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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Bob Edwards, NPR Radio, Morning Edition

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 13, 2002

(Interview with Bob Edwards, NPR Radio Morning Edition)

NPR: I haven't thought too much about this one because the President just said it. He said he refused to rule out an attack against Iraq, Saddam Hussein.

So I guess I just want you to tell me how prepared you are to do that.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness. Those are issues that Presidents deal with and decide and countries decide, and what the Department of Defense has to do is to be ready to do that which the country decides needs to be done. That's about all I can say.

NPR: A week or so ago you said we have any number of reports that Iran has been permissive and allowed transit through their country of al Qaeda. Now there's a report from an Iranian newspaper that security forces there have arrested some al Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan and are hunting others who have slipped across the border. What do you make of that?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, I hope it's true. If so, it would be a new event. They have, to our knowledge, been quite accommodating to al Qaeda people transiting from Afghanistan through Iran towards the Middle East, various countries in the Middle East. It's been notably unhelpful to the war on terrorism and to our efforts to stop terrorists from attacking us and our friends and allies, deployed forces.

Iran is an interesting case. You have, I think, a lot of particularly young people and women and others who would like to see reform and yet you have a very small group of revolutionary guards and ayatollahs that control the country. They don't seem to be making much progress.

I'm always hopeful that a country will change, but we have not seen much that would indicate they are changing and want to be a part of the civilized world. They're still sponsoring terrorists, for example, down through Damascus and the Bakka Valley in Lebanon, and then down into southern Lebanon.

NPR: Any chance they would turn these al Qaeda fighters over to you?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Not likely.

NPR: Also, some Taliban are under negotiations to surrender, something like 15 Taliban leaders, possibly some cabinet ministers. The report here says this may take one, two, three or four weeks to negotiate their surrender. Will you be getting hold of those people or making some effort to have them turned over to UN forces?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, for months now there probably hasn't been an hour in any day that there have not been negotiations like that, discussions taking place where people have been trying to decide what they're going to do. It's now pretty clear that the al Qaeda have fled in large numbers. There are still al Qaeda in the country. It's now pretty clear that the Taliban don't run the government. But there are still a lot of Taliban in the country, and indeed al Qaeda and Taliban in neighboring countries across borders that could come back.

The ones that want to come back and the ones from Pakistan or Iran or wherever, and the ones that are in the mountains that are hiding do from time to time make contact with friends. These people have been on both sides of several different wars in the last decade and a half and they know each other so they talk to each other. IN some instances local factions want to increase their capability and their power and their heft with the different tribes or different elements so they sometimes want to ring them in and have them be supporters of theirs, so discussions take place.

Of course the government, the interim government I should say, of Afghanistan has been wonderfully helpful with us and recognize the risk to them and the risk to the country if senior Taliban people are brought back in and allowed simply to go back to their old ways. So they've been helpful and they've been involved in negotiations and we've been involved in dealing with them essentially, to try to bring these people in so we can talk to them, find out what they know, gather intelligence, and see that people who shouldn't be part of the Afghan governmental structure aren't.

NPR: Each day this week the Washington Post has had another story on an accident, a raid, a bombing mission in which civilians in Afghanistan have been hit. Are --

Secretary Rumsfeld: Let me just qualify that slightly. They've had reports in the newspaper that allege that those things have happened.

NPR: Are these -- some of which you've investigated, some of which you have not.

Secretary Rumsfeld: We are investigating, right.

NPR: Are these the result of intelligence failures or is it a case of U.S. forces being used by rival Afghan factions to target one another?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I can't speak to any of the ones that you're making reference to in current newspapers because investigations are underway, but I can speak to the problem generally.

I would list the following categories. In some cases it is because a mistake was made. That's one category. In another case it is the possibility that you suggested, that one faction can try to encourage misinformation so that another faction that they're opposed to will be harmed. That's possible. We do not know of any instances where we have executed improperly in those cases. We d know of at least one instance where we were misled and found out about it prior to execution of the campaign.

The other possibility is that everyone's right. That is to say that you go after a compound and in one building in a compound are people who are not Taliban or al Qaeda and next door are Taliban or al Qaeda, and the people coming in, the Special Forces entering the compound get fired on and the people who are the al Qaeda or Taliban fire on them so they return fire. They then don't know what is in the other house and it may turn out that there are innocents in the other house, that is to say non-Taliban, non-al Qaeda.

So if somebody says that they were fired on and they were al Qaeda and Taliban, they're right. But if someone in the other house who isn't Taliban or al Qaeda says they were fired on and they weren't, they could also be right. So you could have one of those strange situations where everyone's right.

