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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Rumsfeld News Conference

Aired November 16, 2001 - 12:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center just north of Chicago. He has just been watching Navy recruits graduate from basic training.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: And then almost magically they become sailors and a part of something very big and important.

So I was delighted to be here, delighted to be back in my home state. And I would be happy to respond to question.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, will you tell us about the ground troops in Afghanistan? I understand you even have some photographs of special forces participating in saber charges on horseback.

RUMSFELD: Yes, I can tell you about that, and I will. And there is a picture of them on horseback. It's actually on the Pentagon web site, so you can pull it right off.

What you have is people are jokingly saying that that's part of Rumsfeld's transformation to the 21st century and I've got it backwards, but that's not true.

We have had modest numbers of U.S. military forces on the ground in Afghanistan for weeks. They have been of two types.

The ones in the north have tended to be U.S. special forces who are embedded in Northern Alliance elements and have been assisting them with communications to bring in food, to bring in ammunition, to bring in medical supplies, winter gear, and also to communicate with the overhead air power that the United States has been supplying in Afghanistan.

And every time we put a special forces team in on the ground, the targeting improved dramatically because they know how to do it, they know how to communicate, and the aircraft coming in from all -- some from Missouri, some from Diego Garcia, some from aircraft carriers -- were able to do an increasingly impressive job in destroying the forces that were opposing the Northern Alliance.

In the south, the U.S. forces that have been on the ground have been in intermittently. They have been for the most part special operations U.S. military, and they have gone in to do various tasks. They've done assessments. They've done some specific jobs of going into compounds that are owned by senior people in the Taliban or the Al Qaeda, looking for intelligence. More recently, they have been disrupting and interdicting some roads.

But they are still relatively small numbers of people, and the bulk of the people that are opposing Taliban and Al Qaeda on the ground are, in fact, Afghan. They are people there who live there, and who, along with the rest of the people of that country, have been badly put upon by a terribly repressive regime.

QUESTION: You said that they have been doing some targeting. Have they targeted Osama bin Laden? Do they know his whereabouts? Do you believe he is still in the country?

RUMSFELD: I suspect he is still in the country, and needless to say if we knew his whereabouts, we would have him.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that Mohamed Atef, the senior Al Qaeda leader, has been killed? And can you provide any details about...

RUMSFELD: I have no knowledge of that.

QUESTION: ... those reports that he is?

RUMSFELD: I haven't seen the reports that he is.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: He was not yesterday, the last time I had a briefing by CENTCOM. Actually, not the last time -- I was on the phone with Tommy Franks this morning here, and I heard nothing of that.

QUESTION: Do you have knowledge, sir, of any other Al Qaeda operatives -- senior Al Qaeda operatives such as Mr. Atef? Do you know whether Mr. Atef...

RUMSFELD: Well, Ateh (ph) is not Al Qaeda.

QUESTION: Atef.

RUMSFELD: Oh, Atef. Oh, I misunderstood you.

QUESTION: Mr. bin Laden's number two.

RUMSFELD: Strike my answer.

Yes. I have seen those reports. I've seen it in writing. I've heard it orally. Do I know for a fact that that's the case? I don't. I suspect -- the reports that I have received seem authoritative. And indeed, as you point out, he was, I guess, very, very senior -- number two, something like that. We have been obviously seeking out command and control activities, and have been targeting them and have successfully hit a number of them, particularly in the last five or six days. QUESTION: So you don't have any confirmation on this?

RUMSFELD: I do not.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Can't remember.

QUESTION: What would the role of the special forces be? I mean, I understand you're not confirming that happened, but could you tell us about the circumstances in which one of those leaders would be taken out? That would have to involve special forces, wouldn't it?

RUMSFELD: No,. In that case, it could be. But for the most part, it's been from the air. We've been using various intelligence assets trying to locate folks, looking for large movements of people as they're flushed out, going after caves and tunnels, going after activities and businesses and movements that look -- where we know and can tell they are military or Al Qaeda or Taliban, and tracking to see what they do, and then going after them.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there were reports that other bin Laden lieutenants have been captured. Can you confirm that?

