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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability En Route to Whiteman

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 19, 2001

Friday, October 19, 2001

(Media availability en route to Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.)

Rumsfeld: I'll just make a couple of comments, and then I'll be happy to respond to questions.

You all know Congressman Ike Skelton. This is his home district. Senator Kit Bond is going to be there as well, I understand. And as you all know, we're going to Whiteman. Those folks are involved in an important part of what's been taking place in Afghanistan, and how long are those round sets? Something like 40 hours? It's an amazing thing that the B-2s take off from here and then do a terrific job and return safely to Missouri.

The base is named for, as you may or may not know, for one of the first Americans killed. As I understand, he was taking off at Pearl Harbor to defend against the attack and the plane was shot down and he was killed.

I'll be happy to respond to questions.

Q: Does the introduction of a limited number of special forces on the ground signify a new phase in our war against terrorism?

Rumsfeld: What we've decided to do, and I think with very good reason, is to characterize what's going on as certain things taking place from the air and certain things from time to time coordinated with the ground.

We have decided not to get into the business of trying to characterize what might or might not be happening that isn't readily visible for good and valid reasons. And that being the case, I don't think I should agree with the premise of your question.

Q: (inaudible) how dangerous the situation would be for people (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: Well, you've got people, coalition forces bombing and taking action from the air; you have Taliban and al Qaeda fighters taking action from the ground and firing a great deal of AAA and some missiles as well as other types of ordnance; and in addition you have opposition forces opposing Taliban on the ground, so there's a great deal of ordnance flying around in that part of the world and has been for a long time and is today.

Q: Is the terrain --

Rumsfeld: The terrain is difficult.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Well, I've just decided that it seems to me that what we're doing is complicated and it's different, it's not the normal thing. Obviously if a country has a significant force in another country it's known, it's noticeable. There are clear lines of demarcation between the opposing forces. It's understandable to people, and people know how to get in the way or out of the way as the case may be. When that's not the case as it is not the case here, it seems to me that one has to be interested in the safety of the people involved and the safest way one can deal with an issue like that is to not get involved in discussing it.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Well clearly any ground forces are in harm's way and any air forces are at risk as well. I have no problem saying that. That's a fact. As I mentioned the other day, we clearly are also working with forces on the ground that are opposing the Taliban and al Qaeda and working with them in a variety of different ways depending on which part of the country and which group and they vary considerably.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I don't know the context of General Newbold's comment, and I rarely use four syllable words like that. I don't know what he was referring to.

All I do know is that it would be unwise to think that the outcome is determined. It's not. It is a difficult set of problems that we're dealing with. It's not going to be fast. It's going to take time. And the people on the ground there are very tough, they have been fighting each other and others for a long time. They're survivors. They know the terrain. They know how to move around in that terrain and it is going to be a lot easier, in my view, to try to persuade a number of them to oppose the Taliban and to oppose al Qaeda and to help defeat them than it is to in fact defeat them.

Q: (inaudible) and there are forces (inaudible). Why (inaudible) in these areas where the (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: I think your assumptions may be wrong. One of the reasons -- from time to time the locations of the strikes change and the reason they change is for several reasons. One reason is we may have good and valid reasons why we want to do something else. We may have better targets some other location. Another reason we might want to not strike in a specific area is if in fact friendly forces plan to do some things in those particular areas.

So the reports you're getting from the ground are going to be confused and mixed and anecdotal and they are not going to represent a broad pattern or picture, I would submit.

There is good coordination from the air with the ground in some places, particularly in the north. There is not that kind of coordination as yet in the south.

Q: You talked yesterday of ammunition --

Q: (inaudible) in Afghanistan, (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: Well, the military role will be over there when the Taliban and the al Qaeda are gone. Gone. That's what this is about. The United States has said that it's going to take the effort to the terrorists and the terrorists are, among other places, are in Afghanistan. That is what this is about.

Q: You spoke yesterday of providing ammunition and other aid to what, you seemed to be referring to the forces around (inaudible) and the Northern Alliance. Could you detail what it was that you were talking about or what (inaudible), particularly with respect to ammunition?

Rumsfeld: No. What I will say is that we have had requests for food and ammunition and various supplies. We have had requests for cooperation from the air from various elements at various times and particularly in the northern portion of the country, to some extent in the south. We have from time to time been doing that and that seems to me to be perfectly consistent with everything I've said, namely that we want to help those forces in the country that are anxious to get the Taliban and al Qaeda out of there.

Q: (inaudible) -- military power striking fear? Is it a matter of psychological operations? Or is there some new method of reaching out and communicating or negotiating with these forces to help them get the Taliban [out of there]?

Rumsfeld: I think it's all of those. It is a fact that a number of these elements have been on various sides of different battles in that country, shifting. They have friends on both sides. They have relationships and people they have worked with previously. And our interest is in persuading them that the tide is going to go our way and that the foreign elements of the al Qaeda that have come into their country at the request of the Taliban and in spreading terrorism across the globe is doing the Afghan people no good, that they ultimately are going to lose, and that the people who have been quiet might want to get less quiet on our behalf, and the people who have been supporting Taliban might want to provide less support. And as I say, this type of thing is occurring.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I think it's too soon to say.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Not disappointing, no. The disappointment depends no your level of expectation. We've been involved now for what? Today's Friday, it will be ten days or something. And we do not have the kinds of interaction with some elements in the south that one would have to have to see progress.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I'm not going to get into particular forces or comment on a question that has that as its premise.

I think we probably ought to eat lunch.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: The result is yes, but in some cases it's in -- money has been provided for them to acquire some of those things, and in other cases it's been to the contrary.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I'm not a lawyer, but I'm told not. There have been many human rights violations in that country. Starving people, people shoved out of their homes, people badly treated, people in prison. It is not a place that has been terribly kind to the Afghan people. The Taliban has been particularly damaging to the Afghan people.

It seems to me that what you have is you have a nation that's been at war with outsiders for a long period and internally for a long period and you're quite right. There probably are very few elements in the country that have not been through some very tough times and had very difficult battles and where there have not been things that in a perfect world one would characterize as a human rights violation.

There's no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming mass of the Afghan people will be one heck of a lot better off with Taliban gone and with al Qaeda gone. And any suggestion to the contrary I think is just belied by any look at what's taking place in that nation.

Thank you, folks.