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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en Route to Tampa

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
November 29, 2001

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

(Media availability en route to Tampa, Fla.)

Q: -- the Marine deployment, for example.

Rumsfeld: The Marine deployment is going along well. In Kunduz there's still some fighting going on. It's hard to estimate numbers but this morning I was told that they've taken it down to a few handfuls of people that were still (inaudible), and they expect to have it (inaudible) later today.

Q: Have there been any more American casualties? Do you know anything about the CIA guy that (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: As I indicated on the (inaudible) U.S. individuals (inaudible). There's no way (inaudible) the situation.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: No, we're not.

Q: But how about the Marines? How are things going? Everything without a hitch? Describe how things are going for the Marines.

Rumsfeld: My understanding is that the deployment is going along very well and it's continuing.

Q: Without a hitch?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm sure someone broke a finger getting out of a vehicle, but in terms of any significant problems, there have been none.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I don't do numbers.

Q: You did yesterday.

Rumsfeld: I don't.

Q: Let me go to another area you don't always do and that is a discussion about the fact that the Marines may participate in the invasion on Kandahar.

Rumsfeld: I think everyone would probably be very wise to stick with roughly what I've said. That is they're there to establish and secure a temporary forward operating base.

Q: (inaudible), does that mean no?

Rumsfeld: I think it means exactly what I've said. I'm not going to restrict what they might or might not do, but I do know why we put them in there, and it's as I indicated. Is it conceivable that some day some one of that group could be used for some other purpose? The answer is, it's conceivable. Is it intended at the present time? No. Therefore my answer is not just (inaudible).

Q: -- Kandahar as far as the fighting, the opposition? There's some word that the tribal leaders have some animosity between each other. How is that going, and how do the Marines factor into any of that, if they do?

Rumsfeld: I think it would be wrong to overstate or try to characterize relationships among what has to be 30 or 40 different elements in the country. They have a long history together. They on many occasions have worked together, on many occasions not worked together. How their relationship will sort out is an open question and certainly not for me to try to describe.

I think if anyone is looking at any given moment you can find somebody who's having some difficulty with somebody else, how important that actually is is not clear to me.

I think what's really important is the people of Afghanistan are enormously relieved to have in much of the country the al Qaeda and the Taliban gone. That is such a powerful and compelling force that I think it will have an effect on relationships, and I think it should contribute over time to a greater degree of cooperation ultimately in forming some sort of a provisional government.

Q: Specifically in Kandahar, the fight there? I mean is it going well collectively, together?

Rumsfeld: I think it's still early.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there were special forces in southern Afghanistan that were doing some road interdiction type of mission and it seems as though the Marines have essentially replaced them. Is that because it's a more robust military challenge, it involves more people and more firepower? Is that kind of the reason essentially for the Marines being there besides establishing a base?

Rumsfeld: No. I think the way to think of it is that special operations is a phrase that encompasses a lot of things including Special Forces. Technically there were not Special Forces in the south, there were special operations. They tended to be of a temporary nature. They went in to do a job. Indeed, one of the jobs they did was to do an assessment on the airport the Marines are now in. That is why they went in there. Notwithstanding the fact that it has been reported that their trip was not successful, their visit was unsuccessful. Indeed, it was highly successful what the special operations people did and the reports to the contrary were inaccurate.

So the reason for sending Marines in is because we wanted to have a forward operating base that would be held for a period while we complete the task in Afghanistan of reaching our objectives with respect to the al Qaeda and the Taliban. That is a more appropriate role for Marines in their circumstance than it would have been to keep special ops people in there on a permanent basis. That is the logic.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you spoke yesterday on the armor columns. Is that the kind of thing that that force will be doing? Will they be going out and searching and destroying --

Rumsfeld: The Marines?

Q: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: Well, if your task is to establish and hold an operating base and it conceivably could be threatened, then you really would do what is necessary or call for assistance to do what is necessary to be able to hold that operating base. That's what they did.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: It was sufficiently close that it seemed prudent to do what was done. They called in airstrikes and were successful in disabling a number of tanks and other pieces of equipment that were en route.

Q: Were there any senior al Qaeda or Taliban officials in that convoy? Have any of them been --

Rumsfeld: I don't recall.

Q: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) what we want to call it, how confident are you in the Northern Alliance's ability to handle all these Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners? When I talked to eye witnesses they said there were only about 100 Northern Alliance fighters in that camp trying to guard 300, 400, 500 Taliban that might not even have been screened for weapons. Are you confident they can handle this part of the task?

Rumsfeld: I would guess that they'll be very cautious and careful.

Q: -- reports that may or may not be accurate. A story in today's Early Bird supplement that says --

Rumsfeld: I didn't even know there was a supplement to the Early Bird! You're kidding me!

Q: It's where they put all the good stories.

