Monday, Nov. 26, 2001 - 11:59 a.m. EST
(Also participating is Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Nov2001/g011126-D-6570C.html )
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
First, a piece of non-Afghanistan or terrorist -- anti- terrorist news. As you know, the Quadrennial Defense Review called for establishment of an Office of Force Transformation to guide the transformation of our military in the 21st century, and today that office is being established. I've named Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski its director. [ News Release ] Admiral Cebrowksi's broad military experience and strong credentials in joint operations and in information technology make him a nice fit for this important assignment.
He will lead the effort to evaluate the transformation activities of each of the Departments, recommend steps that may be needed to help integrate them, and link them to both national and departmental strategy. He will report to the secretary and the deputy secretary of Defense.
He's going to host a round-table discussion for the press and the media, I guess from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, I think --
Staff: (off mike)
Rumsfeld: -- 2:30 p.m. tomorrow in the briefing room here. [ Press Advisory ]
The -- I just had an occasion to meet the two young women who had been detained along with the six others in Afghanistan, over in the White House. The president had them in with their families. And I should report to all who listen to these press conferences in the military that they were -- they and their families were all deeply appreciative for the fine work that was performed by the U.S. military in helping to extricate them from Afghanistan. And I wanted to pass that along.
Now, with respect to Afghanistan, as you know, some U.S. Marines are now on the ground in the southern portion of Afghanistan. More are joining them. They are not an occupying force. Their purpose is to establish a forward base of operations to help pressure the Taliban forces in Afghanistan, to prevent Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists from moving freely about the country.
As the campaign against terrorism continues, it's useful to briefly take stock of where we are. Two-and-a-half months ago, something close to 4,000 Americans were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Indeed, as you all know, there are continuing terrorist threats against our country here and also our forces deployed around the world. Our job, as the president directed, is to take the fight to the terrorists, to find them, to stop them and to deal with countries that harbor them.
As we all know, it will not be an easy task. It won't be over quickly. But we are making some progress. We've applied steady pressure on terrorist networks across the globe. We've frozen some of their assets, and in my view, we need more cooperation from more countries if we're going to dry up their financial assets. We have cut off a number of their avenues of communication, which is helpful. And we've employed the tools at our disposal -- political, military and diplomatic, as well as economic -- to weaken their networks. These actions have had an effect.
In Afghanistan, their strongholds, for the most part, have fallen, and their leaders are clearly forced to move around and are having difficulty managing their remaining capabilities and assets and forces. We are pursuing them across the country, from north to south and east to west and intend to continue following them wherever they go. We now have forces that can more successfully interdict highways and main routes of transportation and communication.
And slowly but surely, the Afghan people are beginning to reclaim some -- their country, as well as their lives. And they're shedding many of the outward signs of their oppression and are relishing the freedoms that they've been denied for so long.
As the president has said, our job does not end with Afghanistan, with the Taliban or the al Qaeda or even with Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan, as the president said, is only the beginning of our efforts in the world. We're committed to the war on terrorism, and this war will not end until terrorists with global reach have been found and stopped and defeated.
Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And good afternoon.
Over the weekend, northern opposition groups entered the city of Kunduz as many of the Taliban forces there surrendered. But isolated pockets of foreign fighters, non-Afghan Taliban forces, continue to be active in the area. Our main focus continues to be on putting maximum pressure on al Qaeda and the Taliban, and we are continuing airstrikes and have increased our ground forces, as the Secretary mentioned, by putting some Marines in Afghanistan.
The operation over the weekend to position Marines at a forward operating base in southern Afghanistan has gone well so far. We also remain focused on providing support to opposition groups throughout Afghanistan and on establishing airfield hubs for humanitarian assistance efforts.
Our nine planned target areas yesterday were again concentrated on the al Qaeda and Taliban cave and tunnel complexes, as well as Taliban military forces, primarily in the Jalalabad and Kandahar regions. Increasingly the majority of our strikes, about 90 percent, have been against emergent targets by aircraft operating in what we call engagement zones, or by aircraft conducting close air support for opposition ground forces.
