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Paul Wolfowitz Holds Press Conference

Aired November 21, 2001 - 13:31   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: To the Pentagon now, where the briefing is getting underway. We are expecting to see Marine General Peter Pace and Assistant Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. He appears to be speaking first.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: All of us in the department are very proud of what their colleagues are doing in Afghanistan, both in the air and on the ground.

In a moment, I'll ask General Pace to give you an update on the campaign.

Let me just say that our work in Afghanistan continues. Our objectives remain the same, which is to eliminate the Al Qaeda network, to eliminate Afghanistan as a sanctuary for terrorists and to end the Taliban leadership.

I am told -- I didn't see it -- that the Taliban gave a press conference today in which they suggested that we should forget about September 11 and move on. And I can assure them, we will not forget about September 11. We are moving on. And I think before long the world will forget about the Taliban.

But we have to be patient here. The president has said this is a group with a lot of patience. We need it. There's still a lot of work to be done in Afghanistan, and a lot of work beyond Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan we are, I think, making progress in consolidating in Mazar-e-Sharif, where now our mission is increasingly one of preparing the way for significant humanitarian aid. We've been joined by advance parties from France and from Jordan, with the ultimate goal, among other things, of setting up a field hospital in Mazar. The land bridge across the river is not yet open, but barges are flowing.

The level of humanitarian aid keeps in increasing and the numbers are quite spectacular. Our own drops have now reached the level of 1.6 million individual rations, along with several tons of food that we have airlifted into Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

We've also been coordinating closely with the U.N. and the World Food Programme, who have liaison officers down in Tampa. And the result has been that October, which was, of course, a pretty intensive month of warfare...

WOODRUFF: We interrupt the Pentagon briefing to take you to that other news conference I mentioned.

(INTERRUPTED FOR LIVE EVENT)

WOODRUFF: We left the Pentagon briefing in order to bring you this news from Connecticut. And we are going to go back to that briefing now. It's still underway, I believe. This is Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WOLFOWITZ: ... focused on the work that remains to be done in Afghanistan which is substantial.

And, I mean I'll say it again, I've said it before -- this is a president who encourages debate among advisers, encourages having options presented to him, has no hesitation to make decisions. He has set some very clear guidance as to where we're focused now, and that is in Afghanistan, and we're very far from finished there. And it's, you know -- it was only a couple of weeks ago the same pundits were saying, you know, "Why is it taking so long? You're going to be there next summer," and now they're saying, "What are you going to do tomorrow?" Well, tomorrow, we're going to continue pursuing Taliban and Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, but it...

QUESTION: A quick follow-up if I may: But the president and the secretary have said too that we're going to go after countries that harbor terrorism -- countries, plural -- nobody's saying there are 40, 50, 60 Al Qaeda cells around the world. So one would assume that...

WOLFOWITZ: I think it's your word to go after countries. What they have both said, and I think we've said consistently as an administration, is our goal is to eliminate those global terrorist networks and to stop the support that states give them. Now there are various ways; you can go after states, you can persuade them. I would think, in fact, any number of states that have supported terrorism in the past would look at the example of the Taliban and think that maybe that's not a terribly good line of business to be in.

QUESTION: In the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a couple of things have come to light today.

QUESTION: You quoted the Taliban official saying one thing. He also said that Taliban no longer knows where Osama bin Laden is and they are no longer connected, number one. There's a Saudi newspaper indicating that bin Laden has left instructions for his people that if the U.S. closes in on him, he would like them to kill him and that he has prerecorded a videotape message to his followers afterwards.

Does all of this begin to suggest something to you about the thinking that bin Laden must have at this time as the U.S. begins closing in?

WOLFOWITZ: I think it does suggest that this is a man on the run; that this is a man who is being deserted by the same people who sheltered him not so long ago; that this is a man with a price on his head. And there are an increasing number of people in Afghanistan, I think, who may like to collect that reward, and any number of people who were associated with him in the past who are trying to say they had nothing to do with him. I don't think any of that is good for his future prospects.

QUESTION: I mean, you are exploring what may be his mental state. Do you feel that the U.S. is, in fact -- I mean, we go through this exercise every day, "You don't have him until you have him," but your assessment of where the U.S. is at this point.

WOLFOWITZ: Well, you say that we go through the exercise every day. I mean, we keep looking for him every day. But it's also important to emphasize, I think, there's a danger in the fascination with bin Laden, which is totally understandable, that we might forget that there is a whole network outside of Afghanistan and there's a whole network that we have to get rid of that's more than just bin Laden. So at the same time that we're hunting him we're hunting down that whole network, and not just in Afghanistan, but in the 59 other countries where they're burrowed in.

QUESTION: You talked about there's substantial work to be done in Afghanistan, but can you talk about how the potential fall of Kunduz and Kandahar would bring you closer to the end? I mean, I'm wondering if you have a lot of evidence that Taliban fighters and Al Qaeda fighters have, indeed, fled into the hills? And so leaving, you know, the fall that you say would still leave substantial work in the mountains. I'm wondering if you can talk on that?

WOLFOWITZ: The impression I have from the intelligence I see every day is that substantial concentrations are still in those cities. They may be planning to head to the hills, but so far the indications are not of large numbers heading to the hills. That's one of the reasons why we would like to kill as many as we can or capture them while they're in places where they can be located.

Some of them are going to head for the hills. I think larger numbers are going to say, "It wasn't me. I'm now on the winning side." And that is a tradition in Afghanistan. And it's something that will have to be watched.

But I think when we say there's substantial work to be done, if those two cities can be taken and opposition control can be consolidated over the various regions of Afghanistan, then we'll have a very different situation in which we can continue to hunt for the remnants that remain.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Mr. Secretary, in what ways will states that sponsor terrorism be expected to credibly demonstrate to Washington that they no longer sponsor terrorism in order to avoid sharing in the terrorist fate? And I have a follow-up.

WOLFOWITZ: I think it was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when asked to fine pornography, said, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." And I think we will know it when we see countries out of the business of sponsoring terrorism.

Quick follow-up?

QUESTION: OK. You said recently that states that sponsor terror also terrorize their own people, and that those people will become U.S. allies. As the U.S. works to enlarge the sphere of freedom for Muslim nations, does the liberation of these terrorized people become a moral imperative in the war on terror?

WOLFOWITZ: I guess you're several steps beyond me. I just think that one of the things these regimes have got to fear is the hatred of their own people toward them, and we've seen, I think, in Afghanistan how the hatred of the people for the Taliban has been something that has worked in our favor and worked against the Taliban. And I think that is a strategic principle, if not a moral one, and may be a moral one as well, that I think we can work to our advantage.

QUESTION: You just spoke about large numbers of Taliban and Al Qaeda people holed up in Kunduz and Kandahar. Have you got a slightly more precise estimate of the number?

WOLFOWITZ: No, we have very imprecise estimates. They come from so many different sources and I hope you understand this is not something you can take a photograph and define. So a lot of our attempts to estimate numbers come from human sources that are notoriously variable and unreliable.

QUESTION: Would you say it's in the thousands in each place?

WOLFOWITZ: I would say it's in the low thousands, but that's a wild guess.

QUESTION: Can you detail the Navy's plans to intercept merchant shipping in the North Arabian Sea?

WOLFOWITZ: Do you want to speak to that, General Pace?

PACE: As part of our right of self-defense, we, as part of the international community, have the authority and the ability to track, and, in those cases where we're sure, or we have indications that there are either contraband or criminals aboard ship, the opportunity to interdict with those ships. This is not...

(INTERRUPTED FOR LIVE EVENT)

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