Thursday, November 8, 2001 - Noon EST
(Also participating: Gen. Tommy Franks, commander in chief, U.S. Central Command.)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. Obviously, General Tommy Franks is here today. And I'm delighted. And I know you're anxious to hear from him, so we'll try to move right along.
You know well that the nature and timing of the current hostilities were chosen not by us, but by terrorists who attacked the United States, and that we're responding to those attacks. It's not a war we asked for. We're acting in self-defense. And it seems to me it's useful from time to time to re-emphasize that.
More than 1.5 million Afghans have been killed in wars over the past 23 years, including several trans-Arab conflicts which have begun and prosecuted during Ramadan. Millions more have lived as refugees and internally placed persons -- displaced persons.
During the time, the United States has done more than any other country to relieve the suffering of Afghan people. And that commitment continues today. Even as we prosecute the war, General Franks has been making extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties and to deliver humanitarian aid.
In the months ahead the Afghan people are going to be facing severe hardships, including starvation. Countless organizations and individuals stand ready to assist them. There is no question but that the Taliban and the al Qaeda operating inside Afghanistan have often prevented the Afghan people from receiving humanitarian relief that's being provided by the United States and by the world community.
That's why in my view the greatest humanitarian aid that could be rendered to the Afghan people is to root out the terrorists, the terrorist networks, the al Qaeda, and the Taliban, who support them -- indeed, who invited them in and have been harboring them while they've done their terrorist attacks around the world. Prolonging the war would only further oppress the Afghan people and strengthen the oppressors.
In my view, the goal is to destroy the terrorist networks. And certainly, September 11th was more than simply an attack on America, it was an attack on civilization. And such attacks will continue unless the terrorists everywhere are dealt with, as well as those nations that sponsor them.
Because that struggle is now underway and has momentous implications, I'm delighted to introduce the combatant commander for the United States for the region that includes Afghanistan. Besides being decorated numerous times for valor on the battlefield, it includes, I think, something like five Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.
General Franks is both a warrior, but also a wise and inspiring commander. He hails from Oklahoma and Texas. He served in Vietnam, Europe, Northeast Asia, Desert Storm and probably four or five other places over a long career.
In his spare time, he represents and is responsible for military engagements in some 24 other nations in his area of responsibility. That includes the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, Central Asia -- portions of Africa, which, of course, is a dangerous and volatile part of the world.
As you know, the chain of command runs from the president of the United States, the commander in chief, to the secretary of Defense, directly to the combatant commander -- in this case, General Tommy Franks. I suppose we speak together most days two or three times. He comes into town to brief the president, which he'll be doing tomorrow. We've had a session this morning that lasted, I guess, almost the entire morning. He has my full trust and respect, and I know he has the trust and respect of the president of the United States.
Franks: Well, Mr. Secretary, first let me say thank you for those kind remarks.
You know, shortly after the 11th of September, the secretary, having had discussions with our president, asked that we provide credible military options. We did that through a process with which many of you would be familiar -- through the secretary and over to the president. The president became comfortable that he understood what were trying to do, what our efforts would be, and gave us the order to proceed with that process.
Now we've done that. We're a bit over a month into this effort. I have described this as an effort that will, in fact, take as long as it takes. I've described it as an effort that will be unconventional, rather than linear. This will not, day by day, be all about the establishment or the movement of troops along a line of contact. This effort is 24 hours a day; it has been, and it will continue to be 24 hours a day.
And the license which I believe we have to conduct this effort in this way is a license that says we'll be at this for as long as it takes. The depth of commitment, the depth of resolve, the depth of confidence that our president and the secretary of Defense have shown in our command -- these wonderful young people who, as we speak, are engaged, many of them in harm's way -- should give us pause for a great deal of pride. As a nation, they certainly give me cause to have that pride in their work.
As I said, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for the kind introduction. I believe I'll stop at that point and we'll take your questions.