We used about 110 strike aircraft yesterday, including about 85 tactical aircraft launched from platforms at sea, about 10 land-based tactical aircraft, and about the same number of long-range bombers. We dropped leaflets in the Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul and Kandahar and Herat areas, and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions as well.
Our humanitarian relief support continued with two C-17 air drops near Kunduz and Herat, delivering about 40 containers with over 19,000 rations, and 40 containers of wheat and blankets. To date we have delivered about 1,900,000 humanitarian daily rations.
Today we have two videos from strikes during the prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif. In the first, you can see the part of the compound where the uprising occurred. If you watch closely, you can see a rocket-propelled grenade being fired. And in the second video, you can see a Navy F-18 taking out the building from -- where the rocket-propelled grenade came from.
In one unfortunate note, at about 0130 this morning Eastern time, five U.S. servicemembers were injured when they called in a close air support mission, and the weapon that came in hit near our team's position. All five have been MEDEVAC'd to Uzbekistan and they will be moved to Landstuhl in the near future. Their injuries are currently listed as serious, and of course we wish them a speedy recovery.
With that, the secretary and I will take your questions. Yes?
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us, do you envision the force of Marines as the vanguard in the battle against terrorism in Afghanistan? Do you see them being used to seek out and destroy al Qaeda networks, or are they setting up a lily pad of sorts, for other units that will follow on?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think I would take our words exactly as we've put them out, that we think of them as a -- establishing and holding a forward operating base. And we don't discuss future plans or developments, so there's really nothing one would say beyond that, except that that's what the -- these are hundreds, not thousands of Marines.
And these are relatively small numbers, and they're there for the purpose we stated.
Q: Mr. Secretary, just a follow up to that, if I may. There's a little confusion. "Forward operating base" tends to lead us to believe that there will be more to come, not just Marines, but others. Is the mission to go against the Taliban in Kandahar, or is the mission to go and try and find Osama bin Laden?
Rumsfeld: Well, "forward operating base" could, in fact, as you suggest, mean that there's more to come. It could also mean exactly what we've said it is, and that is a forward operating base out of which you can operate, not meaning more to come. But you could use for a variety of things: you could use it for humanitarian purposes, you could use it for special operations, you could use it, as some of the questions have suggested, for the inflow of additional troops. But that is -- what it is is what we have said, a forward operating base.
Q: A follow-up to that, please, sir. But are these troops there -- are the Marines there for the particular purpose of aiding the tribes to go after the Taliban, or are they there primarily, as we said all along -- or as you said from the podium, the principal mission is to try and find Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda lieutenants?
Rumsfeld: The Marines are in to do what I've said, and that is to establish a forward operating base. And that is their purpose. It is not their purpose to do the other things that have been suggested. The question as to what else might that base be used for, prospectively, is an open question which none of us have discussed, and don't intend to.
Q: Mr. Secretary -- or General, actually, you suggested that yesterday, I believe, 90 percent of the targets you went after were these so-called "emerging targets." Caves and what not tend to be in fixed locations. Can we deduce from your accounting that caves accounted for something less than 10 percent of what you were hitting yesterday?
Myers: Well, a cave can also be considered as an emerging target as we gather intelligence about certain complexes. So in a sense, yes, while it's fixed, in a sense it's also kind of a -- like a mobile target, because we have to gather information, and once the intelligence points to a certain complex where we think we may have al Qaeda or Taliban leadership, then we will go after it.
Q: So is it possible to give us a number in terms of what percentage -- what you did yesterday was directed at caves?
Myers: Sure. We can do that after the briefing. [About 25 percent of yesterday's strikes were targeted against cave and tunnel complexes.]
Q: Yes, can you give us a ballpark on how many Marines will be going in, and also what kind of firepower they'll bring? I know the MEU has artillery, Cobra attack helicopters --
Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, it's hundreds, not thousands. And -- and they will bring in whatever they think they need to deal -- to be able to establish, hold, and protect and -- provide the force protection for that location.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Do you have any -- now that you're approaching 2 million daily rations dropped -- either of you -- do you have any assessment from the ground of their effectiveness?
