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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Lally Weymouth, Washington Post and Newsweek

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 18, 2001

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2001

(Interview with Lally Weymouth, Washington Post and Newsweek)

Rumsfeld: So the question is what?

Q: They claim that you are saying --

Rumsfeld: 'They' is Newsweek?

Q: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: Who?

Q: No, you. The secretary of Defense.

Rumsfeld: Who at Newsweek's claiming this? Some person?

Q: Yeah, the whole group.

Rumsfeld: The whole group. Okay it's a committee.

Q: It's a committee. Yeah.

Rumsfeld: All right.

Q: Yeah, that you are said -- I mean I know who actually got the story because I interrogated him as to how he got the story, but I don't know the person he got it from to point to. They said that -- anyway, some guy leaked to --

Rumsfeld: Some person. Who? What kind of person? Military? Civilian?

Q: I don't know, you know.

Rumsfeld: You don't know?

Q: Said to be a very reliable source.

Rumsfeld: Oh, I'm sure. Yeah. Right.

Q: Okay, so I'm just asking the question. Okay? This is not my question -- okay? But they say that the president signed a finding and that you've instructed all the regional commanders to prepare these plans as to how to kill the al Qaeda leaders and various subjects, and I thought, well what a great idea.

Rumsfeld: No, it's not true.

Q: It's not true.

Rumsfeld: The president -- first of all, presidents do not do findings for the Department of Defense. So the person who's got this story is seriously in need of adult supervision.

Q: Okay. This is not my story.

Rumsfeld: Right, but you want an answer.

Q: They're like thinking of making it a cover story.

Rumsfeld: The person who said that, I think needs adult supervision.

Q: Mr. Secretary, okay it's not my story. All right let's move on. Okay.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs) A cover story? I can't believe it. Save --

Q: Oh I love the idea. I was like well maybe this is phase two of the war. Everybody is asking, what's phase two?

Rumsfeld: Save them. Save them from themselves. Save them from themselves.

Q: Well I was like, okay well maybe phase two -- well what is phase two of the war? Everybody's saying you're doing so well in Afghanistan, what's next?

Rumsfeld: The president has not made any announcements.

Q: But aren't there a lot of people in this building who think it should be Iraq?

Rumsfeld: There are undoubtedly people all across the world who have various views and opinions on the subject.

Q: What do you think?

Rumsfeld: Well, I give my advice to the president.

Q: And that's it?

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Q: Uh-huh. Okay. So the plan is not -- the plan is just to focus on Afghanistan and just to finish that up?

Rumsfeld: I haven't answered that question.

Q: What's the right question?

Rumsfeld: What we are doing in Afghanistan is -- is a major effort. The president has from the outset said that he believes that to defend our country we simply must go after terrorists where they are.

Q: Right.

Rumsfeld: And terror -- countries that harbor terrorists. And that is as much as he has said thus far as to what else he has in mind besides Afghanistan.

Q: He told a friend of mine the other night that went to see him, well at least the friend of mine claimed to me -- who is absolutely enraptured with the president --

Rumsfeld: He's an impressive guy.

Q: Yeah. No I -- and I went to a New York dinner party where you were deemed to be the Gary Cooper of the administration. It's true.

Rumsfeld: (Laughter) Please don't (inaudible)

Q: I know, but it's true. Okay, well that was just the general thought. That Iraq was where it's going. But no, that's not -- we're still in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld: Right.

Q: We're going after terrorists. But if you're going after countries that harbor terrorists, doesn't that mean Syria, Yemen, Somalia? There was a Washington Post story about some kind of U.S. team being seen in Somalia yesterday?

Rumsfeld: I see all those stories, and -- they're stories. I have no knowledge of any team (inaudible).

Q: Well I guess people are thinking okay, you know, what are, are states -- I mean I've actually been to Yemen. They're thinking of, you know, what are states that shelter terrorists? You know?

Rumsfeld: We know. They're listed by the United States government.

Q: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Uh-huh.

