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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Central Asia

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

Sunday, December 16, 2001

(Media availability en route to Central Asia.)

Q: Maybe you could give us a little update on Afghanistan now and then tell us why you are going in there.

Rumsfeld: Okay. On Afghanistan, there has been an intense battle. There have been some 200-plus bombs dropped. They have fired off over two hundred 105 (mm) howitzer rounds, thousands of lower caliber ordnance -- the 25-millimeters or the 40 millimeters. There was one instance where the explosion, the plume, has gone two kilometers. That is to say what they hit in the caves and the tunnels was so filled with ordnance and they hit it so successfully, that the smoke and the plume covers over two kilometers. They've captured a number of al Qaeda, they've killed a number of al Qaeda, they've wounded a number of al Qaeda, and it all of the Tora Bora area.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Ordnance from the American artillery that's been brought in. I suspect that it was from the air.

Q: C-130s?

Rumsfeld: AC-130s are there, but there are also bombers. There's a place called Tarnak Farms, that has been interesting and they have now searched it and gathered up a good deal of material and documentation and items to be test for chemical, biological and radiation. And they're off to be tested.

Q: What is that area and how is it spelled?

Rumsfeld: My recollection of it is Tarnak or Tarnac -- T A R N A K or N A C. And I don't recall the location of it but it has been on the list of 25 or 30 sites that we have been systematically reviewing as they came available.

Q: When did they find that?

Rumsfeld: Within the last 24 hours.

Q: Why aren't they going to this one and not some of the other places?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's one that has been on our list from the beginning; it's one that's large and it's one that they recently got access to and it's one that they thought that the take from it was sufficiently large and significant enough that they may find things of interest.

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: I'm going to wait and see where he is. We've received nothing that is discouraging but we continue to receive mixed messages.

Q: Is some of what they found last night arms? Are you talking about lots of weapons or are you talking about information?

Rumsfeld: Certainly the latter.

Q: Not necessarily weaponry.

Rumsfeld: Right.

Q: Any indication of what they've found?

Rumsfeld: It's too early to tell.

Q: Why are you going to Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: Well, we've got a lot of U.S. troops there and it's important to have a chance to visit with the troops. I'm hopeful that we will have opportunities to meet with some of the leaders of the new government or the opposition leaders and have a chance to sit down face-to-face and talk about what has been done and what is left to be done. There is a good deal left to be done and we want to make sure that we're all on the same wave length as to what's left to be done.

Q: What did you mean by mixed messages about bin Laden?

Rumsfeld: The same thing. The point is that we always receive intelligence that conflicts.

Q: Where is Tarnak Farms?

Clarke: I can find out.

Rumsfeld: We'll find out for you. (Note: it is located 5-6 kilometers east of Camp Rhino, Afghanistan.)

Q: You hear people say with growing confidence that bin Laden is there and that this whole thing is coming to a head. Would you say that's an accurate statement?

Rumsfeld: No. It's speculation.

Q: But from just the level of bombing that is going on around Tora Bora, how much longer can several hundred al Qaeda people hold out there?

Rumsfeld: Well, we don't know what the number is. We know what we are killing and we know what we are capturing, and we know the few that are surrendering. But one cannot know how many people are actually in those caves and tunnels and hiding in the mountains. We know it's a discovery process. We keep finding more openings all the time. We do believe that it is going to be difficult to get out of there. Not impossible, but difficult. We do have a lot of help on the back borders. We also know that some of that area is mined. We know that we have some folks watching and we know that there are some folks blocking. And we know there are some folks moving forward. So we're doing about all you can do.

Q: Mr. Secretary, why is visiting the troops important to you?

Rumsfeld: Well, you get a chance to talk to real people who are doing real things that are part of our plan and there is no question but that is helpful. It's helpful for me to talk to (the Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command) General (Tommy) Franks, it's helpful for me to talk to the people under him. We've got a lot of terrific people who have been out here doing a great job that's a different kind of job. It's not a set piece for the United States military. We need what they've been doing, how they've been doing, and what they think about it.

Thank you.

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