Rumsfeld: I don't have data. We do have a lot of anecdotal information. We've seen a lot of photographs of the rations being gathered up by people and guarded with weapons and passed out to people, and that people are in fact eating them and using them. Now, how -- they've been reasonably well-dropped in locations that are in close proximity to people that have the need for them.
Q: Have there been any problems?
Rumsfeld: Not that we know of. There was the one issue that was raised about the similar colors with that and cluster bombs, and they've all been so marked now that I think that's not an issue.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you said last week -- or maybe it was even the week before -- that the United States wasn't taking any prisoners because you simply weren't -- didn't have the numbers of troops on the ground that would permit you to do that. With this influx of additional ground troops, are you now in a position to take prisoners? Will you be taking prisoners? Have you taken any prisoners up to this point?
Rumsfeld: I can't say we have not detained someone for some period of time. But in terms of our actually going out and seeking prisoners or looking for the opportunity to hold prisoners, we're not. What we've preferred to do is to use the -- have the forces on the ground that have been opposing Taliban and al Qaeda take prisoners themselves and then allow us to do whatever interrogating might be appropriate. They have much larger numbers of people on the ground. They are perfectly capable of doing those kinds of things.
Q: And if I could just follow up, have you conducted any -- has the United States participated in any sort of interrogations? And has that produced any information that gives you confidence that you're getting closer to finding bin Laden or al Qaeda leaders?
Rumsfeld: With respect to the first part of the question, the answer is yes, we have done some interrogating. And with respect to the second part of the question, as I've said, I don't know that you -- I don't know how to measure gradations of closeness to something you've not caught. It just isn't possible. We get lots -- we get information, to be sure, but how far it moves us in the direction we want to go, it has to remain an open question until we get where we want to go.
Q: Mr. Secretary, has the situation in Mazar-e Sharif and the compound there and the break-out of the prisoners taught the United States any lessons about future masses of some of the hard-core Taliban prisoners? Have you learned anything from that experience of having them -- (inaudible)?
Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, I don't think anyone that I know needed to learn that the al Qaeda and the non-Afghan troops were much more likely and, in fact, have been among the toughest of the fighters and the most determined and the least likely to surrender, and would have the least ability to meld into the countryside. We knew that, and that's proven to be the case. They have been very stiff.
I mean, any time prisoners get -- are not -- apparently not searched completely in a way that -- or not guarded in a way that they end up with some weapons in their hand and can stage a revolt, which apparently happened, one has to know that greater care needs to be taken by the people in charge. But --
Q: Has it taught you anything about the likelihood that the foreign Taliban are going to go quietly into some sort of detention situation?
Rumsfeld: I don't know how I could answer it differently than I did. I don't think that the non-Afghan al Qaeda, or Taliban, whatever you want to call them, are going to go easily anywhere.
Q: Mr. Secretary, over the weekend there was a report of an American -- either a soldier or working for some other agency was either killed, captured or wounded in the siege there at the fort. What can you tell us about that? Who is that individual and what we know of what happened to him?
And General, can you tell us where the five service members were when they were injured? And what were they doing?
Rumsfeld: Well, with respect to the first part, it was not a member of the U.S. military, in the event that those reports are correct. And I've seen some reports that -- of a kind with the ones in the press.
Q: But what can you tell us about it? Do you know anything about this individual? Did he work for another agency? And in fact was he killed, captured, or wounded? Is he missing?
Rumsfeld: Until the compound is secured, which, at the last word I received this morning, it has not been, we will not know the answers to those questions.
Q: And --
Rumsfeld: Excuse me. Go ahead.
Myers: Well, the service members were supporting the opposition in trying to quell the uprising there in Mazar-e Sharif, and they were part of that operation.
Q: And they were in the fort itself?
Myers: I can't say that they were in the fort themselves.
Q: Can you clarify -- was it a targeting problem with a bomb, or were they just closer than the fighter pilot and the targeter had anticipated?
Myers: It was a fratricide issue that we've worked out. But it was fratricide.
Q: Could you tell us what branch they were?
Myers: I'm sorry?
Q: Can you tell us what branch of the military --
Myers: I'm not going to do that right now.