Rumsfeld: There are a number of states that are on the terrorist list, and therefore we know states that are engaged in terrorism. We know that the terrorist networks are in a lot of countries around the world, and we're doing an awful lot of things to try to weaken them and stop them from terrorizing the United States and the rest of the world. We've been trying to freeze their bank accounts, we've been arresting people in our country and other countries have been arresting people in their countries. We've been interrogating them, we're gathering intelligence information. We've been trying to put pressure on people who are terrorists or people who are helping terrorists and make it uncomfortable, unpleasant. And generally not nice to them so it's hard for them to do that which they want to do. It's hard for them to kill people. It's hard for them to recruit people. It's hard for them to --

Q: So from listening to your briefings. You don't know where Osama bin Laden is, you feel confident he's in Afghanistan, you feel confident you'll get him. What's your feeling?

Rumsfeld: It's really what I've said. Until you have the senior people in the Taliban and al Qaeda you don't have them. And so there isn't a question of close or not close. It's simply a matter that you have to keep putting pressure on them, keep forcing them to move, keep trying to find out where they are, keep offering rewards for people to help you find them, and some day you will find them. And you may find them in Afghanistan, you may find them somewhere else. It's not knowable. It isn't that I don't know, but somebody else doesn't know. It's not knowable at this stage. We can live with that. We're patient.

Q: Okay now supposing people say that --

Rumsfeld: Is this your tape recorder?

Q: Yeah, that's mine. Is that Okay?

Rumsfeld: Fabulous, I love it. Then you can go back and get it right. Yeah, I like being taped.

Q: Okay, so people say there are tunnels underneath, I don't know if it's true or not, but --

Rumsfeld: Hundreds of them.

Q: Underneath, right. To the northwest frontier province, right?

Rumsfeld: Caves, tunnels. Lots of places.

Q: So that's very difficult, isn't it? And in the northwest country, I did a little coverage of the Afghan war in the '80s. Yeah, I actually went into Afghanistan with the ISI. To see the lovely (inaudible).

Rumsfeld: Oh, boy. Did you?

Q: So that can be very -- then do we send U.S. forces into the northwest frontier province, or do we work with ISI or what thoughts do you have on that?

Rumsfeld: The -- the Pakistan units that for the most part are helping on the Pakistan border are regular army. And for the moment the forces that are helping --

Q: The ones that are blocking the border that you see on TV?

Rumsfeld: Trying to -- trying very hard. It's so far, so long, so mountainous, so rugged, and there are so many passes. They're walking, or on donkey. So on that side it's essentially the Pakistan army. On the Afghan side, we have some forces that are attempting to block the passes.

Q: On the Afghan side we are attempting blocks?

Rumsfeld: And on the ground --

Q: Our forces?

Rumsfeld: We have some forces in Afghanistan that are attempting to block at various key transit points from inside of Afghanistan. In addition, the bulk of the forces on the ground are Afghan. They are people who have been opposing the Taliban, opposing the al Qaeda. They're there. And we have people embedded in those units that are working with them, helping to call in airstrikes, bring in ammunition for them, and generally communicate with our forces and bringing our capabilities.

Third, as came up in the press conference, there are some U.S. special operations people who are in the general neighborhood in case something occurs where they could be helpful. And as I indicated there that's about as much as I'm going to say about it.

Q: And they're in the neighborhood and can be helpful? I know you're very (inaudible).

Rumsfeld: Yeah, I don't want to get into a lot of detail about that.

Q: And I guess General Myers was saying that the fighting right now is taking place in whatever it's called -- Tora Bora, right?

Rumsfeld: It's in that general area. It's a couple of valleys. There's no question but that there are a large number of al Qaeda fighters in that area, holed up in caves and tunnels.

Q: Does that mean thousands?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. There's no way -- they don't do head counts on them. And the tunnels are big, the caves are big, but firepower has been fierce. So there's certainly hundreds and hundreds of them, and I would suspect there may be more than a thousand.

