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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Christiane Amanpour, CNN Live

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 18, 2001

Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001 - 1:06 p.m.

(Interview with Christiane Amanpour, CNN Live)

Aaron Brown: A little bit past 1:00 here in the East. We want to welcome viewers on CNN International who join us for a while now for an interview with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Secretary is in Washington. Christiane Amanpour, who will do the interview, is in Islamabad. We'll step out of the way. Christiane, good evening to you.

Amanpour: Good evening, Aaron. And Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much for joining us this evening, my time, afternoon, your time, here on CNN.

Can I begin by asking you, yesterday President Bush, and indeed the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave their strongest hints yet that a possible ground force is imminent. Are you saying that perhaps you can now envision a Northern Alliance offensive? And would the U.S. provide air support?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that the -- it's safe to say that the Northern Alliance, and the various elements within the Northern Alliance, are already attempting to take advantage of the situation and move their forces forward against the Taliban and against the al Qaeda forces in the north.

Amanpour: U.S. radio broadcasts are instructing Taliban troops how to surrender to U.S. troops. Does that mean there will be a U.S. force on the ground? And if not, to whom will Taliban forces surrender? Which U.S. troops?

Rumsfeld: Well, I would point out that in the north, the Northern Alliance forces, and, in the south, various tribal elements have been contesting and competing against the Taliban for some time. The leaflets that are being distributed are encouraging Afghan people and Afghan forces to oppose the Taliban and to oppose the foreigners, the al Qaeda, who have come into their country and turned it into a haven for terrorist networks across the globe, including those that killed thousands of people in Washington, D.C. and New York so recently.

The hope is that those Taliban people will, in fact, move over and support the Northern Alliance and support the tribes in the south. It is also entirely possible, and, indeed, there has been some instances of this where Taliban forces have changed sides. And that is something that is taking place today as we speak.

Amanpour: But Mr. Rumsfeld, the U.S. broadcast is the one that is being broadcast by this flying radio station instructing specifically how to surrender to U.S. forces.

Rumsfeld: Well, I think the point of the broadcast and of the leaflets that are being dropped is that we're encouraging people to surrender or to change sides. And it does not matter. The Afghan forces on the ground that are opposed to Taliban and opposed to al Qaeda are in many, many locations. And it's far more likely that they'll be working with those forces.

Amanpour: Officials in your own department have been telling reporters that there are now special operations forces and helicopters on the decks of the aircraft carriers, aircraft carriers that have been cleared of their fighter bombers. Can you confirm that to us?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm sure there are helicopters on various locations throughout the Central Command. I don't think that's really the point. If you're asking, am I going to discuss any conceivable future operations -- needless to say I must not do that. That would be putting people's lives at risk and compromising the confidentiality that's so necessary for operations.

Amanpour: U.S. intelligence has reportedly in the past detected testing of chemical weapons at bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan. Given that and given what's going on in the United States, if there were to be an insertion of any U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, would they be provided, instructed to use chemical, biological protection uniforms and other such gear?

Rumsfeld: Well, we know certain things. We know that there are a list of countries that is public, nations that have been very active in sponsoring terrorism and fostering and facilitating and harboring terrorist networks. We also know that those same countries, for the most part, have been active in developing chemical and biologicals and weaponizing those capabilities. It seems to me it's not a great leap of imagination to suspect that, in fact, the relationship between those nations on the terrorist list and the terrorist networks will become sufficiently intimate at some point in the past or in the future that we can expect terrorist networks to be using chemical and biological weapons. And we also know that a number of them have been actively seeking radiation weapons.

Now, if that's the case, one has to be cautious that these terrorist networks either have or will have, and therefore are likely to use capabilities of that type and see that forces, as well as people in our country and deployed forces overseas, as well as friends and allies, do what they do with a sense of heightened awareness and preparedness.

Amanpour: Are you specifically concerned about that in Afghanistan if U.S. or other allied forces are inserted on the ground?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess any time U.S. forces are in the air or on the ground or at sea against an enemy -- and there's no question but that the terrorist networks are enemies -- that one has to be worried about all kinds of threats that can come to them. And the threats are many and varied. And I don't know that I would necessarily elevate one or another higher than the ones you're suggesting.

Amanpour: Can I ask you about public opinion as this war continues? Despite a lot of rhetoric in this region, we have, from our own reporting, detected a discernible support in some quarters, even in Afghanistan, for the goal of the bombing campaign, amongst Afghan exiles, amongst people in Afghanistan, those opposed to the Taliban. But recent reports and pictures of civilian casualties are beginning to shift that support. In order to reverse that trend, would you consider moving the targeting of leadership positions that you have been targeting from populated areas where inevitably there're likely to be civilian casualties -- would you consider shifting that targeting to, for instance, ground forces on the front lines away from populated areas?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, I think it's important to say that the targeting by the United States and by coalition forces has been very careful. It's been very measured. And it has, for the most part, not been in any populated areas. It has been -- when you see reports on television or in the press that the bombings in Kabul or in Kandahar, or some other location, for the most part that means that it's on the outskirts in areas that are military targets or involve military individuals, clusters of forces.

