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America Strikes Back: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Secretary of the Army Thomas White Hold a Press Conference

Aired October 11, 2001 - 13:25   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We're in motion a little bit. You see Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld Rumsfeld coming out, and he is expected to speak to the camera, and I believe that is the Army Secretary Tom White with him. Somebody double check that for me.


Secretary of the Army Tom White and I just had a lunch with Governor Ridge and spent some time discussing his new responsibilities and their relationship with the Department of Defense, and we'd be happy to respond to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, reports out of Afghanistan indicate that dozens, perhaps more than 100 civilians have been killed in these bombing raids. And the Taliban says that the Pentagon is lying when it says that it's not targeting civilians. What's your response to that?

RUMSFELD: I think everyone in this country knows that the United States of America does not target civilians. We have not, we do not.

On the other hand, we know who does target civilians, and it's the terrorists that have killed thousands of Americans. And it comes with ill grace for the Taliban to be suggesting that we're doing what they have made a practice and a livelihood out of.

QUESTION: Well, when you drop bombs at night in an area like Kabul, drop many bombs in an area like Kabul, how do you avoid hitting civilians by mistake?

RUMSFELD: Well, there is no question but -- first of all, that's a very different issue than the one your raised first. As I said yesterday or the day before, there is no question but that when one is engaged militarily that there are going to be unintended loss of life. It has always been the case, it certainty will be the case in this instance. And there's no question but that I and anyone involved regrets the unintended loss of life.

Dropping bombs in the day or the night does not make an awful lot of difference when one's using GPS and various other precision-guided munitions. The munitions that are being used tend to be very precise. They are not 100 percent. Everyone here knows that, that there is no -- an automobile doesn't work 100 percent of the time the way one would want it, nor does any other piece of equipment, including the equipment that's managed by the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there are reports from the front line that the Northern Alliance and various other opposition groups are now making pretty dramatic progress in moving against the Taliban lines and that the United States is now fully engaged on their side by targeting the Taliban forces all along the line. How deeply involved is the United States in this civil war now?

RUMSFELD: The United States is in communication with people on the ground in terms of gathering information as to military targets.

The United States has been trying to do several things with respect to the efforts in the past several days. One is to deal with the air defense capabilities that exist in Afghanistan, the SAM sites. We have to acknowledge the reality that there is still an air defense threat to the United States.

There are a lot of Stingers and a lot of man-portable surface-to- air missiles. There are still some SAMs, surface-to-air missiles of greater capability. And there is, as you have seen, a great deal of AAA. That is a fact, and we have been attempting to reduce that.

We have also been attempt to reduce the ability of Taliban to fly by addressing the airports and by addressing their aircraft and helicopters and transport planes. They do have, as you know, some MiGs there.

Third, we have been going after military installations.

Fourth, to the extent we have good information, we have been attempting to deal with concentrations of military capabilities, and to the extent they happen to be done in a way that advantages the opposition forces on the ground, all to the better.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is "military capabilities" a euphemism for Taliban or Al Qaeda ground forces? And also, to what extent is the U.S. targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership?

RUMSFELD: The United States is, as we have said, been targeted Al Qaeda and Taliban military capabilities; that is to say tanks or trucks or aircraft, training camps, terrorist training camps, concentrations of equipment of various types, and also, needless to say, command and control and it is not always easy to do that because it tends to be dispersed, but we have, in fact, been seeking out antennas and that type of thing.

QUESTION: Seeking out the military leadership themselves?

RUMSFELD: Well, they represent a significant part of the command and control, so to the extent they're in command and control facilities, indeed.

QUESTION: And also, reports that Pakistan is now permitting U.S. ground forces of some kind to be based there in Pakistan; is that the case? RUMSFELD: You will not hear Don Rumsfeld characterizing the way other countries are assisting us. It is for them to do it. In each case, they have -- and when I say that, it should not either confirm or deny any element of any question one might ask. Because it is going to be my answer: Our goal is to get the maximum help from countries all across this globe and there is no question but that the way to get maximum help is to let them characterize what it is they are doing for us. And I must say I am just delighted with the help we are getting from the region and from all across the world.

QUESTION: Press reports from the region say that the bombing in the last 24 hours has been much more intensive than it had been. Can you explain why the target list got so small for a couple of days and now seems to be enlarging, what the delay was?

