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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Chicago

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 20, 2001 6:50 AM EDT

Friday, November 16, 2001 - 6:50 a.m. EST

(Media availability en route to Chicago. Still photographs shown during this interview are on the web at http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Nov2001/011112-D-0000X-002.html and http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Nov2001/011112-D-0000X-001.html )

Rumsfeld: I am going to go to Great Lakes. I am going to do a National Security Council Meeting with the president and the council by secure video from there. I am going to be doing an editorial board meeting in Chicago at the Tribune and the Sun-Times. And then I am going to see Joyce's mother who is up there and then I am coming home I guess.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you describe for us anything about your conversations with Gen. Franks? And how at this time is the war plan being reviewed or recalibrated or adjusted to fit the new situation on the ground?

Rumsfeld: Yeah. I think the right word is modestly recalibrated. It was designed from the beginning to be sustained over a considerable period of time. It was designed to apply pressure in a lot of locations. It was designed to make the circumstance of al Qaeda and Taliban difficult so that their options were reduced and they had to move and not be able to function effectively. It's playing out that way. As the freedom of movement continues to be reduced and the options continue to be reduced, one would think we would have a better opportunity to achieve our goal, which is, first, to eliminate the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban and to see that that nation, Afghanistan, is no longer a place that harbors terrorists that go around murdering thousands of human beings.

Q: Mr. Secretary, senior Taliban leaders were captured this week. Can you give us details about that and what the plans are as far as possibly interrogating them?

Rumsfeld: Needless to say, as the opposition forces move in and the Taliban and al Qaeda forces move out, it offers a number of opportunities. The opportunity clearly is that you have a chance to interrogate people who have been captured. You have an opportunity to go through a lot of paper and materials and that type of thing that are left behind and it adds to your knowledge, knowledge in ways that are helpful in Afghanistan, but also it adds to your knowledge in ways that are helpful in other countries.

Q: Have you heard anything at all about that would lead you to believe that you're getting closer to finding bin Laden and Omar?

Rumsfeld: You know what I've said about that. If you're running around in the chicken yard chasing a chicken, until you catch the chicken, you don't have the chicken and they bob and weave and move. And that's what they're doing. They're moving a great deal. We are clearly reducing the square miles of geography that they have to function in.

Q: Can you give us an update on what's happening in the south?

Rumsfeld: In the south, there is a good deal happening at this stage. The tribes in the south that had been relatively inactive have become more active. They have in moving into towns and villages and cities and putting pressure on Taliban to leave, which they are doing. They are, in varying degrees, talking to each other and to us. Quite apart from that activity, in some cases, we have people with those tribes. In some cases, we don't. In some cases, we're in communication; in some cases, we're not.

Quite apart from that, we have a number of teams now -- the coalition does, functioning in the south. They've gone in and are staying for periods of time, days and doing things. They're looking for information. They're interdicting roads. They're killing Taliban that won't surrender and al Qaeda that are trying to move from one place to another. They're doing assessments with respect to places that we can land aircraft and do various things that we like to do and the total affect of it, that it is becoming less and less hospitable for al Qaeda and Taliban to be around.

Q: Taliban and al Qaeda -- ?

Rumsfeld: They're -- for the most. But my problem is that if I don't talk every hour to somebody, I can't answer the question. But the last time I looked, they are in the hands of opposition forces. If you think about that, they have thousands of people on the ground. We have hundreds, and we don't have detention facilities or this type of thing.

So at least at the moment, the last time I looked, they were in the hands of opposition forces.

Q: Do you have names? Do you know how high-ranking they are?

Rumsfeld: We do have some names, and they were not privates, some of them.

Q: Do we plan to interrogate them? We plan to interrogate them?

Rumsfeld: Oh, yeah.

Q: Is it fair to say from your description of what the Special Forces are doing, that they're now engaging in ground combat?