Now that means, in answer to your question, we really can't move it, because we've already been focused totally on military targets, and as I say, almost overwhelmingly outside of the city. To the extent that there've been significant military targets in areas that do have population nearby, they have almost always been targeted with a weapon that has a high degree of precision so that there will not be a high amount of collateral damage. And I think the behavior of the Afghan people in the country, quite apart of what pictures might be shown, suggest that what I've just said is exactly true. We have a lot of reports from the ground to the effect that Afghan, innocent Afghan people are going about their affairs pretty much as normal, notwithstanding the bombing campaign, because they know it's focused on the people that, in many instances, the Afghan people, would not want in their country anyway. There were foreign invaders, and they're terrorists and they're the Taliban that has harbored those terrorists.

This effort is certainly not against the Afghan people. It's not against a race. It's not against a religion. It is against terrorists who came into the United States and killed thousands and thousands of human beings, innocent people.

Amanpour: Mr. Secretary, as I said, we did discern support for the goal of these air strikes amongst some in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But I'm asking you, are you concerned that the civilian casualties which you yourself have even spoken about in terms of some mistargeting, some miss-hits. We've seen, you know, warehouses. We've seen certain civilian dwellings that you yourself have acknowledged. Are you concerned about a shift, which we're hearing about in public support?

Rumsfeld: Well, we always have to be concerned. And you're quite right. There was an instance where a missile went amiss and it hit a house and four people, I understand, were killed, although we can't verify that. There was also another instance where a warehouse was hit and a few people were injured. It is something that we care about.

On the other hand, if you think of what the Taliban have done, they have not only killed several thousand people in the United States, and the al Qaeda. What they have done to the people of Afghanistan is a tragedy. The people are starving. They have killed any number of people. The weapons that are being fired today that you're talking about are coming, to be sure, in some instances from the sky. In other instances, they're coming from the Taliban shooting at the aircraft in the sky. And in still other instances, the weapons are being fired by opposition forces. So there are at least three different sources of weapons going on in that country, a country that has faced war against the Soviet Union and then a civil war for the years since. It is truly a tragedy. And our hope is that it can end soon and that the Afghan people can be cared for and assisted. It's not an accident that the United States of America gave something like $170 million for food assistance to Afghanistan well before September 11th. We do care about the people of that country.

Amanpour: You have said that many, many times. And indeed, you said over and over again, and so have all the leaders of this coalition, that this is not a war against Islam, but one against terrorism. But as you know, there are very loud voices in this region who are saying exactly the opposite, that this is, in fact, they claim, a war against Islam. You and indeed Condoleezza Rice have just appeared on the Al Jazeera Arab Satellite Network. Are you concerned that you have been slow in getting your message out to the Muslim world?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think it's terribly important that we do it. I think it's important that we be effective and do it. I just came back from a trip to several countries in the region, as you may recall, and met with the leadership there and went on television in of those countries and discussed the purpose of this effort and the reasons for it. It is clearly important that the world understand what this is about. When terrorists attack, they can attack any place at any time, and it's not possible to defend every place at every time. The weapons are very powerful today. The only choice that the United States has is to take this effort to the terrorists themselves and to find them an to root them out and to stop them from their murderous ways.

This is all we are about. The United States has no interest in any piece of real estate anywhere outside of the United States of America. We don't covet other people's land. We have no axe to grind with any people in the world, except for people who are going about the world killing innocent people.

Amanpour: I want to try to get to the heart of the perception problem, Mr. Secretary. You have, as you say, gone out of your way to express public empathy with the Afghan people as opposed to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But in this part of the world, people, Muslims, feel that the United States has not shown similar empathy for the poverty and the misery of the Palestinian cause. In this part of the world, that is a litmus test. And they make -- they make a link between the Palestinian cause and the perceived lack of empathy and the claim -- the claim that Osama bin Laden makes to represent their cause.

Now I know you do not think, nor do most people think that link is justified. But do you accept that America has a long-term problem with this kind of perception in the Muslim world unless that issue is dealt with and resolved?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, you're quite right. There's no question but that Osama bin Laden and others are actively trying to go around the world and connect these things, and I must say with some success in the case of the al Qaeda. I would also point out, however, that it was the United States and a coalition of Western countries that went in and threw Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis out of a Muslim country, Kuwait. It was the United States that worked with the Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia when they were being badly treated. It was the United States that assisted with food aid and humanitarian assistance in Somalia, another Muslim nation. The United States, the biggest provider in Afghanistan before these terrible attacks on the United States. The United States is deeply involved in the peace process in the Middle East.