RUMSFELD: I don't know that it has. I think it's been in roughly the same ball park every day. It may be that the locations are such that it's more noticeable from day to day. But in terms of the number of aircraft launched and the number of sorties flown actually in Afghanistan, as opposed to a support aircraft or something, I have to go back and count the number of weapons fired and that type of thing, but I don't think there's a noticeable difference.

QUESTION: Is there greater interest now in Kabul and Kandahar?

RUMSFELD: There may have been in the last day or two, but the Taliban and Al Qaeda military targets tended to be in those areas.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are known to have buried assets, using caves, using underground capabilities. To what extent have you been at all successful in rooting them out? Or have you even targeted those areas yet?

RUMSFELD: It is one of the interesting things that, given the end of the Cold War and the relaxation of tension and the increase in proliferation and the availability of dual-use capabilities, that a lot of countries have done a lot of digging underground. And it is not unique to Afghanistan.

It does make much more complicated the task of dealing with targets because, as you've known from photographs you've seen of North Korea, it's perfectly possible to dig into the side of a mountain and put a large ballistic missile in there and erect it and fire it out of the mountain from an underground post.

These pieces of equipment can dig, you know, 50-foot-diameter circles 200 feet in a day, some of the big -- the kind that did the Chunnel, for example, under the Atlantic Ocean -- or the English Channel.

You bet, to the extent we see a good deal of activity, a lot of so-called adits and tunnel entries and external indication of internal activity, we have targeted them and we have -- I don't look at all the photography, but I have seen several examples where there were enormous secondary explosions, in some cases that went on for several hours after targeting underground facilities. QUESTION: Did you drop 5,000-pound bunker-busters, the GBU-28s?

RUMSFELD: The B-1s, the B-2s, the B-52s, as well as the fighters, have been dropping the full range of weaponry that General Myers outlined the other day, and certainly including those.

QUESTION: "Those" meaning the big ones?

RUMSFELD: The big ones. And some earth penetrators as well.

QUESTION: Is there any concern about holding off on any military activity for fear the Northern Alliance would move in now to take the capital of Kabul before some political structure is in place?

RUMSFELD: The subject of what form Afghanistan's government might take post-Taliban is really something that -- it's been discussed, in answer to your question, but not something that is necessarily determining what we're doing.

What we're doing is we're trying to find ways to root out the terrorist network and the people that are harboring those terrorists, because they have capabilities of imposing the loss of life on this country and our friends and allies in the world numbering in the thousands, and that is not a happy prospect. So we are hard about that task.

QUESTION: Is there any thought, though, of holding back -- are you fully encouraging the Northern Alliance to move in?

RUMSFELD: We certainly are encouraging the forces that are opposing Taliban to be successful. We are encouraging the forces within Taliban that are against Al Qaeda to be bold.

Our hope and effort is aimed at applying continuous pressure in that country and elsewhere around the world so that life becomes difficult for terrorists and difficult for people who harbor terrorists, the number of recruits go down, the people supporting them decline, the numbers of dollars available go down and the cost of their doing business goes up.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) drop bombs on sites where bin Laden is expected to have been experimenting with weapons of mass destruction -- chem, bio?

RUMSFELD: Needless to say, if we had intelligence that lead us to believe that we had good coordinates on an area where any terrorists or Taliban or Al Qaeda had been or are engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction, we certainly would wish to do something about it.

QUESTION: Did I understand you correctly that you are getting information from the opposition forces that is then -- you take that information and use it to target forces on the other side of the line? Is that direct a communication between you and the opposition?

RUMSFELD: I think the way I phrased it was that we're getting information from the ground and to the extent it's actionable, that information, we then are using it for targeting.

QUESTION: From the ground on the opposition forces ground or from...

RUMSFELD: Variety of places.

QUESTION: Are you now hopeful, sir, that the Northern Alliance may be able to topple the Taliban without ever putting U.S. boots on the ground in significant numbers?

RUMSFELD: What was the first word? Am I hopeful or...

QUESTION: Are you hopeful -- is this one of the tools in the bag?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think you have to prepare for the worse and hope for the best. But we expect it to be a long effort. And we're getting a range so that we can sustain ourselves over a period of time and create...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) would be -- I'm sorry -- the Northern Alliance seizing power in Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: As I've said, we're in the business of rooting out terrorists and creating a very high cost for those who decide they think it's in their interest to harbor terrorists. The Afghan people are going to have to sort out which among the opposition groups will have what role in a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Is giving a range for continual effort imply Army helicopters are being prepositioned to conduct operations? The New York Times put that ball in play yesterday.

RUMSFELD: What was the first sentence?