It says the United States may not have disclosed all combat deaths. Can you say flatly that all major casualties, combat deaths, have (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know how we could have disclosed all combat deaths in Afghanistan because --

Q: U.S. military --

Rumsfeld: -- of U.S. military personnel because I don't believe there has been one. The two that occurred were in Pakistan.

Q: Or [U.S.] casualties?

Rumsfeld: I can't speak for anyone other than the Defense Department. But the suggestion that there is something that I know about the death of a U.S. military person with respect to Afghanistan that has not been reported is false. That's the best clarity I can bring to that question.

Q: You've said time and again you don't want the foreign fighters to be able to go to some other country and call it a (inaudible). Are you confident that they're not being able to get free?

Rumsfeld: I think it's a difficult situation on the ground. It is a dangerous situation on the ground. It is far from over on the ground. When a town turns from a Taliban/al Qaeda town to an opposition town a lot of things can happen. One of the things that happens is people can escape. Another is people have surrendered. Another is people have just melted into the countryside. (Inaudible) some dangerous people that very well may be hiding in town, in residences that aren't known. To the extent you end up with some of those people, the kinds of people that apparently existed in the compound in Mazar-e Sharif, who are willing to take a hand grenade and explode it and blow themselves up and blow up the people near them, then you've got a dangerous situation. That is the best way to characterize the situation in Afghanistan.

It was entirely Taliban. It is no longer entirely Taliban. It is partially Taliban and partially opposition forces. But in those towns and in those countrysides are al Qaeda and Taliban people, some of whom have given up and surrendered. The al Qaeda and senior Taliban people being prisoners and the lower level Taliban people may be (inaudible). So the situation is very dangerous and I think people have to understand that. And therefore you are concerned, you worry, you argue this, you argue that, you (inaudible). I have confidence that I've very accurately characterized the situation and it is not a benign environment. It is a very dangerous place.

Q: We're being told --

Q: -- (inaudible) kind of thing (inaudible).

Rumsfeld: The perimeters?

Q: (inaudible)

Q: Largely based on their language.

Rumsfeld: I'm not (inaudible). That's being done by people who are knowledgeable, (inaudible).

It is not an easy thing to do. There are tribes on both sides of the border, so to know of certain knowledge whether a member of a given tribe happened to live on one side of the border or the other is a very difficult thing to do.

Q: -- effort to (inaudible), some aspect of the (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: The fact is, the Marines have not been (inaudible) and I have a practice of not announcing things that I don't intend to announce. Therefore if you say to me, well have the Marines, then you say what about somebody else and what about somebody else and what about somebody else, and I start saying no, no, no, and then all of a sudden you happen to hit one that's right. Just by luck if I start towards --

Q: One other housekeeping question.

Rumsfeld: So I don't do that.

Question: One other housekeeping question. Have there been any other encounters like the type that the Marine helicopters participated in yesterday? Marines versus any hostile forces?

Rumsfeld: I have to check, but my recollection is when they first went in -- I shouldn't say that. I don't know. There has been nothing of significance besides that that I have been told about unless there was something when they arrived. I'd have to go back and check.

Q: Is that all wrapped up? Is that all over in Kunduz now?

Rumsfeld: I go back to my earlier answer. Anyone who thinks it's over and knows his stuff is wrong. It just isn't. They are dangerous places. You've got people who are relieved and grateful that the al Qaeda and Taliban are gone for the most part. You also have a very unusual environment where people may very well be hiding in basements and attics and back rooms. They may have drifted across borders and come right back. They may have defected and didn't (inaudible). They might redefect. There are all kinds of variables that characterize the incredible difficulty of (inaudible).

Q: Do you want to avoid sending U.S. troops into urban settings for that kind of house to house search?

Rumsfeld: (inaudible) we don't live in that kind of world. We don't have anything to announce with respect to that.

Q: Is there something more you want to say about Somalia? Those stories --

Rumsfeld: No. I really tried to answer directly and honestly, but I think that it is not a good thing to start playing with a dartboard -- what about this, what about this, what about that.

If I had anything to announce about any other subject I would announce it. If I am not announcing it, then it means I have good reason to not want to announce it. And yet if you take my answer -- I was trying to do it illustratively on Somalia. If you take my answer as meaning therefore there is something going on in Somalia, it would be a mistake because I could be that way about anything. If you ask me about Florida, Bermuda, Yemen, you name it, the answer would be the same.

Q: There are American troops in Florida.

Rumsfeld: Yes.

It's nice to see you all.

Q: Can you come back --

Rumsfeld: -- or I'm going to be accused of whiplash.

Q: On our trip back, can you talk to us on the trip back?

Rumsfeld: We're having a press briefing.

Q: But after the briefing, in other words on your trip back can you come back and talk to us?

Rumsfeld: (inaudible)

Thank you.