You've used the word "until it is solved." It has been there a long time, most all of my adult life. More than your adult life. It has been going on for decade after decade and after decade. It is a terribly difficult, intractable problem. President Bush and his predecessors, dating all the way back, have all been involved in that peace process. I've been involved in it in three administrations. It is not something that lends itself to instantaneous solution. And I think that the people of the region have to know that President Bush and Secretary Powell and George Tenet, any number of other people are on the phone, are meeting in person with the leaders on both sides in the Middle East peace process, working diligently to try to help solve those problems. The violence seems to continue. It ebbs and it flows; it gets a little better and a little worse. It is a tragedy. People have been killed within the last week. It's something that the entire world has to be concerned about.

But I think that suggesting that the United States of America should be attacked by terrorist networks and thousands of Americans killed, innocent people, men, women and children, by people who are proud of having done it and go on television about how much they agree with the fact that it was done, and then to suggest that we must not do anything about that until a very intractable problem between the two sides in the Middle East is solved suggests that it might be another decade. That problem is being worked hard by the President. We understand its importance. And we also understand that there are people out there making mischief. They're trying to stir up that pot and to make it more difficult and to contend that the United States, for whatever reason, is inattentive. We are not inattentive. We are doing, as are other countries, everything humanly possible to help solve that problem in a way that makes sense for the parties to the process.

They have to live together ultimately in that region. And that means that in the last analysis, they're going to have to find ways to sort out those difficulties, and the United States stands ready, as do other countries in the region, to be as helpful as humanly possible.

Amanpour: Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you about specific Pakistani concerns. They say that they have seen the United States use Pakistan as an ally before in the first Afghan war, and then, in the immortal words of President Musharraf, leave this country high and dry when it was over. That's the perception.

Are you able now to assure the Pakistani people that once this war, when it is over, that you will continue your cooperation and alliance and support for Pakistan?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm sure that Secretary Powell in his visits in Pakistan and his visits in India discussed with both sides, both parties the interests the United States has in their country, the importance we give to those countries and the respect we have for the difficult tasks they're engaged in. And if you think about it, the world keeps shrinking. The weapons are so powerful today that the idea that any country can withdraw to itself and not be attentive to important nations like India and Pakistan and to not recognize that the volatility in certain parts of the world can, in effect, ripple across the globe in a very harmful, dangerous way for human beings from all countries. That's just the way the world is today. We have to be interested. We have to be attentive to the world, as do other nations.

Amanpour: You mentioned Secretary Powell. On another issue, he has said that he sees a potential, possible role for U.S. peacekeepers in a U.N. role here, or rather U.N. peacekeepers here. Do you envision seeing U.S. peacekeepers as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force or allowing all the logistical, technical, intelligence facilities of the U.S. in this region to help a peacekeeping force?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't believe Secretary Powell said that. I could be wrong. I haven't been able to track every one of his utterances. But I know that the policy of the United States government is that our task, the task the President has assigned to us is to go out throughout the world and find those terrorists that are killing people, innocent people, and root them out and to deal with countries that are harboring those terrorists. I think that, clearly, the United States has an interest in a post Taliban Afghanistan. I think our interest is much more likely to be financial and humanitarian than it is in terms of peacekeepers. The United States has peacekeepers in many, many countries across the globe. And given the magnitude of the task that the President has undertaken to root out terrorists, I would suspect that it would be not a high likelihood that the United States would end up active in a troop role as peacekeepers in Afghanistan, although there's no doubt in my mind that the President would want the United States to be involved from a humanitarian standpoint and a financial standpoint.

But that, of course -- those are issues that remain to be seen. They're ahead, and they're not immediate. What is immediate is getting the Taliban and the al Qaeda out of that country and dealt with so they stop killing innocent people.

Amanpour: And on that note, many people who do support this campaign against terrorism, even in this region, are afraid that perhaps you might leave the Taliban in place and make them and Osama bin Laden even bigger heroes than they are perceived to be in some quarters of this region right now. What can you say to that?

Rumsfeld: That's not going to happen.

Amanpour: And finally, finally this time, last week you announced, or it was said from Washington that there as a pause on Friday, last Friday because of the Muslim day of prayer. Do you plan to do that again tomorrow?

Rumsfeld: We have made a practice of not announcing pauses or what we're doing because it just simplifies the problem for the other side. We are going to go about our business of seeking out those terrorists and finding them when we can and where we can and dealing with them, and dealing with the Taliban government that has harbored and facilitated and fostered and helped the al Qaeda foreigners in their country. And we're going to do it as energetically and as vigorously and as opportunistically as we can. And they best know that.

Amanpour: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Amanpour: Christiane Amanpour reporting from Islamabad in Pakistan.

Aaron Brown: Christiane, thank you.