Q: General Franks, I'd like to ask you -- you said that this would not involve necessarily linear movements of troops, and yet the United States has already moved at least a thousand troops from the 10th Mountain Division to the region. The Germans, the Italians, the French, the British, and others are offering hundreds, if not thousands, of troops.
Q: Are you absolutely convinced that the Northern Alliance and other opposition troops can do this job on the ground, or might the United States and Western countries have to put a large number of troops in to do it eventually?
Franks: I think it's a great question, and I think we've said we won't speculate about what tomorrow might bring.
Now obviously, we have had these offers of the -- military offerings from a great many nations around the globe, not just for this area, not just for my area of responsibility, for -- but for the global fight against terrorism. As we have said on several occasions, we will not take off of the table the possibility of the use of ground forces, not ours, and we won't take off the table the potential use of coalition-offered forces.
Q: Well, are you -- again, are you convinced that the Northern Alliance can remove the Taliban from Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul without other troops?
Franks: I think, in my business, which is operational business, one should never be entirely convinced, whether we speak of Herat or Mazar-e Sharif or Taloqan or Kandahar. Again, the measures of merit which we use are not specifically related in every way and in every case to whether opposition forces take Mazar-e Sharif or one of the other pieces of geography that I described.
And so as we stand where we are now, we want to keep all the options open. We want to continue planning, so that we can continue to do what I described initially, which is provide our national command authority, provide the secretary, provide the president of the United States with credible military options, irrespective of what we hope or what we wish may happen.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: General, there have been a few different characterizations of the Taliban combat force strength from this podium. What is your assessment now?
Rumsfeld: He does not believe they've been eviscerated. (Laughter.) Of that I can assure you.
Franks: E-v- -- (laughter) -- let me give you a direct answer. The direct answer I'm going to give you will not be a number, because I think, as has been the case since Sun Tzu said it about about 2,500 years ago, precise knowledge of self and precise knowledge of the threat leads to victory.
One of the reasons that we have been introducing our Special Forces, one of the reasons that we have been conducting the reconnaissance and surveillance that we have been undertaking is to provide more perfect knowledge with respect to both our own capability as well as the enemy's positioning and capability.
What I can tell you, though, is however many Taliban troops were in this at the beginning, that same number are not in this today.
Q: If I could follow up, sir --
Q: General Franks, may I ask you a question about recent deployment moves that you've set in motion, Army troops other than special operations forces and an additional carrier. Can you provide us some details on that?
Franks: I think that it really would not be appropriate for us to talk about forces the nation may have alerted, if that's what you're talking about. There actually are several phases involved in alert and deployment. One of the phases has to do with my headquarters as well as the joint staff and the secretariat here having dialogue with a great many commands in our armed forces who may or may not have been actually alerted to do something.
What I will tell you is that we are in fact in contact with a great many of the forces of all of our services discussing the possibilities for the way ahead.
Q: Mr. Secretary and General Franks, Mazar-e Sharif is under some sort of active pressure right now. Can you describe for us, General, if you would, what you feel the Northern Alliance is doing right now, from your view? Are they actually taking ground? And then step back for a moment and help us to understand the significance of this town, the airfield next to it, for a broader sort of strategic view of Afghanistan. What would it do to the Taliban, what would it do for the Northern Alliance should this critical crossroads change hands?
Franks: I'll circle back to your question, which is about Mazar-e sharif. If you look at Afghanistan, you'll find that there are a number of major routes into Afghanistan. So we would acknowledge that those -- that that route structure is interesting to us as a piece of geography. Of course, there's also Herat. There's also Sherberghan. There's also Kandahar. There's also Kabul. There's also Jalalabad. There's also Konduz. All of these pieces are interesting to us as we conduct this campaign inside Afghanistan.
Now let me talk specifically to Mazar-e Sharif. Yes, we are interested in Mazar-e Sharif. We're interested in it because it would provide a land bridge, as has been said, up to Uzbekistan, which provides us, among other things, a humanitarian pathway for us to move supplies out of Central Asia and down into Afghanistan.