Q: And was it the same bombing that we saw here on the video? Is that the bomb that caused the injuries to the five --
Myers: No, that was not the bomb. No.
Q: Could I ask you to outline why it is you chose to put this major commitment of Marines on the ground in the Kandahar area? What was the reason to choose that area?
Rumsfeld: As you know, we've had Special Operations capabilities in that part of the country for some time, and the -- one of the advantages that accrues to us by having capability there is that the highways that connect the North and the South and the East-West in the southern part, going towards Iran, exits or entrances from Iran and Pakistan, can be interdicted from those locations. And it was decided that -- by the combatant commander, Tommy Franks, that it would be helpful to have a base there from which a variety of things could be done, rather than simply using people, in and out, of a Special Operations nature. So it is for a variety of purposes.
Q: Mr. Secretary, a couple questions about Kunduz. You've expressed, of course, concern about the al Qaeda fighters that were there. I haven't heard anything about what happened to those guys. Had they been taking prisoners? Did they get away?
And related to that, there have been persistent reports of aircraft landing in Kunduz and taking people away. And now that it's open, witnesses are telling reporters that they've seen those aircraft. Is there anything you know about that?
Rumsfeld: Well, in Kunduz there was a long, hard battle, and a lot of people were killed. Some prisoners have been taken. And I have received -- and I don't know if you have, General -- but I have received absolutely no information that would verify or validate those statements about airplanes moving in and out. I doubt them, although I'm not on the ground and, therefore, it's not for me to say that, other than we can't confirm that at all.
Myers: In fact, the runway there is not usable. I mean, there are segments of it usable, but they're usually -- they're too short for your standard transport aircraft. So we're not sure where the reports are coming from.
Q: Mr. Secretary, over the weekend there were some Northern Alliance people -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan who were suggesting that if Mullah Mohammed Omar were captured, that he might end up being freed. Would you -- what will be your reaction, if that should ever happen?
Rumsfeld: Well, you know, there are so many people in the world who can opine on these things. Some are on the ground, some aren't. And anyone can have an opinion about anything. I can't imagine why he would be freed, or by whom. Nor can I imagine that he'll end up being captured. From everything I've read about him, he's a rather determined, dead-ender type -- (laughter) -- and -- to coin a phrase. And I just -- you know, it could happen, he could be captured. Everyone has an opportunity to surrender. Nobody wants to kill somebody who's surrendering. But he just doesn't feel to me like the surrendering type. (laughter)
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Just to follow up -- just to follow up. If I could just follow up on just that one point --
Q: He pointed at me.
Q: Go right ahead. (laughter)
Q: What about Jalalabad? It appeared that a lot of strikes were in the Jalalabad area. And there are reports that there are thousands of Taliban fighters holed up there, and that there have been sightings of bin Laden there. Is that a new pocket of resistance, a new stronghold for the Taliban up there? Are more fleeing to that area?
Rumsfeld: It's been a stronghold from the beginning for the al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Myers: That's correct. And we've had, I think, almost -- almost from the beginning we've had targets in that area, and it's going after the leadership.
Rumsfeld: And there's the area between Jalalabad and the Pakistani border.
Myers: And Kabul is the -- and onto the border is --
Rumsfeld: At Kabul, all the way across there, there are caves and tunnels and places people can hide out.
Q: Do you have an indication that bin Laden is there, or has been there or near there?
Rumsfeld: We don't discuss indications. And I would add that we have so many indications of those kinds of things, sightings. But we don't get into that.
Q: Just to follow up on that, is it pure speculation when the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance makes a claim that -- he says that Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are in the same general area, that they're surrounded, they're cornered? Is that just pure speculation, from your point of view?
Rumsfeld: I wouldn't want to characterize his comments as pure speculation. He may know something I don't. Lots of people do. But our -- we get an enormous amount of information from lots of different sources, technical sources as well as human sources, about where one or more of the senior al Qaeda and the senior Taliban people are. And someone may believe very sincerely what they're saying, and they may even be right. But when one looks at the mass of that information, it's pretty clear that they're doing the best they can to hide themselves. And they're hiding someplace.