Q: At least on TV you see that you have these huge bombs that you've been dropping on caves, is that right?

Rumsfeld: We have a lot of different types of ordnance and we do drop them, depending on the target, what makes the most sense. We dropped a couple of those large ones you read about, the 15,000-pound bombs -- but not very many.

Q: Wasn't it incredible, the luxury of Mullah Omar? You've probably seen it on TV.

Rumsfeld: I did.

Q: Oh, you probably already knew, right?

Rumsfeld: Yeah. He had more than one.

Q: Really. There was more than one cave like that? Or whatever you call it.

Rumsfeld: He had more than one compound, I should say. He had several places.

Q: On TV it looked just amazing.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Q: For somebody who's calling for all of this.

What did you think of the tape, by the way?

Rumsfeld: Gosh, I don't know that I could add anything to what I said at the press conference. I'm kind of not inclined to try to come out with a series of sound bites on the tape. It is what it is. People can see it, make their own judgments. I already knew what I thought of the fella.

Q: Why do you think they made it?

Rumsfeld: Well, he's obviously proud of himself.

Q: That was really weird.

Rumsfeld: And it was clearly not a professional job, but obviously everyone in the room knew it was being done. They talked about it. You could see the way things went, that they knew it was being done.

Q: Didn't seem too smart.

Rumsfeld: I guess it depends on what your perspective is. There are a lot of things that you or I wouldn't characterize as smart, but --

Q: If you think me might be apprehended, it wouldn't be smart to have a film like that, would it?

Rumsfeld: Well, but I don't think he was worried about that. I think that when that film was made maybe was wanting to -- he feels that what he says is important and he wants people to hear it. And you know, who knows?

Q: Did you think it would take a lot longer than it has taken to come to where we have come today? When you started.

Rumsfeld: Gosh, that's so hard to answer. I really was without a timeframe in my head. I knew we had to put enormous pressure on them and I knew we had to do it in a variety of different ways, and I knew that it wouldn't end with a bang -- that the pressure would finally push them down and out and they'd have to flee in some way. But I didn't have a timeframe in mind that I was testing it against.

Q: It just seems that the administration has moved quite frequently. And I noticed in the Washington Post story you said that I think it was, you, last week in the Tom Ricks story, that you had urged the bombings be moved up to the front lines -- am I correct?

Rumsfeld: We, all of us, the combatant commander, Tom Franks and I, and our other advisors knew that we needed to get U.S. forces on the ground with the opposition forces so that they could provide the coordination with the airstrikes. Once General Franks was able to do that, it changed the thing fairly dramatically. We started being much more effective in the bombing. And that is what enabled the opposition forces on the ground to move forward. They had been there roughly in the same positions for years. But once we had people on the ground and we were able to help them with ammunition and help them with airstrikes -- even though in some cases they were undermanned -- they had fewer numbers than the forces opposing them, they actually were able to move forward and put pressure on the al Qaeda and the Taliban. As they did that, they got some defections. Some of the Taliban people surrendered, some of them changed sides.

Q: So how do you feel about peacekeeping? Could they go ahead with peacekeeping? Could it be deployed within the next ten days? Would that interfere with your operations?

Rumsfeld: My feeling is you don't get peacekeeping until you get peace. Therefore, what I'd like to refer to it as is a security force, and I don't think it's going to have to be terribly big one. For the most part -- the only place they're talking about (inaudible) the folks who were in Bonn, is in Kabul, the capital. And most of the other places are relatively calm. There's still fighting and there's still lawlessness, but that is true of some of the cities in America too.

Q: Uh huh. Do you have an exit strategy? Do you have a theory how long U.S. troops will be on the ground there?

Rumsfeld: Well we don't think of ourselves as being a part of a security force in Kabul.

Q: No, but I mean there are U.S. troops now on the ground.

Rumsfeld: Sure. Yeah.