RUMSFELD: I've seen those reports. And I'm sure that's the case and I'm sure a number have been killed. But I do not have a laundry list of their names or really good validation of that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) troops on the ground, you said this morning that none had been killed, have any been wounded?

RUMSFELD: Sure. I think I've been over this. There have been two American soldiers who were in a helicopter in Pakistan that landed in a dusty situation, tipped over, and two crew members were killed and one or two were injured. They were on standby to go in and extract some American forces that had parachuted in in special operations activity.

The people who went in on a special operations activity have parachuted in, and with any parachute drop you end up with broken toes, broken ankles, broken fingers and that type of things, so those are wounds, if you will.

In addition, they used some explosives to break into a compound of a senior Taliban official. And in the process, some of the materials in the compound exploded and fragmentation hit people and they had modest flesh wounds.

QUESTION: We know about those, but I meant, sir, in any of the fighting that you were talking about this morning -- the interdiction, the coming upon Taliban who won't surrender, you mentioned that this morning.

RUMSFELD: To my knowledge, there have been no casualties, dead or wounded, on the part of the special forces or the special operations -- Americans who are functioning in the country, except for the ones that I've specified.

QUESTION: The Taliban seems to have withered fairly quickly. Is this the collapse of a house of cards or is this a tactical retreat by a potent outfit just hiding in the caves where they want to be?

RUMSFELD: I would guess that probably all of the above. If you think about it, these folks -- the ones who have a problem are the foreigners that are in there, that come from other countries, particularly the Al Qaeda, who are mostly from the Middle East, some from neighboring countries, and they are less likely to successfully fade into the communities or to defect and change sides.

On the other hand, Afghans do change sides, and have, some of them on a number of occasions over the decades. And they also can fade into the community, or they can go up in the mountains and hold out.

Anyone who does that, anyone who goes across a border can come back. Anyone who fades into the community can come back. Anyone who fades into the mountains can come back. Anyone who defects can redefect. So one can't say that the circumstance is necessarily permanent in that country.

On the other hand, what you have is clearly a group of people in that country who are delighted that the Taliban is on the way out and that they have left a good portion and that they're moving away from a number of cities. Their rule has been notably -- even for Afghanistan, notably vicious and repressive.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you go back to the Atef report? Is it your report that he was killed in an air strike?

RUMSFELD: To the best of my recollection, it was. The incident you're referring to involved an air strike, as opposed to action on the ground. That's my best recollection.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, to follow up, do you put any credence at all in this report that both Omar and bin Laden have somehow been flown to Pakistan?

RUMSFELD: I have not seen the reports. I doubt them. It is possible. We have taken out most of the transport planes, most of the MiGs that Afghanistan had, probably most of the helicopters, although helicopters are a lot easier to hide. And we've disrupted, I think, every airport in there, although airports are repairable, and a helicopter doesn't need a runway. So I don't doubt for a minute that there are some well-hidden helicopters that we can't find and that they are undoubtedly available to the senior people, as opposed to the junior people, and that it is possible to run down a ravine and not be seen.

It is also possible to climb on a donkey or a mule and just walk across the border. These borders -- there's no guards there, it's not like there's a big barrier up. People of nomadic tribes have been moving back and forth across the borders of Afghanistan since time began. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what are the United States option if, in fact -- I think there's also been a report, for example, that out of Kunduz there have been some planes that have departed in the last 48 hours, allegedly carrying a leader of the Uzbekistan Islamic...

RUMSFELD: Movement.

QUESTION: ... Movement into Pakistan. What are the options that the United States has if Al Qaeda...

RUMSFELD: Well, if we see them, we shoot them down.

QUESTION: But what's their impact -- if they are in Pakistan, what are the options?

RUMSFELD: Well, the government of Pakistan is not enamored of Al Qaeda or Taliban.

RUMSFELD: They are supporting and helpful to us. And to the extent they are able, and we are able, obviously, we would seek them out and find them there.

QUESTION: So American forces could cross the border in pursuit?

RUMSFELD: I didn't say that.

QUESTION: Is that an option?