Myers: I would only comment to that that Omar seems to be trying to organize the fighting of the Taliban, and bin Laden, on the other hand, seems to be concentrating on hiding. And it's quite a difference in what, perhaps, even what their objectives are.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how would you assess the performance of the Global Hawk over Afghanistan in providing the type of information that you need?
Rumsfeld: We're delighted it's there, and it's too soon to assess it. It's had very limited number of hours on station.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: General, could you say what the situation is in Kandahar, how many fighters are believed to be there now, and what are they doing? Are they digging in? Are they moving out? And are they being attacked from the air?
Myers: Again, in Kandahar it's sort of the last bastion, we think, of Taliban resistance. You get mixed reports on whether they're about ready to leave and give it up or not. I will go with the secretary on this, in that, from Omar's standpoint, we think they're going to -- they'll dig in and fight, and fight perhaps to the end. And that's the situation as we know it right now.
Q: Any estimate on the number --
Myers: No, there are not reliable estimates. If I gave you a number, it would be -- I mean, it wouldn't even be a best guess.
Q: General Myers, can you give us -- can you tell us how those injured citizens were evacuated and what sort of facility they're being cared for in Uzbekistan? Is it a military hospital, a civilian facility?
Myers: I don't know the specifics on how they were evacuated. My guess is probably by helicopter, but I'm not sure about that. [By helicopter from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan.]
The medical facilities in Uzbekistan are the first line of treatment. They've been used before when we had an accident in Kahsi-Khanabad, where we had to do some stabilization on an individual that had some internal injuries from, I think it was a forklift accident, but --
Q: Was that the American military man?
Myers: Yes. And then -- and we -- and they can stabilize them there. Then they'll move them to Landstuhl -- is a good sign, because there are other places they could take them that are closer than Landstuhl. So we'll stabilize them there and then move them on to Landstuhl.
Q: Sir, if I may --
Rumsfeld: The one the general is talking about is in Walter Reed Hospital. As a matter of fact, I visited him out there not too long ago.
Q: On the humanitarian front, you mentioned 40 containers of wheat and blankets. Are those being dropped in from the C-17s as well?
Myers: Yes. And those would be -- would use the parachute delivery system.
Rumsfeld: Way in the back. Yes?
Q: Yes. For the general, please. There are reports again, defectors of Taliban said maybe people in Kandahar, Taliban there, are close to surrender. And also, the name of the operation, Swift Freedom -- does that mean you know that the operation will be over soon? (laughter) And I have a question for the secretary.
Myers: The operation will -- it will not be over soon. This is -- we've said this, I think, many times from right here that this is -- this operation, on a world-wide basis, will go on probably for years -- in Afghanistan, for a substantial amount of time. We do not think that it's going to be over anytime soon, no matter what we name the operation.
Q: Are you concerned, Mr. Secretary, about reports that so many of these Taliban from Kunduz, for example, are being allowed to lay down their arms and simply give up and being taken in by the Northern Alliance? Are you concerned that they may take up arms again someday and come back to haunt U.S. forces there in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Well, let me put it this way. That is possible. The history of Afghanistan has included many chapters where people have moved from side to side, and it is possible. One has to acknowledge that. Do I think it's likely in the near term? No. Can I predict the longer term? No. But the feeling of relief on the part of the Afghan people to have -- in those areas where it's already occurred -- to have the Taliban out of power and to have the al Qaeda out of power and the strong reaction, indeed, on the part of many in the Taliban against the al Qaeda for what -- the damage they've brought to their country -- I think argues that at least in the nearer term, some reasonable period of time, it's unlikely that you'll find people doing what you've suggested.
I just don't think it's likely.
Q: Could you all give us a little bit more information about the prison uprising? I gather from what you said it's still going on. Can you tell us when it got started, about how many U.S. service personnel are there, when U.S. airstrikes came in, and the level of effort there -- has it been a dozen or just a handful of airstrikes? And who's calling the shots on the ground? Who's telling the U.S. what they need?