Now to get to your question directly. So how are we doing, vis a vis Mazar-e Sharif? I have seen reported by many in the media that this is a great gunfight that is going on in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif, and in fact there is a gunfight that is going on in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif. I believe, as the secretary said -- I think yesterday, perhaps the day before -- it's a bit early for us to characterize this as the success that will enable our establishment of the land bridge. So I'm not prepared to do that right now. But yes, there is a big fight that's going on in the vicinity of Mazar-e Sharif.
Q: General Franks? General, one of the comments you keep hearing from lawmakers and retired generals and others is that the United States needs a decisive win on the ground before winter sets in. Does that make any sense to you, or can you just pick up in springtime when the fighting generally resumes in that country?
Franks: I think it has been said that the views of the retired generals and so forth, whom you mentioned, and others, are respected. When we see these views -- when I see these views in my own command, we take them aboard, we pick them apart, we analyze them in order to consider options.
Now if -- when it comes to a point that says, well, we need something quick, we need to do something before winter -- I simply don't take that as a form of guidance or pressure. Our commander in chief has said we have a plan. This is being done at our initiative. Some is visible. Some is not. And the timeline that we have associated with this in every case has to do with setting conditions to get to our main objective, which Secretary Rumsfeld has announced many times. It is the destruction of the al Qaeda network and terrorist organizations with global reach.
And in the case of Afghanistan, the taking asunder -- sir, maybe that "asunder" -- that is not quite as good as "eviscerate" -- but it has to do --
Franks: -- it has to do with taking down this illegitimate government of the Taliban that provides harbor to al Qaeda.
Rumsfeld: I'd like to add --
Q: General Franks --
Rumsfeld: I'd like to add a comment. The question presumed -- I think the phrase you used was, "when fighting picks up or resumes" after the winter. The implication there is that the fighting is going to stop during the winter, and I think that would not be correct.
Q: Well, typically in that country --
Rumsfeld: It's a big country. There's all kinds of weather patterns.
Q: -- (inaudible) --
Rumsfeld: There's all kinds of weather patterns. Part of it's mountains. Part of it isn't.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Thank you. General, the United States has cast its lot with the Northern Alliance and other rebel groups in there who actually have a really bad record of human rights violations. They were the subject of a 1993 human rights report by the State Department. Does the United States have any means of restraining them if Mazar-e Sharif or Kabul is to fall? And does the United States have any responsibility for their actions on the ground, if it's helping them with air cover?
Franks: Let me -- let me answer it this way. The Northern Alliance is a group consisting of several different tribal and other organizations which are loosely referred to as the "Northern Alliance." Now, what we've said is that if we were to describe our actions as relating to "the Northern Alliance," we'd probably be wrong. What we have said is that we are interested in providing support and assistance to opposition groups, north and south, which share our goals and share our interests, and wherein we find a mutually beneficial relationship.
The question you asked about human rights violations, and so forth, is very much an issue with us as we work to be sure that the opposition groups with whom we do work understand the point that you just made.
Rumsfeld: I would add something also. If the human rights record of the Taliban and the al Qaeda were written, it would make the book of the month list, I'll tell you.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the president, as late as yesterday afternoon -- and, General, this is to either one of your, or both, if you will -- said we are making progress, "making great progress," quote, unquote. Mr. Secretary, you have said we're making progress. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs says we're making progress.
Rumsfeld: But I don't use a lot of adjectives when I --
Q: Except for et cetera, no.
But, General Franks, it is in your ballpark, so to speak. Can you give us specifically -- word underlined -- an indication of the progress we are making? Not just "taking down the infrastructure," not just "destroying training camps." But what specifically are we doing to win this war? At the end of a month now, what can we show that says, "Hey, we're winning"?
Franks: What we show, I guess that -- well, let me back away from the term that shows we're winning. What we have said is that we like the progress we have had up to this point. We have certainly said that the tactical, the tactical targets, which you mentioned, which you alluded to, have been taken down. Along with that, it's obvious that we have postured forces in the region that give us a greater capability. It is only those who believe that all of this should be done in two weeks' time or in one month or perhaps two months who are disappointed by this. If you look at the wars in history, whether it be the build-up for our work in Kosovo, or whether you look at prior wars, what you see is that frequently we will undertake military operations at the same time we build capacity.
