Tuesday, October 16, 2001
(Interview with Mike Rosen Show, KOA Radio, Denver)
Rosen: It's five minutes after 11:00 a.m. This is Mike Rosen. We had full lines as we ended the last hour with people who wanted to follow up on our interview with Joan Peters. We'll be talking to Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, United States Navy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs for the next 15 minutes, so if you'd like to hold on or come back to that topic a little later this hour I'll be happy to do that but we've got Admiral Quigley who we've been trying to schedule for the last couple of weeks. I'm glad we could finally put it together, Admiral. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Quigley: The same here, absolutely. Persistence pays off.
Rosen: I'm sure it does. I'm sure you've got plenty to do these days.
We talked about a topic earlier today and it's a providential coincidence that you're here. I'd like to get your reaction to it and let me give you just a little bit of background.
Number one about me, so you understand where I sit before I tell you where I stand. I'm in the media but I'm not of the media. This is a second career for me. I made a crossover from my business career. And once upon a time I also worked at the Pentagon, I was Special Assistant for Financial Management to the Secretary of the Navy. So I'm kind of on your side. And just as so many people in the media are suspicious of the Department of Defense, I happen to be in the media and I'm suspicious of the media.
I was talking about Loren Jenkins who's senior foreign editor for National Public Radio. He's in the Middle East now with a team of reporters. And he said the other day when asked the question if he became aware of the presence of American commando forces in a Pakistan village or outside a northern Pakistan village, would he reveal that. He said that he would. He explained, I don't represent the government, I represent history, information. I represent what happened.
That really bothers me in that it would compromise the mission and the safety of American forces in the field, but I understand that this mentality is not uncommon in the media, which is why I understand why the President and the military is reluctant to share sensitive information with people in the media if that information would undermine your efforts.
What do you make of his comments? And let me add one other thing that he said. His job is to, he said, quote, "The game of reporting is to 'smoke 'em out'," and by them he meant American military units in the field.
What's your reaction to that?
Quigley: I would say, I guess, that it's simply not a typical reaction that I encounter in my every day life here. We have a very professional Pentagon press corps, many of whom I've known for more than 15 years personally, and I know that foremost in their work here every day, yes, they want to get the news, they want to find out what's going on. But I don't know a single one of them that would ever knowingly put U.S. forces at risk -- their lives, their safety at risk by their reporting. As a matter of fact they go out of their way to make sure that the information that they have is not going to do that.
Now when we do something wrong and there's a cost overrun on a program or something like that and no one's lives are at stake, then they will not hesitate to call us to task for that and well they should. But when it gets down to issues of life and death and the safety of our men and women in uniform and the success or failure, perhaps, of a planned operation, I have never once been associated with any of our press corps here that cover the Pentagon on a regular basis that would not err on the conservative side and simply not run the story at all, or fuzz it up to the point where no one could get any useful information from it.
Rosen: A couple of questions have come up. I'd like to run these by you and see if you can shed any light. Somebody called yesterday, a listener, who said that she had heard in a news report that there was a Taliban troop concentration, I think the number she gave was 7,000, in Kabul in a barracks environment, that the report claimed we knew about but for some reason didn't attack. Any truth to that?
Quigley: Boy, I have not heard that one, no.
Rosen: Does that strike you as plausible?
Quigley: Well, we do a very careful job, I think, of choosing the targets that we're taking on right now in the raids over Afghanistan. The president and Secretary Rumsfeld have said that these are all about accomplishing two things, and they are in the proper order here. First is to create the conditions over which we can continue to press the fight against terrorists and the organizations that support them. In the first case here it's Afghanistan. And second, once that first part is done, to then go after the terrorist organization, al Qaeda in this case, and the organization that supports them, the Taliban government in this case, wherever they may be found.
Rosen: Does it strike you as plausible that the Taliban would have anything approaching a 7,000-troop concentration anywhere in Afghanistan now?
Quigley: Oh yes, indeed.
Rosen: In Kabul, in a city?
Quigley: That is their great -- they are quite strong around Kabul. They are quite strong around Kandahar, down in the southwest corner of Afghanistan. They are weaker up in the extreme northern part of Afghanistan. That part of the country is in fact controlled by what's referred to as the Northern Alliance, and it's an alliance of other typically Uzbek and Tajik nationality people that are opposed to the rule of the Taliban.
Rosen: Wouldn't one think that with this intensive air campaign that in a city they'd be disbursing their troops now, the Taliban?
Quigley: The Taliban have considerable capability in a relative sense. The fighting capability of the Taliban in a relative sense compared to the Northern Alliance and other forces in the area, is quite good. But as far as being really able to move very quickly and conceal themselves very quickly, thankfully we find their skills in that area a little short.
Rosen: There was another report that somebody made reference to about an incident whereby the Taliban nominal leader, Mullah Omar, was located and that before an attack on his position a query was went up the chain of command to a JAG officer. Anything on that?
Quigley: I think you're referring to an article that appeared yesterday in the New Yorker magazine.
Rosen: In the New Yorker, by Seymour Hersh.