QUESTION: You said we're giving ourselves a range. Does that imply Army helicopter units may be involved in the next wave or round of activity over there?

RUMSFELD: As you know, I am the last person in the world who is going to be talking about prospective operations of any kind.

QUESTION: Is the air defense threat, though, diminished to the point where you could, in theory, use those type of forces or are you still concerned?

RUMSFELD: There still is an air defense threat. And it is AAA and it's man-portable surface-to-air missiles and I believe one or more surface-to-air missiles of considerably greater capability. They also still have helicopters and they still have fighters.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, with all the chaos on the ground and the continued U.S. bombing, how can you be sure and what are you doing to ensure that Osama bin Laden hasn't snuck across one of the borders and is now out of Afghanistan? RUMSFELD: It's a big country. It has a long border, around 360 degrees facing multiple nations. And there is no magic wand one can wave. It's possible to cross borders on foot, on donkeys, in Datsuns or by helicopter. And I don't mean to be pejorative about any particular type of automobile. It just -- let's say, trucks. Pretend I never said the other word.


QUESTION: Today, do you still believe Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: I guess, I think the probability is that he is. I think he's found that a hospitable place to be. The forces in power at the present time have been very good to him and supportive of him.

QUESTION: But as you get more successful in your campaign, he may feel threatened. How do you ensure he doesn't make a run for it?

RUMSFELD: I guess I can't be sure of anything in life. In the fog of war, it is a confused picture on the ground; half of the 24 hours is darkness, there's dust -- a bit of a problem with dust in that region and weather's going to get bad soon. You can't be sure of anything.

And, indeed, I don't get up in the morning and ask myself where he is. I am interested in the problem of terrorists and terrorist networks and countries that harbor them all across the globe, and if he were gone tomorrow, the Al Qaeda network would continue functioning essentially as it does today. He is certainly a problem. He is not the problem.


RUMSFELD: Good. I'm relieved that I can -- no, I'm kidding.

QUESTION: Sir, you didn't talk about homeland defense. Would you like to just talk a little about that?

RUMSFELD: I'd like him to stay and do it. I've got to go to a Cabinet meeting.

QUESTION: What's the time line for making that decision? What are the other options?

THOMAS WHITE, SECY. OF THE ARMY: Well, we're working it right now. I don't want to go into the details of the options. That'll be the secretary's choice, Secretary Rumsfeld. And he hasn't made that choice yet, but we're clearly looking at command arrangements domestically.

And, obviously, as the secretary said, we met with Governor Ridge who's newly appointed to his job. We had lunch with him and I'll have many a follow-up discussion with Governor Ridge on the details of all this.


WHITE: That's really not in my purview. That belongs to the unified command plan, it belongs to the chairman and the secretary and the president and they'll make those decisions.

QUESTION: What do you expect to see the Defense Department contributing in additional to combat air patrols and various other elements that we're aware of at this point on top of what's out there now?

WHITE: Well, in homeland security, homeland defense, with the except of combat air patrols, which are a unique capability of the department, we're not the lead agency for the homeland security task, and so we follow and support principally FEMA, but Health and Human Services and others as well, depending upon what the nature of the problem is. And there are 11 million first-responders in this country that have the primary duty to deal with emergencies and we are a back- up to them.

QUESTION: Sir, during events such as the Olympics, the inauguration and so on, the Defense Department has, in the past, provided counterterrorism units to be on standby in metropolitan areas and so on. Is that something that is ongoing now? Have military counterterrorism units been deployed, or are they on stand-by to respond quickly should another event occur?

WHITE: Well, we're always ready to respond in the event another event occurs. But I won't go into the operational details of what our response would be. Everybody should just know that we're ready to support and handle our part of any disaster regardless of the source.

QUESTION: For people at home who aren't really familiar with this sort of capabilities, what sort of units, specialized units or capabilities are you talking about?

WHITE: Well, we have -- because we have been concerned for a long time, from our days when the Soviet were concerned with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high-yield explosives -- all of those things from a potential battle field perspective, we have units that are capable of dealing with those types of issues in the domestic environment should the requirement arise.

QUESTION: Besides the 10th Mountain Army Division in Uzbekistan, which is apparently there for force protection, are there any other U.S. Army infantry forces deployed in the Afghanistan region -- Uzbekistan, Pakistan, any of the countries in that region?

WHITE: Well, those are operational issues and as a service secretary, I'm not in the operational chain, so I'm not going to -- I will not respond to that, thanks.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the entire breadth of Army special forces has been deployed -- or have received deployment orders including ground and choppers?