So when I say we're on our time line, that's what I mean. And I don't think that it serves us well to try to articulate that in terms of geography. And so we stay away from that. Remember I said a minute ago what our job is here. Our job has to do with terrorist organizations, networks with global reach, and it has to do with the command and control of the Taliban. And so when we say we're on our time line, that's what we're talking about. When I indicate that I find our progress up to this point satisfactory, that's what I'm making reference to.
Rumsfeld: The way to -- the way to think about it is this, that in World War II you could see progress island to island in the Pacific, kilometer to kilometer in Europe. In the Cold War you did not see progress. What you saw was the process which caused the Soviet Union and that empire to decay from within. And in this instance, because they don't have armies and navies and air forces, and because we're not really arrayed the way one is in a traditional, conventional conflict, what you're going to see is the -- ultimately the effect of all the pressure that's being put on, through law enforcement, through intelligence gathering, through financial freezing of accounts, as well as the air war and the work that's being done on the ground. And what will happen is life will become so difficult for the al Qaeda and the Taliban, that people would decide they'd prefer not to have them in their country at some point.
Q: General Franks --
Q: Mr. Secretary, in the mean --
Q: General, if I can just go back to some of the criticism. And I'm not offering a judgment on this criticism, but we have so little opportunity to address this to you. You're clearly the one who can address this. Two areas of criticism: the war plan and you, personally. Let me start with the war plan.
You hear people inside and outside the Pentagon criticizing the plan as having been too timid in the beginning, fought with half measures; that the sortie rate, roughly 100 sorties a day, give or take, was not as robust as it could have been. Can you answer that criticism? And then I'll follow up with my other one.
Franks: Well, first off, I'll say, Jamie, that what I mentioned a minute ago about taking the views from wherever we find them. I mean, obviously we do that. To talk to the specific of, do I believe that this campaign plan was too timid? Absolutely not. I believe that within war there are a variety of levels. There is a strategic level, which takes into account relationships between states. There's an operational level, that -- which seeks to connect battles to each other in order to pursue a strategy. And there are tactical-level pieces that were, for example, referred to earlier, that have to do with air defense or have to do with some systems that we want to take down.
I'll simply say this: that the campaign plan which we have initiated -- I won't say executed, but what we have initiated -- is precisely the plan that we intended to begin to initiate, and, as I said, I'm well satisfied with it.
Q: If I could just follow up --
Rumsfeld: If I -- let me add this, though. I think people have in mind Desert Storm and Kosovo, and they're beginning to compare different sortie rates and so forth. That is a misunderstanding of the situation, and let's get it right up on the table. You have to look at the availability of ports, the availability of airfields and the distances one has to fly. If you can fly an aircraft two or three times in a day, because of the distance being close and the access you have, you're going to get a higher sortie rate. To the extent you can't, you don't. And I think trying to go back and in your mind compare numbers like that is a misunderstanding.
Q: And if I could just follow up, the other criticism you hear is that this war, if it's to maintain the support of the American people, needs to have a general commanding it who's accessible to the American people, who helps make the case, along with the secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs chairman. The comparison is constantly made to Norman Schwarzkopf in the Gulf War, and, with all due respect, sir, what you hear is "Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf." Your response?
Franks: Well, I suppose I'd begin sort of at the end, by acknowledging that Tommy Franks is no Norman Schwarzkopf.
Rumsfeld: Nor vice versa! (Laughs.)
Franks: Nor vice versa. (Laughter.)
What I think is that the secretary and our president have asked me to do a job. I believe that the American people have every right to expect me to do that job. I believe that it's important for us to think our way through and execute the strategy and the operations which are important to our country. And what I have found up to this point is not a shyness for media; it very simply is an -- (chuckles) -- an insufficient amount of time to be able to do, sir, what you have suggested.