Q: Do you have a thought as to --

Rumsfeld: We do. We know what we want to do, and when we've done it, we'll do it some place else. And what it is we want to do is we want to capture or kill the senior Taliban leadership and see that they are punished. We want to make sure that the Taliban government is out of power, which it now is. We want to make sure that the rest of the Taliban are disarmed and/or have become part of various other forces and no longer trying to kill people. And with respect to the al Qaeda, we want to capture or kill the senior leadership, and we want to catch and imprison the remainder so that they don't go back to their countries and terrorize people and kill people.

Q: You mean so they don't go back and start --

Rumsfeld: Well they may be some other country, and we don't want them to go back and reorganize and start attacking us again.

When those things have been accomplished, from a military standpoint we will have done our job. That does not mean that the United States has done its job because there's still the issue of -- we do have an obligation from a humanitarian standpoint to help to see the food and medical needs are meet. And obviously we don't want Afghanistan a year from now to go right back to becoming a place that harbors terrorists.

So it is in our interest to be attentive to what kind of a government comes along.

Q: Is going to come along?

Rumsfeld: Yes. What else? Last question.

Q: What about the ABM thing? Do you believe that ballistic missiles -- there are so many threats to the United States, at least so it's said. Do you believe that that's the right way to spend money? You know.

Rumsfeld: I think what we need to do is to recognize that it's unlikely that armies, navies and air forces are going to attack us because we have such strong ones that we deter those countries from doing that. Therefore, the asymmetric threat of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, terrorist attacks, cyber attacks, are places that they can leverage their capabilities against us, and there are advantages to people. Therefore we should be attentive to finding ways to deter and defend against ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, cyber attacks, terrorist attacks -- they're all of a kind. They're not symmetrical with our armies, navies and air forces.

Q: I thought that if a cruise missile launched from a ship offshore, that missile defense system would not protect them. Am I wrong?

Rumsfeld: That's why I said cruise missiles are a worry also.

Q: Yeah, but in other words -- but if you, if you and I were -- say we have all these smallpox and all these various threats, cruise missiles wouldn't be encompassed, would they by the missile defense? Or are you meaning some other defense system that I don't know about?

Rumsfeld: No, I'm saying that we need to worry about all of them. Ballistic missile defense is one thing.

Q: Is one thing.

Rumsfeld: Cruise missile defense is another.

Q: But you feel it's a priority, is my question.

Rumsfeld: Biological and chemical weapons is another.

Q: But you have to assign the priorities.

Rumsfeld: We have to worry about all of those kinds of threats because they are, and cyber attacks as well. Those are the kinds of things we're vulnerable to. Whereas we're not as vulnerable to an army or a navy or an air force.

Q: So do you think there's going to be another attack on the United States?

Rumsfeld: I have -- all anyone has to do is listen to Osama bin Laden and there's no question but that if he has the capability he'll do it. That he's not shy about his desire to kill Americans.

Q: Do you think that September 11th was a major intelligence failure, not only for the U.S. but for all our allies' services? That no one picked it up.

Rumsfeld: Clearly one would wish that it had not happened. That is to say that if someone intended to do it -- that for whatever reason or method -- that it had not happened. There are a lot of things that people intended to do that did not happen. And they did not happen because people stopped them from happening.

Q: Since September 11th?

Rumsfeld: Prior and possibly since. I don't know. I couldn't go back and nail one, but --

Q: You could not.

Rumsfeld: I know they exist. Before and after. We are vigilant. We are, have a -- as the president said -- a sense of heightened awareness. And are, we are constantly arresting people, and interrogating them, and finding out things that they were thinking of doing and stopping them from doing it.

The fact that you don't -- a terrorist can attack at any time at any place using any technique. And it is not possible to defend in every place at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable technique of terror. Now if that's the case, then the only way you can deal with it is to go after them and stop them. And that is what we're trying to do.

It's good to see you. I'm going to go.

Q: It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Secretary. And thanks so much in the middle of your busy day. It was really sweet of you and thank you very, very much and good luck with the rest of the war.