Rumsfeld: There is a local opposition commander on the ground. There are Special -- U.S. Special Forces attached to that local opposition commander. And what has -- it started some time back -- I don't know; I suppose yesterday -- with -- I'm trying to think what time it is there -- it's -- I wouldn't want to pick a day, but it was within a relatively modest number of hours from now it started. And there are hundreds of prisoners in there. And some got ahold of weapons, and some got loose, and some have escaped, and some are fighting, and some are penned up. And air support has been called in. And how long will it go on depends on how successful the opposition forces on the ground are in containing those that are still imprisoned and in subduing them.
Now, if you have people who are willing to have hand grenades wrapped around themselves and blow themselves up so they can kill a half-dozen other people in close proximity to them, the thought that they'll surrender readily is not likely.
Q: Do you expect it to be a total rout -- the end of this will be --
Rumsfeld: I'm hopeful that some will surrender. I suspect some won't, and I suspect the result of that will be that the opposition forces will kill them.
Q: But you said some have escaped. Can you give any idea of the number?
Rumsfeld: I can't. And I don't know that anyone on the ground can, either. What they may have to do is, when it's over, and they have subdued what's left of the people still in the compound, they'll count them. And somebody may have a head count from before, and then they'll subtract it and say, "Well, roughly this number got away." And --
Q: Is it worrisome to you that those that you clearly feel are the most dangerous of the opponents have, in fact, escaped?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know who has escaped.
And clearly some of the ones that are still in there are not not dangerous. They're dangerous. And I wouldn't know how to weigh the gradations of dangerousness among that crowd.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what about the U.S. personnel --
Q: Mr. Secretary, you said -- the first thing you started talking about today was the transformation briefing tomorrow, which is in some ways obtuse to the fight. But can you circle around a little bit? To what extent are transformation types of technologies and tactics playing out over Afghanistan now that -- allowing the U.S. to go after emerging targets 90 percent of the time in the last couple days? Can you give us a little tutorial on it? (laughter)
Rumsfeld: It's such a fascinating question. In fact, I just --
Q: (off mike) -- fascinating answer, though. (laughter)
Q: In 30 words or less.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I just came out of a meeting with my staff on that subject, and it is an enormously important question as to -- there's always a lesson learned, and some of them are positive and some of them are less positive. And there's no question but that the time to begin that process is earlier, rather than later. And that process is beginning in the Department, because there's no question but that we are learning things, and we need to learn them, because we're going to have to know them in the years and decades ahead.
Torie is waving her pencil and her book at me in a way that suggests I should not give the kind of lengthy answer that this thing merits, and I'd rather do it sometime. Well, I mean, there's no question but that if you think of the phrase "high-demand, low-density assets," what you're talking about is that the Department didn't buy enough of some of the things it needs. And obviously one looks at the -- the use of UAVs in this environment is notable, and the fact that the Department needs many more of them than we have and that we're -- I suppose we're shorting other areas, to some extent, in the world.
The relationship between the UAVs and the Special Forces on the ground and the air support and the precision that that's -- the level to which it's improved over a relatively short period of time suggests an enormous advantage that accrues to the United States because of that coordination and communication, just for example.
Myers: We're working towards a decision on a superior force, matter of fact, that -- which is, I think, one of the aims of transformation. And we're getting closer and closer, much closer than we were in Kosovo, and that's -- you know, that's the detect and target and track and kill or have the effect you want to have on the target.
We've had some great successes. We also know we have some shortfalls that have yet to be fixed, that we'll have to fix those.
Q: Just so anybody watching who doesn't know what a UAV is?
Rumsfeld: Ah, yes. An unmanned aerial vehicle. An airplane without a pilot. An airplane that can go out and hover over the ground and see what's taking place there.
And with that, we'll excuse ourselves. Thank you.
Q: What happened to your finger?
Rumsfeld: I cut it, out in New Mexico.
QCarving the turkey?
Rumsfeld: No, no, no. No.
Q: What did you think of your portrayal on "Saturday Night Live"?
Rumsfeld: When I want to discuss "Saturday Night Live," I'll bring it up. (laughter)
Q: See you tomorrow, Mr. Secretary.