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Secretary Rumsfeld with U.S. Troops at Bagram

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 17, 2001

Sunday, December 16, 2001

(Session with U.S. troops at Bagram airfield, Afghanistan)

Rumsfeld: I see some familiar faces. Uh oh, there's the press.

I've had a busy day. We've had a good visit with Mr. [Hamed] Karzai [the designated leader of Afghanistan's new interim government] and Mr. Fahim Kahn [the new defense secretary designate]. Then we had an opportunity to go around the base and see an awful lot of fine people who are doing a truly world class job for our country. I am grateful to be able to be here and say so in person.

We have every day watched what's going on in this country and watched what you folks are doing with great pride that the skill and the training and the discipline and the dedication that you all bring to what you are doing. I must say that the president of the United States, the commander in chief, has decided that this is an enormously important task for our country, that our country is at risk and that what you are doing is necessary and vital and critical to seeing that we deal with those risks. He is determined to see that you have what you need by way of equipment, by way of support, and that we let the world know that our country cannot be attacked without consequences. And you are bringing the consequences to the terrorists and the people who have supported the terrorists here in Afghanistan.

General Tommy Franks is going to be out here and I know that you will see him in a few days -- he'll be here over the holidays, I know -- he's coming in for the ceremony when Mr. Karzai of the interim government is brought into power. He's a terrific combatant commander. I've got all the confidence in the world in him, as does the president of the United States, and I know that you'll have a chance to meet and shake hands and visit with him as well.

What we are about here is not complicated. The United States was, as you well know, was attacked and thousands of people were killed. The terrorists have vowed to continue those attacks. The terrorists are located all across the globe in a number of networks. This country happened to be one of the principal nations that was harboring those terrorists.

Our assignment is to deal with the terrorist networks globally. With respect to Afghanistan, the task is to see that we deal with the senior Taliban leadership -- that we get them and see that they are punished and that the remainder of the Taliban are disarmed and no longer a threat to this country or anyone else. It's to deal with the al Qaeda leadership, to see that they are captured or killed and that the remainder of the al Qaeda are imprisoned so that they don't escape across borders, regroup and continue their terrorist activities. And it's to see that the Taliban government is gone from this country and that this country stops harboring terrorists.

From a humanitarian standpoint, needless to say, the people of the United States want to do what we can to see that the people of Afghanistan, who have had a very tough time, who have been repressed and have had three years of drought, are in fact provided the kinds of food and medicine and assistance that our country and the other countries of the world are anxious to provide them.

Last, we want to try to do what we can -- and we can't make it -- we can't do it ourselves but we want to be as helpful as we can to try to see that the new government here is a government that is representative of the people, that it is a government that will see that this country is a good neighbor to the many countries that surround it, and five years from now, it doesn't go back into a terrorist training camp.

So what you are doing is important. We appreciate it and I thank you on behalf of the president and the people of the United States.

I'd be delighted to answer some questions -- first from you folks (laughter) and then maybe from the press.

Q: Is there a time frame for going home?

Rumsfeld: The question is, is there a time frame for going home? I can't speak to individual rotations or unit rotations but in terms of the United States of America's responsibility and task here, it is to complete those assignments that I have outlined and there is no way to know how long it is going to take, to find Omar and to find Osama bin Laden and to find the senior al Qaeda leadership and to see that they are punished. That will take some time. I'm sure that individual units and individual people will be rotated, but as far as our presence here, we're not leaving until we get the job done.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I've been reading Stars and Stripes and there are going to be some peacekeeping troops in country within the next month and I was wondering are U.S. troops going to be part of that?

