both --

Rumsfeld: Right. Right.

Q: World War II and on up --

Rumsfeld: And I think it's --

Q: and there was a lot of --

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Q: contention about this early on.

Rumsfeld: Well, there's been contention in every war. There's always been that series of questions that get raised, and that's fair. How are you going to handle it? And the answer is, if you know -- if you said, "Are we going to fight World War II again," I'd tell you exactly how we'd handle it. And -- there's a model for that. There is no model for this.

So we've been reaching around, trying to find ways that people can report on things that are happening that are terribly important for the American people to know. I mean, the young men and young women that are engaged in this effort -- not just from our country, but coalition countries -- are doing a first-rate job. And they're having a lot of success. This has been a very successful operation. And they deserve to be noted -- and not just if they're killed or wounded. They deserve to be noted if they're not killed or wounded, because they're doing --

Q: Mr. Secretary, are those reporters who are embedded currently allowed to actually report?

Rumsfeld: I would have to get briefed on precisely what their instructions and guidance was. But I believe I am correct when I say what I said: that there are Special Forces units -- Americans embedded in Afghan forces. There are Special Forces units not embedded in Afghan activities. There are American soldiers, infantrymen, engaged in this. And there are coalition forces engaged in this. And in one or more of those activities, there are press people who have been with them since the outset, I think even during the pre-conflict portion, when we had people for days located all around, doing reconnaissance and watching.

And I think that Torie undoubtedly was involved, and Craig Quigley, in what their instructions were, and I'm sure she or he would be happy to answer that question.

Q: That's an important point. If they're there, the question of whether they're allowed to report would make a big difference --

Q: What time frame.

Rumsfeld: Of course, obviously. And I'm sure someone won't like it. Whatever they may be, the guidance, I'm sure there will be somebody who won't like it. But the fact remains they're in there and they will be allowed to report. In what time frame and with what protection for the people's names or faces who are engaged in this, who are in units where their names and faces don't get reported -- I can assure you of this: anyone who's in there accepted the ground rules when they went in, and they decided of their own free will that they would rather do that than not, which seems to me to be not bad, pretty fair.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Why don't we take two questions.

Q: Great.

Rumsfeld: That's one, and there's one.

Q: Both of you mentioned early on that the helicopters in the mission are being pushed to the limits of their capabilities, operating at 8,000 to 11,000 feet. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? And also does that make them more vulnerable to the types of RPG attacks and small-arms attacks that they came under?

Rumsfeld: Any time they're low, they're vulnerable, low to the ground.

Q: What was it about -- how were they being pushed to their capability with that altitude, that ordnance -- (off mike)?

Myers: Well, they just -- it's the load you can carry at what altitude, so they have to -- they can't -- maybe they couldn't carry as big a load as they wanted or as much fuel as they wanted, and that would restrict them somewhat. And just as you operate higher with helicopters, the control effectiveness starts to diminish a little bit. So they're just against their operating envelope.

Q: What I'm saying is, does that make them more vulnerable, then, to the attacks that they came under?

Myers: I think the secretary's point, once they're low to the ground in enemy -- where there's enemy, that they're vulnerable by virtue of that. I don't know if there's any direct correlation with -- with that. There may be.

Q: The RPG hit the one that went down with seven casualties -- or six casualties, or the --

Myers: No. No, that was machine gun fire or some kind of fire that took -- we think. Now again, the first reports.

Yeah?

Q: So the RPG hit the second one that had the hard landing?

Rumsfeld: No.

Myers: No.

Rumsfeld: Hit the first one.

Myers: Hit the first one. Bounced off. They recovered.

Rumsfeld: Apparently did not explode. It was the first report; that the RPG hit it, but may not have exploded. And a person may have been knocked out.

Myers: What's important to note --

Q: Knocked out of the helicopter?

Myers: What's important to note -- we've been talking a lot about helicopters, and you can ask General Franks at 3:00. But as I count them up, we've had one that's been disabled, the one on the ground. It's not -- it's intact, and whether they can repair it or not, I have no idea. The rest of them have all been flyable, and some have been repaired and put back into the action.

Rumsfeld: And the one that hit -- was hit by an RPG was flyable and was moved out.

Q: But the one with the casualties were mostly machine-gun --

Rumsfeld: There were casualties in both cases.

Q: But the multiple casualties, the multiple deaths --

Rumsfeld: Why don't you save it for Tom Franks? (Laughter.) Why don't you just trust us? Three o'clock this afternoon he'll be on, right?

Myers: He'll have an update.

Rumsfeld: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go. And here's a second question.

Q: I just wanted you to comment on reports that the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have family members with them.

Rumsfeld: "The reports." Who reported this?

Q: There are villagers in that region who had -in places that had previously hosted these people, are reporting that they did retreat up into this mountain stronghold with family members. Could you comment on that?

Rumsfeld: We have assumed that where you find large numbers of al Qaeda and Taliban, that there may very well be non-combatants with them who are family members or supporters of some kind, who are there of their own free will, knowing who they're with and who they're supporting and who they're encouraging and who they're assisting.

Q: Can I ask a point of clarification for the general? Earlier you said there were non-Afghan Taliban in this fighting force. Are these Uzbeks or who are these people?

Myers: Again, ask Tommy Franks. We think there are --

Rumsfeld: You mean the enemy or our side?

Q: Enemy, yeah. I think you said there were non-Afghan Taliban.

Myers: Well, we think there are some IMU embedded in there. But that -- I'm just going to leave it at that. Ask Tommy.

Q: And, Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that we're now training and equipment troops in the Philippines and Yemen. Did you mean to say that that training and equipment of Yemeni forces has already begun?

Q: Okay.

Rumsfeld: We have indicated to the Yemeni government that we would assist with intelligence gathering and some training. And actually, when it starts, I'm not sure. But we have not gotten quite to that point with Georgia, despite all the stories. There was an assessment team in Georgia. It has made a report back. General Myers is awaiting that report and then will come to me with it and we'll have a discussion about it within the government and make a judgment as to what we might be -- end up doing. But Georgia, of course, is a country in the Partnership for Peace, a NATO country that we have provided some modest assistance to already as I recall, helicopters.

Myers: Yes, sir.

Rumsfeld: And I think there is one American there now who is assisting with helicopter -- helicopter parts, or something, a military person. But that also has not started. The Philippine assistance has obviously started.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.

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