Last, I think we should not ignore that the reality, the truth, that the al Qaeda training manual does in fact advise Taliban and al Qaeda people when captured to claim that they're innocent and to claim that they were beaten and to lie about their circumstances. And it is difficult to move around in mountainous Afghanistan quickly, fast enough to get in there and know precisely what took place.

And last, the other thing is a lot of people don't tell the truth so you have to live with that.

NPR: As a result of these incidents, have you made any changes in policy or procedure to make sure you know who you're striking when you strike?

Secretary Rumsfeld: We know of the thousands of sorties and the tens of thousands of weapons dropped and efforts on the ground. We know of less than a handful of instances where in fact there was a mistake made. We take great care, these people are exceedingly well trained. Not just our folks but the coalition forces that are operating on the ground with us. We are also operating generally with Afghan troops mixed in with ours. And what we do is every time there is an allegation or a suggestion or a question raised, we -- not we, but the commander, the Central Commander, General Franks, asks to have it looked into in one way or another. It is through that process. Then the lessons learned from that when you find that in fact it was a proper thing to do, but it looked for three weeks during the investigation as though it wasn't, then you have to say to yourself how can you avoid that? That's not helpful. If you find out it was a mistake then you have to go back and find out how that happened. What was it that, what was the evidence that led the people making the decision to go forward that misled them in terms of suggesting that it was going to be a proper thing to do and finding out later that it was not a proper thing to do?

We've got wonderful people out there doing a great job. It's a shame that we see day after day in the press these articles, because it sounds like, it leads a reader to the impression that there's a lot of it. And the short answer is, there is very, very, very little that anyone could characterize as a mistake.

NPR: It damages international confidence if you do.

Secretary Rumsfeld: It does. Which of course the people who are lying about it know and do it purposely. That's why it would be in the al Qaeda training manual, to suggest that that be used as an argument. Which is not to say that everything that's done is perfect. It isn't. And needless to say when that happens you're deeply concerned about it and you want to find ways to improve what you're doing.

NPR: The CIA Director says al Qaeda is regrouping. The interim government in Afghanistan says the Taliban is regrouping. Leaders of both are at large. What can you show for the billions spent? What have you accomplished in Afghanistan?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well if you think about it, the United States, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, this building were struck what, four months ago? Five months ago. Almost to the day.

Thousands of people were killed. Afghan was ruled by a terribly repressive government that was denying people their rights, killing people, starvation was rampant, the country had been engaged in wars and conflicts for years and years and years. And the al Qaeda were recruiting, training and financing and launching terrorist acts around the world.

Five months later the Taliban government is gone. There is a government that promises an election sometime in the next six months. That is representative of the various elements in that country. Women have stopped being repressed. They can actually walk out in the street and not have their entire faces and bodies covered by burkhas. They can laugh on the street. They can go to a doctor, which they couldn't do. They can go to school, which they couldn't do. Food aid has been coming into that country from the United States. The United States has promised something like $320 million worth of humanitarian assistance. Other countries have antied up in the Tokyo Conference and are helping the starvation.

The circumstance of the people in that country is so vastly better today, it is just breathtaking. And that anyone could even wonder what has been accomplished, when right before our faces is this really exciting and thrilling change that's taking place in that country.

We have also said, as you properly point out, that the al Qaeda and the Taliban haven't gone away. They've drifted into the mountains, they've drifted over borders. These are serious people. And we didn't catch them all. We didn't kill them all, as hard as we've tried. And it is not possible to do that. It's going to take time. And so we have an effort going on to try to run them down.

What we do know has been accomplished is that we have them running. They are not running the government of Afghanistan. They are not training in those training camps. They're on the move.

We know we've frozen a lot of their money, bank accounts. We know we've arrested a lot of their people and we know we have a lot of them in jail. We know we have others under interrogation.

NPR: But the President says there are tens of thousands of terrorists out there.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Right. But the President didn't invent them. They exist. They've been being trained for decades. They are there. That is a fact of our world. We just simply have to get up in the morning like adults and say fair enough? How do we live in this world? What do we do about the fact that thousands of these people were trained to go around killing people? What we do about it is we get serious about it and we say to ourselves fair enough. We will declare war on them and we'll go find them and we'll try to find the countries that are harboring them and we'll try to stop having havens for them, we'll try to make it less desirable for them to recruit them, we'll try to make it more desirable for people to defect from them, we'll try to make it more difficult for them to move money, and we'll arrest as many as we can and keep them off the streets.

NPR: Is your new budget geared to fight that kind of war, or is it geared to fight more something like the Cold War as critics say it is?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Actually there's critics on both sides. There are people saying we aren't buying enough ships and we aren't buying enough of the legacy systems, and then there are people saying we didn't transform enough. It sounds to me like if we're catching it from both sides we might be in a pretty good place.