Rumsfeld: The question is about peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan. And the answer is that when the Afghans met in Bonn, they agreed that they would like to have a -- they call it a security force -- and they want to have it in Kabul to start with. They may want a security force in some other portions of the country although that has not yet been decided. Their present hope is that there will be a security force put into Kabul sometime after December 22nd. It will be a coalition of the world. It will be four or five countries. Very likely the United Kingdom will be involved, possibly Turkey, possibly Germany and possibly one or two others. It should be a relatively small force -- I am thinking maybe three to five thousand at the most. The United States is not going to participate in the force as such. We have agreed to, as available, assist with intelligence and lift, and in the event that they have problems, then we would obviously be available to go in with some sort of quick reaction capability to assist them, as a backup. That's the current situation, although I have heard rumbles today that people are thinking about possibly one or two other cities as well.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what took place September 11th was a tragedy. Bravo Company, 187th, 10th Mountain Division is a part of this, since it took place in our back yard. Is the country in this, participating in this with us?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think so. The attacks really were, to be sure in New York and to be sure in Washington. But they were also against the country. They were against our way of life, the fact that we are a free people, that we intend to be free people. So there's just an awful lot of people that are very proud that you folks are here and wish you well.

Q: Once we've defeated the al Qaeda network, what's next for the United States in our war on terrorism?

Rumsfeld: The question is, what's next in the war on terrorism. And the answer is that the president and the government will be considering that in the period ahead. Your job certainly is not over. There are a number of countries that are known as being on the terrorist list. There are a number of terrorist networks that exist around the world.

The process that's in place is a bad one and it's going to take time. That is to try to freeze their bank accounts. It's to try to arrest people and gather information from them, such things as telephone bills and notepads to discover where the linkages are. There have been hundreds of people arrested all across the world that are being interrogated today, and as that process goes forward, the linkages and connections being made. There are obviously things being done that are overt here in Afghanistan and there are also things being done that are covert. There are a number of places that have served as terrorist training areas and we will be, in fact not only will be but we already are, interesting ourselves in some of those areas at the present time.

What else? Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's a report now from an alliance commander saying that in the Tora Bora area, essentially they've captured all the al Qaeda. Areas that they were fighting over are coming under alliance control and the al Qaeda are on the run. Can you comment on that?

Rumsfeld: Yes. I have not heard it through my sources, I have heard it through some other sources here, that there have been a number of people captured, there have been a number of people killed, there have been a number of people wounded in the Tora Bora area and there is at the present time not a fierce battle taking place. There are people who are attempting to escape who are being run down, which of course gets harder at night.

Q: Does that mean essentially over? Is the end drawing near?

Rumsfeld: The question is, does that mean it's almost over in that area, and [the answer is] I doubt it.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Sounds like you want more C-17s. What is it?

Q: Since you were able to land a C-17 here during the daylight, does that mean we can now expect more C-17s into the base during daylight hours?

Rumsfeld: Why do you want them so badly and daylight flights?

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I don't know the answer to your question. But as this area gets more stable and more secure, and as it works out, I would expect that to be the case. I have time for two more questions.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I don't know the answer. General Franks would be the one who would be deciding which elements are being brought to which areas, and how long they would be there and what their circumstances would be. I'm afraid I'm just not in a position to answer the question.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the only question that I have is that it would be an honor if I could receive a coin from you sir.

Rumsfeld: If you could receive a coin. (Cheers). Where is [SecDef Military Assistant] Admiral Giambastiani? My wife made me stop carrying it because it was making holes in my britches. There's one, by golly.

Q: Thank you sir.

Rumsfeld: Good luck to you. Thank you!

Q: Mr. Secretary, could I ask you just very briefly how the talks with Hamid Karzai went?

Rumsfeld: The talks with Mr. Karzai went well. We had a good discussion and he is looking forward to the 22nd when he will be installed as the interim government leader. He is anxious to be cooperative with us in every possible way and he is very pleased and appreciative of everything all the folks here and all across Afghanistan from the U.S., and coalition forces have to done to make what is happening all possible.

Q: Have all the pockets of resistance within Afghanistan been dealt with?

Rumsfeld: No, they have not. There are still pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda that exist in this country. There are also Taliban and al Qaeda forces that have drifted into the mountains that could reform. There is a good deal yet to be done.

I said I would answer two more questions and now I have answered four, so now I am done. Thank you.