RUMSFELD: One would have to talk to the government of Pakistan to see if that were an option. I mean, they have an army, they have capabilities and they could do what the Northern Alliance has been doing in Afghanistan.

The president of the United States is aware of the 4,000, 5,000 people that were killed in New York and Washington. He is aware of the threats that exist today against our country, and indeed against the West and our interests around the world. And he is determined to find the terrorist networks and to stop them, and to deal with countries that harbor them.

And that is not an easy task. It is not something that's going to be over in five minutes. It is something that is going to take a lot of time, a steady pressure all across the globe. And that is what we are doing.

And it does not matter much where they are, we will be pursuing them and we intend to make life very difficult for them. And we intend to create an environment where they have less money than they have now. And we intend to try to keep gathering intelligence and arresting people and interrogating people to get more information that will make their life still harder. And we intend to try to make the life of the countries that harbor them harder. And that is what's been happening.

QUESTION: If it's possible that bin Laden crossed over the border into Pakistan -- I know there's nothing... RUMSFELD: Anything is possible.

QUESTION: ... no confirmation right now.

RUMSFELD: There certainly isn't. It is wrong to assume you know where he is. You don't. QUESTION: Will the Pakistani government, the military, be actively searching for him in their country, even though it's not been confirmed? Is that a possibility -- that they indicated as such? You saw how easy it is to cross over the border. Are they actively looking for him even though they don't know if he's in their country?

I doubt it. One tends to get up in the morning and work off best information, and there isn't any reason to believe he's in Pakistan. There is every reason to believe he's in Afghanistan, as is the case undoubtedly with Omar. There are lots of places bin Laden could go.

I mean, he used to be in Sudan; it was his headquarters. He used to be in Somalia. Did he go across into Iran or into Pakistan? There are countries that have harbored terrorists like Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and Cuba, and North Korea; they're all on the terrorist list -- we know who they are. So he could do something like that. But I think it's chasing the wrong rabbit to assume that he's fled yet.

QUESTION: Coming up sir, this, significant week -- obviously extraordinary developments this week in terms of the retrieve of the Taliban. May I ask, number one, did that surprise you, sir; and number two, in terms of timetable, did those extraordinary developments increase at all and move up your military timetable in terms of your goals?

RUMSFELD: We always believed that we needed to apply pressure across a broad spectrum, and that we would not know when that pressure would have the effect that we knew it ultimately would have. And we don't -- we can't know if part of the problem with respect to the Taliban was things that we did in other countries that caused pressure -- that people we arrested in other countries that provided information, that caused concerns.

It's more like the Cold War than World War II. If you think of World War II it ended with a signing ceremony on the USS Missouri. The Cold War ended, kind of, with a collapse internally because of constant pressure over a sustained period of time, and eventually they crumbled from inside.

I think the Taliban is -- I think it'd be a mistake to say that they're gone and have disappeared. These are people that are quite determined. I do think that they -- what has happened is that the opposition forces have found an hospitable environment to move forward. The people there want the Taliban out, and they want other people in, which is a good thing.

We're going to make this the last question.

QUESTION: Why do you think we have achieved in Afghanistan in a matter of weeks what the Soviets could not achieve in, what was it, 10 years?

RUMSFELD: There's a lot of differences. The Soviet Union was an expansionist power that took over other countries and wanted Afghanistan. The United States is not. We covet no one's land. We want no real estate. Everyone in the world knows that. Indeed, we would prefer not to be there. We are there not because we sought out this activity, but because we were attacked, and we had no choice in self-defense. And the Afghan people know that.

Second, we tend to leave things better than we found them, which may not be the case with the Soviet Union.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Just a minute, just a minute. I'm going to finish my answer.

QUESTION: I'm sorry.

RUMSFELD: The Soviet Union, when it was trying to take over Afghanistan, was opposed by a superpower, the United States, that did not want them in there. There is no superpower opposing us.

The Taliban is a particularly repressive regime. And therefore, the environment in that country to heave them out is much more positive in this case than in the prior case. So there are a lot of differences, and it's a mistake.