Q: Mr. Secretary, President Musharraf of Pakistan has again repeated publicly today his concerns about a U.S. bombing campaign continuing through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Is there any indication from Pakistan that they would withdraw the kind of support they've been providing for that bombing campaign, and any consideration of suspending any U.S. military operations during Ramadan?
Rumsfeld: Well, first, to the last, we don't address what we might or might not do prospectively.
Second, we always have -- are sensitive to the views of the countries and the leaders of those countries that are working with us in this process. And goodness knows Pakistan is a very important and stalwart partner in this effort against terrorism.
The visits that General Franks has had with the president of Pakistan and I have had have been excellent. He is very much supportive of what we're doing. And when General Franks has some conclusions as to how he wants to proceed, why, he will discuss them with me, and we'll -- you'll probably have a chance to see what we do.
Q: And the Pakistani government has not indicated they would withdraw support?
Rumsfeld: I think that looking around corners for problems like that is probably not a great idea, because I don't think it will eventuate.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there are reports from the region that support for the Taliban has actually increased because of the bombing campaign. And if it's fair to describe the Taliban not just as a collection of soldiers but as a movement, after you've destroyed every Taliban tank, won't you have to then go house to house?
Rumsfeld: You begin your question by saying there have been reports that support for the Taliban has been increasing because of the bombing. There have also been reports, not surprisingly, that support for the Taliban has been diminishing because of the bombing. And it seems to me that it's very difficult for you or me or even General Franks to go down and do a Gallup poll and try to net out the answer as to whether the flow is greater this way or that way. And I am not inclined to chase that rabbit.
Q: Can you at least --
Q: You addressed it, right?
Q: General Franks, you have not mentioned Osama bin Laden yet here this morning, so could we get your assessment on his current situation? One, do you think he's get-able? Can you eventually get him? And what is your assessment, in the last month, of his situation? Has the security around him improved? Is he in greater hiding? Do you get glimpses of where you think he may be? Can you get to him?
Franks: With respect to the last question, I think it would serve our enemy to answer whether our appreciation is that he now has better security or worse security. And so I think you'd forgive that I really wouldn't answer that.
Now, with respect to your former question, we have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort. What we're about is the destruction of the al Qaeda network, as well as the -- I'll call them a non-state, the Taliban, that provide harbor to bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Rumsfeld: We'll take two more. Two more questions. The first one right here.
Q: On the capture of al Qaeda -- I want to probe that a little bit. To what extent do you feel airstrikes, both B-52 strikes against the Northern Alliance -- against the Taliban, excuse me -- and cave hits, repeated cave attacks, will destroy the al Qaeda network? To what extent do you think U.S. troops, special forces, will actually have to go into some of those caves and conduct close combat -- rat, you know, tunnel-rat type of warfare?
Franks: Well, I would remind that since, I think, the first time the secretary walked up to this podium, he said that there will be things which are overt. There will also be activities undertaken which are covert. And so, what I don't want to do is answer your question directly that says, what do we think B-52 bombers and bombers will have to do with us actually crushing al Qaeda? My honest answer is, they will be a part of this campaign which desires the destruction of this terrorist network.
Rumsfeld: We'll make this the last question. In the middle section.
Q: Could you, say, give us your assessment on what the state of the al Qaeda leadership is today, and also whether -- what the state is of the Taliban's fighting power, their ability to operate as a military?
Franks: Very difficult -- very difficult question. I will say the capacity that the leadership of both Taliban and al Qaeda, the capacity they had to be able to communicate, to be able to plan for operations, has been degraded by this effort.
Now, having said that, let me be quick to point out that that should not imply that a great deal of planning may not have already been done. But the direct answer to your question is, I believe that these elements will find it much more difficult to coordinate, communicate and plan than they did 30 days ago.
Q: May I follow up?
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Thank you.
Q: General, do you even want to be Norman Schwarzkopf? (Laughter.)
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