It's a very difficult thing, but the short answer to your question is we're prepared to do both. That's what we must be prepared to do. We have to recognize that we have to live in the world and be capable against defending against more traditional, conventional types of threats. The reason we have to do that is because it deters people from thinking they can defeat us or harm us by using conventional threats.

On the other hand, we have to be able to deal with, as your question suggests, with the so-called asymmetrical threat. The terrorism, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, cyber attacks, weapons of mass destruction, damaging our ability to communicate in our space assets or our communication systems because they're not hardened to the extent they probably ought to be.

So what we have to do is say okay, that's the nature of the 21st Century. Let's get about the business of investing in that and see if we can't provide as effective a deterrent there as we've been able to provide with respect to the more conventional threat.

NPR: Do you need three new fighter planes? Do you need the Crusader, the self-propelled heavy artillery? The President said that the U.S. might consider skipping a generation of weapons.

Secretary Rumsfeld: We are skipping a generation of weapons, for example, in the case of the DD-X we now call it, where we just plain stopped it and said we're going to turn it into an R&D project and make some judgments about it for the future. With respect to the Crusader, it's been a question mark, there's no question about that. They felt that it was too heavy and not as mobile as it might be. And as a result over the past several years they've taken the weight down from the artillery piece, I believe from something in the neighborhood of 70 tons down to 40 tons. So it's a kind of a different Crusader than the one that has served as a lightning rod for critics.

It is transformational in one sense, that it is connected to a variety of sensors and is highly automatic and can put out a great deal of ordnance very rapidly. But it's one of those, that clearly is kind of a symbol.

There are other people who think transformation is killing a major weapon system, and I bet you anything if we canceled the Crusader everyone would cheer and say oh, that's transformational. OF course it's, transformation is about much more than a single weapon system.

With respect to the aircraft, there was a procurement holiday in the United States for about a decade after the end of the Cold War when the drawdown started, and the problem is it overshot. The average age of our aircraft is really quite old, and we do need new aircraft so that we can take some of the older models out and not have all the expense of maintaining -- It's like trying to drive a 1937 Oldsmobile. It's interesting, but it's expensive as the dickens. And things just do not last forever except for the B-52s which have been around longer than I have.

NPR: So the Air Force gets a new plane, the Navy gets a new plane, and there's a multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, and that's going through too.

Secretary Rumsfeld: The F-22 has been in development for about 20 years, the Air Force airplane. I think it's been that long. It is a fine aircraft. It is close to being able -- We're buying a handful of them right now. It's close to being ready to be acquired.

Most of the Air Force planes, the F-16, for example, were just a roll-out when I was Secretary of Defense 27 years ago. That's how old that plane is. Now there have been some model changes and so forth, but we simply need -- the Joint Strike Fighter is way down the road. It's years before it's ready to come into production. The F-22 is close. The F-22 is the plane that will be able to replace some of the antique current versions of our air fleet.

NPR: The President said in February we've got some tough choices to make, but that's why you get elected. What happened to the tough choices?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, we've made some real tough choices. Let me tell you what we've done here in a year.

The first half of the year, I was here alone for the first few months, and then I have a Deputy who came in, and finally we ended up with about six, eight, ten people by summer. In the last half of the year we've had the war on terrorism so there's been a lot going on.

What we have done are the following things. We have a new national defense strategy. That is hard work and it is important and it is significant.

Second, we have a new force sizing construct. For ten years we've used the two major regional conflicts as the way to size our forces. We've shifted that and changed how we're doing that.

We have spent hours and hours and hours developing a new nuclear posture for the United States which includes deep reductions in strategic offensive weapons from many thousands down to 1700 to 2200 and a shift in how we're going to be arranged with respect to offensive and defensive from a nuclear standpoint. A big, significant event.

We have changed how this building addresses the subject of space, how it's focused.

We have completely revamped the missile defense approach and set aside the, we've announced withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and initiated a series of R&D activities for missile defense that are unconstrained by the treaty so that we can find the most cost effective and most efficient and earliest way to get a system deployed.

We have briefed the President within the last week on a new unified command plan that represents some of the biggest changes in how our military is organized worldwide in some of the biggest changes in modern history.

The department that is considered hard to change, stubborn, bureaucratic, unwilling to make hard decisions, has in fact in own year made enormous strides forward in terms of how we do our business and the direction we're going and how we're approaching things. I don't think anyone, any serious student could look at what this department's accomplished in that year and not changed their impression of the department's ability to face the future with its head up and going in the right direction.

We've made a lot of tough choices.

NPR: Thank you.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Thank you.

And doing all of that while we were understaffed for half a year and fighting a war for the second half is I'd say not bad. My mom was a school teacher. She'd give it a good grade.

It's nice to see you. Thanks for coming in.

NPR: I appreciate it.

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