And further more it's not over. The Taliban are still there. A lot of them are going to be in the mountains, a lot of them are going to be in the neighboring countries, but they have been -- we've killed a lot, don't get me wrong, but there's still a lot of them.

QUESTION: Secretary, about the atrocities, there's a growing concern about the Northern Alliance as they move into these cities, as they take over the cities.

Yes, there is a hospitable atmosphere for them. But there are reports coming out of Afghanistan that they are committing atrocities, that they are killing people, telling the Arabs who are there that, "You can surrender and be killed." I mean, that's...

RUMSFELD: Come on, now. There's reports on anything you want to find and repeat.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly proper for the Northern Alliance and anyone else, including American soldiers, to tell people either to surrender or be killed. If you're in conflict, that is what you do. And if they refuse to surrender, as they're refusing to do in Kunduz right now, there's going to be fierce battles and a lot of people are going to be killed.

Second, where the Northern Alliance has gone in, insofar as I am aware, it is a misstatement of fact to say what you've said the reports are saying. There was some looting as the Taliban left in Kabul, I am told. I am told that a relatively small number of the total Northern Alliance available went into Kabul. They stopped the looting. I don't doubt for a minute that there are people dead in there.

But the Taliban killed people as they were leaving. We have no information that suggests that there has been the kind of thing you've cited on the part of the forces going in. Indeed, the bulk of the forces have stayed out of the city to avoid that.

And I think it is unfortunate if people fling around rumors and allegations about behavior that are not demonstrated, not proved, and in my judgment, thus far not factual.

And I am going to take my leave. It's nice to see you all.

WOODRUFF: U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld very forcefully knocking back a question there at the end from a reporter. The secretary visiting the Great Lakes Naval Training Center just north of Chicago, where he has been meeting with Navy recruits, watching them graduate from basic training.

As you just heard, the last question from the reporter is, what about these reports of atrocities committed by the Northern Alliance as they moved into parts of Northern Afghanistan? And Secretary Rumsfeld saying there is no evidence to suggest that. There are a lot of reports being flung around. They said, yes, when there is a combat situation, it is perfectly proper for these soldiers to say either surrender or you will be killed.

The headline perhaps out of this session with reporters over the last several minutes is that the report put out on CNN a couple hours ago, and that is that the either number two or number three man in the Al Qaeda network, senior lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atef, the report that he was killed by a U.S. airstrike. According to Don Rumsfeld, he said, I have seen those reports, do I know it for a fact? I don't, but he said the reports do seem authoritative. He said he was very, very senior.

Our Pentagon correspondent -- or rather our national correspondent Bob Franken is standing by at the Pentagon.

Bob, what did you take away from the secretary's comments?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, just the quote that you just made, Judy, of course what we know, the words he wouldn't use are intelligence reports, but of course, that's what he meant. He of course also talked about Osama bin Laden. He talked about the role of the special forces.

Now he's telling us what they wouldn't tell us for the last several weeks, that in fact special operations forces have been in Afghanistan. We heard a couple of weeks ago that some had gone into the north to be used mainly for spotting, for bombers and that type thing, but also in the south, they've been there for quite a while. On the plane flying over, Rumsfeld said that the numbers were in the hundreds. And in the south, he just said that some have been used for disrupting, interdicting -- translate: getting into combat operations with some of them, shooting it out with some of them.

On the plane, he talked about the fact that some Al Qaeda and Taliban officials have been killed in the process. So as far as casualties with special operations troops, he said, other than the ones that have been reported before, there have been none. And as for Osama bin Laden, the persistent question about where he is. The best belief of the United States is that he continues to be in Afghanistan. There is always the possibility, Rumsfeld has said over and over again, that he could very possibly skip out to Pakistan or any of the other countries where he might find a refuge for a while, but the belief of the U.S. is that Osama bin Laden, according to Rumsfeld, is still in Afghanistan -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I thought he was very forceful on that point. In fact, as reporters kept coming back to it in every instance, he said, we don't have any reason to believe otherwise, or is that to believe that he's not still in Afghanistan.

FRANKEN: Or that the wrong rabbit, I believe.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: All right Bob Franken at the Pentagon.

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