Quigley: Right. And we got a lot of questions on that yesterday. The secretary was down briefing the Pentagon press corps yesterday and got a question on that. [ transcript ] His words, I think, say it best. He said look, we have a variety of ways to indicate whether or not a convoy of vehicles might contain some Taliban officials. Just by its very composition and its movement and its nature. But our ability to know whether or not any individual is in that convoy is not very good, and we would be spending all of our time chasing rabbits if this was going after one person.
Indeed, it's much broader than that. Whether it's Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, those are bad guys. But this effort is more than any one person and it's more than any one organization. But you've got to start somewhere and we're starting it with al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Rosen: Would the JAG's office be part of the chain of command in making a decision as to whether to go at a target like that?
Quigley: We frequently do ask for a review of any contemplated military action by our attorneys. The United States stands for certain things in this world. There are such things as the laws of war and the input from the attorney is sought in a wide variety of applications of military power.
Rosen: In this case, the decision would have to be made instantaneously. One would think that the rules of engagement would already have been something that JAG officers would have had input in and now the standing orders are there.
Quigley: Well, rules of engagement are a little bit different. They apply to how military forces conduct themselves in the field. The rules that pilots must comply with before they're authorized to use their weapons in self-defense and things of that sort. But this would have been a very different action, and yes, the advice of our lawyers is sought. Ultimately, it is always the operational commander's decision.
Rosen: At this point, having been through the drill before, if information were to instantly become available about the presence of Osama bin Laden, it wouldn't require a discussion with the lawyers now, would it?
Quigley: We will try to be as nimble and as quick to react as we can be, depending on any number of varied circumstances in the days and weeks and months ahead.
Rosen: Without getting specific, what will be the role of the Navy SEALs in this?
Quigley: The president and Secretary Rumsfeld have both said that there is no question that special operations forces at some point in time will be used. And of course the Navy SEALs are a part of our nation's special operations capability. Exactly when and where and under what circumstances is a hard one to predict, but there's no question that they'll be a part of the fight.
Rosen: When we were gearing up for Desert Storm, we had a Navy that was operating with much greater resources than the one we have now. I understand that we're down to 275 ships currently in commission and operational. Back in 1990 we had in excess of 400 ships even approaching 500 ships.
Does the Navy specifically and the U.S. military in general have sufficient resources for this kind of a campaign?
Quigley: I think you're talking about a campaign here that is very, very untraditional. It is not about fighting armies and navies and air forces. It is about fighting an enemy that lives and fights in the shadows. And is outside the law of any civilized government around the world.
So if you're looking for a force match, sort of ours versus theirs, it really doesn't apply.
What I would tell you is that we feel very confident that we have the variety and the numbers of military forces to carry this fight on indefinitely until we are successful. We will persevere.
Rosen: And suppose it escalates to a more conventional confrontation with a nation like Iraq. If it turns out that Iraq can be shown to have been involved in biological attacks against the United States, if it's necessary once again to go after Saddam Hussein, to move on Baghdad, are we equipped to do that now?
Quigley: Well then you have a different construct in the sense that you do have a more traditional military force structure but the outcome would still be the same. We would prevail.
Rosen: You can't just flip a switch and suddenly have another 100 ships on-line or trained personnel. What's the Pentagon doing right now regarding any long-term plan to build up our military capability?
Quigley: First let me go back and I think you gave a number before of about 275 Navy ships. The number is actually about 315, I believe. So it is a lower number than the period of time around the Gulf War that you indicated, but each individual ship is far more capable than its predecessors from ten years ago. That's just the very nature of things. I mean each succeeding generation of aircraft or ship or armored vehicle is much more capable than the ones that it replaces, and rarely are they replaced at a one-for-one ratio. So while the numbers may be smaller, the overall capability is incredible, indeed.
Rosen: I have 274 active in commission from the Navy Vessel Register going to the Navy's web site.
Quigley: Okay. My understanding is it's a little higher than that.
Rosen: I think the inventory is no doubt greater than that, but under the column active in commission, that's the number they're listing right now.
Rosen: But whether it's 274 or 311 or whatever the number is, that's certainly a lot more than a dozen, but a lot less than 600.
Quigley: Yes, indeed. And there is value in larger numbers. It allows you to be in more places around the globe at the same time without putting an incredible strain on either the crews of those vessels or the ability to repair them and to replenish them in rear areas and things of that sort. So numbers do matter. But I would just say that each individual vessel is far more capable than its predecessors.
Rosen: When we're pinched for personnel, one of the problems is that naval personnel spend more time on station, don't have as much time to rotate. The kind of presence that we've got now in the Middle East, is that going to place strains and pressures on troops to be on station longer?
Quigley: I suspect that it will in the long term. But this is just going to be the way that things are for the foreseeable future. I would suspect that you're going to see our forces operating at a higher tempo, and particularly so in a forward deployed manner.
On the other hand, I would tell you that nowhere is morale higher right now than those forces aboard the Enterprise Battle Group and the Carl Vinson Battle Group that are actively engaged every day in taking the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Rosen: Admiral Quigley, I know you said you could only spend about 10 or 15 minutes with us, so I'd like to thank you for joining us. Perhaps we can call on you again.
Quigley: I'd love to. Thank you very much.
Rosen: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. 11:20 the time. We'll be right back on 850 KOA.