Rumsfeld: I will bring back a photograph. I hope I have it in a minute, but the answer is yes. If you are physically connected to forces that are attacking or retreating, they're armed and they're participating. Indeed, we've had had instances where they've been overrun, and, as you know, these things ebb and flow. And we've not had anyone killed, but they have been in situations, and they've been able, fortunately, to call in air assistance and roll them back. But, yes, that's in the north. In the south, they clearly are in -- I mean, they've gone into places and met resistance and dealt with it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Wolfowitz referred to this instance where someone was -- a U.S. unit was almost overrun in the north, but called in air support and survived. Can you tell us any more about the circumstances?

Rumsfeld: The circumstances? Well, they were the opposition forces were moving against Taliban and al Qaeda forces and they were having some success. And at a certain moment, the tide turned and they were having less success, and things rolled back and they got some assistance and re-rolled it back.

Q: Was this around Mazar-e Sharif?

Rumsfeld: My recollection it was north of there.

Q: Was there more than 300 of them on the ground throughout the country now?

Rumsfeld: I don't think we've got into the numbers business.

Q: What about the reports that there is a Taliban possibility of surrender in Kunduz? Can you talk about that at all?

Rumsfeld: Well, the situation in Kunduz has been fierce fighting, which, as I've said, leads me to believe it's probably heavily al Qaeda and heavily ex-Afghan people from other countries that were al Qaeda oriented and Taliban oriented. And then I'm sure there are Taliban troops there as well.

Their problem is that since they're not Afghans and I'm guessing, I'm not totally guessing, but were they Afghans, they could melt into this scenery. Were they Afghans they could defect, flip sides. The Afghans putting pressure on them are unlikely to want someone to switch sides if they're not Afghani, and particularly if they're al Qaeda. That means that they -- once they were cut off from Kabul, their exit route, they're cut off to the north. They're cut off to the east and west, and once they were cut off to the south, they had really only one choice and that was to surrender or fight. And they chose the latter, and I think for the reason I've said.

So it's still going on and there have been attempts to get them to surrender, but the basis on which they wanted to surrender was not acceptable. They wanted conditions and there aren't conditions.

Q: Have there been any decisions made in terms of whether you're going to continue bombing during Ramadan since it's already here, or scaling back a little bit?

Rumsfeld: We are determined to find the leadership of Taliban and al Qaeda, and we're determined to find them as rapidly as possible and to stop them from committing terrorist acts around the world and we intend to do that.

Q: Are there Special Forces from other friendly countries that are operating in the south?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Which -- ?

Rumsfeld: I've got a practice of letting other countries announce for themselves what they're doing.

Q: Can you -- any comments about Omar's statements to the BBC about threatening the U.S. and how this was all part of a large plan to pull out of the urban centers and destroy America?

Rumsfeld: He's sounding more and more like Osama bin Laden every day. It's clear that the Taliban leadership from the start rejected every one of President Bush's proposals. They have clearly cast their lot with the al Qaeda, and, therefore, they are what they are and they'll keep saying things like that and we'll keep doing what we're doing.

Q: You know, there were rumors -- I don't know, yesterday or the day before, that bin Laden had actually been captured. Is there any?

Rumsfeld: There are rumors on everything.

Q: I know. As of this minute?

Rumsfeld: Had that happened I would have called you.

Clarke: Thanks guys.

Rumsfeld: Almost every day. Had that happened, I would have called you. I'm going to go find that photograph for you. Who asked about people engaged in the ground? You won't believe this.

Q: I will want to shoot that.

Q: What's this?

Rumsfeld: It's the Rumsfeld transformation. Those are -- the ones in the light, camouflage garb are, in fact, American Special Forces.

Q: On horseback.

Rumsfeld: On horseback in Afghanistan, and there is probably the first cousin to my donkey, Moe, and that is how they are moving equipment. Are you all able to see this?

Q: What are they doing?

Rumsfeld: They -- it's a pack animal. They pack them, heavily pack them and move equipment, ammunition, food.

Q: [Inaudible.]

Rumsfeld: This is dated 11/13, so it was probably on or about that period.

Q: How many -- ?

Rumsfeld: We are literally -- I have seen drop orders that included saddles, bridles and horse feed.

Q: So what does that say about how things are being fought in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: It says that we have some terrific young people.

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