WHITE: I'm not aware that that's the case. QUESTION: That's what's the case?

WHITE: You asked a question, "Has the entire breadth of Army special forces been deployed here," and that, again, is an operational question I'm not going to talk about.

QUESTION: During Task Force Hawk during Kosovo there was a lot of controversy about the Apaches' ability to deploy and do the job in Kosovo. If called upon in Afghanistan, is that force up to it?

WHITE: The Apaches are ready. And if the president and the secretary of defense decide that they should be deployed, and the CINC chooses to employ them, the Apache units of the Army are trained and ready.

Thank you very much, have a good day.

BROWN: Secretary Thomas White. I suspect you picked this up, but Secretary White and Secretary Rumsfeld had a meeting with Tom Ridge -- Gov. Tom Ridge is now in charge of Homeland Security -- that preceded their coming before the microphones. There wasn't a lot of discussion, in fact, of Homeland Security, and not many of the questions asked in that regard got answered.

But a couple of things jumped out at us. One is he, right at the end -- you may have heard this discussion about the Apache helicopters. The Apaches were the subject of considerable controversy in Kosovo. They were brought in with great fanfare, and it just didn't work very well I think is the simplest way to put it. The secretary made a point of saying the Apaches are ready if they are needed.

Two others things from Secretary Rumsfeld's remarks, and then I want to go to Bob Franken, if I can. He said, at the outset, when asked about civilian casualties, that -- Secretary Rumsfeld took on this a very steely look when he said it -- everyone knows we, the United States, do not target civilians. The terrorists target civilians, he said. And then he added, it comes with ill grace -- his words -- for the Taliban to accuse us of what they do all the time. That is a rough paraphrase, but pretty much on what the secretary has said.

And perhaps the most important operational issue, he said there is still an air defense threat. Those are the things I picked up on quickly.

Bob Franken, I suspect from your time at the Pentagon you picked up on a whole lot more.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, he went on to acknowledge, as he has before, that there will be, quote, "unintended loss of life." And you picked on something that I thought was quite significant, and that was the fact that to embellish what was said the other day, when he was very confident we ruled the skies -- that wasn't the exact quote, but that was certainly the impression. He went on to say that, in fact, there is still an air defense capability left that the Taliban controls, everything from surface-to- air missiles to anti-aircraft, to handheld missiles and even some planes and helicopters.

What was very interesting was that the load of information that he gave out in this news conference -- for instance, the government of Pakistan has said that there are U.S. combat forces in Pakistan -- and Secretary Rumsfeld was asked about that. He said, Let them characterize their help that they are giving us, which is an implicit confirmation of that, implicit bordering on explicit.

He also went on to talk about the bunker busters. We have heard a lot about that. There are reports that those 5,000-pound bombs which burrow into the ground -- about 20 miles under ground -- and wreck havoc on the bunkers of an adversary -- that they are being employed. He said yes, they are being employed. He called it the big one in response to a reporter's calling it that, saying that the full range of ordinance is being used, including those bunker busters.

There is, believe it or not, another Pentagon briefing, although this was quite complete. There is one scheduled from about 40 minutes from now. The assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, Victoria Clark, is schedule, at least, to hold another briefing, as comprehensive as the one by the secretary. She is expected to release more pictures and/or tape that shows some of the damage that U.S. forces have been able to inflict.

But Aaron, this was an incredibly detailed briefing, much more information than we usually get when the secretary briefs in this room. Perhaps the secret is to have an outsider when he talks to reporters.

BROWN: I have a feeling the secretary is a pretty disciplined guy. These Midwesterners tend to be. He says what he wants to say, for his own reasons, when he wants to say it.

On the subject of the big ones, as he referred to them, why is that such a significant acknowledgement?

FRANKEN: To use the cliche -- we have used it before -- that is certainly saying to the Taliban leadership you can run, but you cannot hide. It is an awesome, awesome piece of weaponry. It was used in the Persian Gulf for the first time. One of the military tactics, one that the secretary said has been used more and more, is, in effect, the leadership will hide out in bunkers well below the ground. But now have you this bomb, this massive bomb, that burrows 20 feet into the ground before it explodes and causes just severe damage. So it's, to say the least, demoralizing to an adversary.

BROWN: He talked about how there had been these secondary explosions in underground areas -- caves, bunkers, whatever -- that he said sometimes went on for hours.

Bob, we will check in with you when the briefing begins with Ms. Clark, coming up a little bit later. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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