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Secretary of Defense Holds Briefing

Aired April 22, 2002 - 13:46   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.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We now want to take you to Washington, D.C., where Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has begun the Pentagon briefing. We're going to listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ...to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident.

Our neighbor to the north is a close ally and a true friend, in NATO, in NORAD, as well as in Operation Enduring Freedom.

This tragic accident caused me to think back over the years to when U.S. hostages were taken by the Iranian government. Many will recall that four days after the Iranian militants occupied the U.S. embassy in Teheran, on November 4, 1979, six Americans managed to escape the mobs, they contacted the Canadian embassy in Teheran and asked for assistance. Without hesitation, the Canadian ambassador, Kenneth Taylor, conferred with his staff, and the staff unanimously agreed to help the desperate Americans.

The Canadians housed and fed and protected the Americans, at great risk to their own lives, and they devised a plan by which the hostages escaped. They provided non-diplomatic passports and drove the Americans to the airport in Teheran, Iran, in embassy cars, as if they were friends of the ambassador's.

It was a typical act of Canadian bravery and friendship, which I, and I'm sure the people of the United States will not forget.

On Thursday and Friday, I visited with U.S. troops at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois and at Fort Lewis in Washington state. Scott, as you know, is the headquarters for the U.S. Transportation Command. General John Handy, who served in the Pentagon here recently as the vice chief of staff of the Air Force, is the commander, and he and the men and women of Scott Air Force Base perform an indispensable role in the war on terrorism.

Afghanistan, of course, is a land-locked country and virtually everything that was needed and had to be brought in by air. Personnel, supplies, aircraft, equipment, including the Apache helicopters that tackle the Al Qaeda holdouts in Shahikot not too long ago.

Their work is dangerous and they've done it through the worst of the fighting. The terrain's rugged. The runways are often difficult. And the dust, as many of you have experienced, is many inches deep. They do an amazing job in very difficult circumstances.

Fort Lewis, of course, is the home of the I Corps. It plays an important role in training U.S. Army forces. I was very pleased to have an opportunity to be there with General Hill and to be briefed on their activities and to see the changes they are making in the United States Army.

It's important, it seems to me, for all of us to be reminded of the fantastic job that these wonderfully professional men and women are doing for our country.

General Myers?

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

And, of course, I add my condolences to those of the department's for the Canadians who lost their lives and for their family and their loved ones and their unit comrades.

Our coalition efforts in the global war on terrorism continue not only in Afghanistan, where we work to locate and destroy the Al Qaeda and former Taliban, but continue in other regions of the world, as well.

An able construction task group of about 300 armed forces members arrived over the weekend in Basilan Island in the Philippines. This group will improve roads, build helicopter landing zones, drill freshwater wells and improve a causeway for off-loading supply boats.

The group, which begins it works this week, helps the overall efforts of some 600 other U.S. military personnel assigned to Joint Task Force 510 in supporting the Philippine government in their role in the global war on terrorism, as we train with and assist and advise the Philippine armed forces.

In addition, a decades-old exercise called Balikatan, a combined joint exercise involving Philippine and U.S. armed forces also begins this week on Luzon Island in the northern Philippines and continues until May 6. About 2,600 U.S. personnel are involved in this exercise, which focuses on peacekeeping, peace enforcement and humanitarian assistance. This exercise will improve combined planning, combat readiness and the interoperability of U.S. and Philippine military forces.

Though we've focused, understandably I think, on Operation Enduring Freedom, it's important to recognize that our forces remain at risk in other extremely important operations as well.

For example, in Operation Northern Watch, our no-fly zone patrols were threatened by Iraqi weapons systems three times since the first of the month. In one case, on the 19th, our fighters launched two missiles at a surface-to-air missile system near Mosul. And this particular system had threatened them during their flight. And one week ago, in Operation Southern Watch, a patrol was forced to respond as well with a guided bomb strike on a surface-to-air missile system radar located near Talil.

With that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if you and the general could address reports that the pilot who dropped that bomb on the Canadian forces ignored an order not, in fact, to launch an attack but simply to mop the area in precaution. And if you won't go into that kind of detail, could you tell us whether the rules of engagement allow pilots to launch such attacks unilaterally without permission on a case-by- case basis?

RUMSFELD: Well, the investigation that is either under way or soon to be under way, which will be concluded in some 30 to 60 days, will include findings of facts, opinions, and very likely will include recommendations with respect to the cause of the incident. And it seems to me that it's best to let the investigation run its course.

With respect to rules of engagement, without getting into details, which we don't do, we all know that on the land, sea and the air, U.S. forces have the right of self-defense.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about the arrival of one prisoner, one detainee, at Guantanamo Bay over the weekend. The fact that one person being flown in would suggest perhaps someone of some significance, or can you tell us who this person was and what circumstances are?

RUMSFELD: I remember hearing about that last week, and it escapes me at the moment. But do you recall?

MYERS: We did add one to the population.

RUMSFELD: One person was added?

MYERS: Guantanamo.

QUESTION: Who it is, why one person brought when you haven't sent anybody there for a couple of months?

RUMSFELD: Well, we're trying to move them out of Afghanistan. General Franks has a standing request of us that as people have completed what needs to be done there, and as we have room in Guantanamo, that he would vastly prefer that they be in Guantanamo then there from just distinctly from a force protection standpoint. And they have many fewer forces, of course, and they're less well arranged to deal with people. So we're constantly moving people out I believe.

QUESTION: Well, is this a senior or high-ranking...

RUMSFELD: As I say I just don't recall.

QUESTION: Following up on a couple of published reports over the weekend, one suggesting that there was a lack of interrogation skill among some of the U.S. military.

RUMSFELD: I only saw one such report like that.

QUESTION: Conducting, I think...

RUMSFELD: Was there a copy-cat report that went along with that?

QUESTION: I wouldn't be surprised if there were. And another report, a single report as far as I know, about a change in the legal standard that might be employed for a trial of suspected Al Qaeda or captured Al Qaeda or Taliban. Can you just put those two things in context for us, in the proper context?

RUMSFELD: Well, I can take a stab at it. I had not heard anything up through the building with respect to the second question as to that issue. I'm sure that lawyers have been, are now and will be in the future discussing those issues with the Department of Justice, the White House and the Department of Defense. But nothing is crystallized to the point that it's come to me.

With respect to the interrogations, I don't know quite how to answer it. I don't doubt for a minute that somebody felt what was expressed in that article. I have also heard expressions to the contrary. And I doubt that anyone is completely -- correction, let me put it this way, I doubt that it is uniform and I'm sure it's uneven, like most things in life are.

We have some excellent people. If the teams are from the Department of Justice, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, they have been working at this -- teams I should say have been working at this for many months now. People come in and go out of those teams.

And I'm sure they vary in their competence and they vary in their experience, and that's quite understandable.

It is true that the United States government does not have as many Arabic speakers as we would wish, and we're doing things about that and bringing people back in, and borrowing people from other government entities and using reservists who are being called up who have that competence. Matter of fact, I ran into a sixth-grade teacher at Fort Lewis, Washington, whose real life he's a sixth-grade teacher and he is superbly well-qualified linguist in Arabic; a terrific young man.

Now, overall how do we feel about it? Well, we feel it's going pretty well. And is it true that other countries interrogate differently than the United States? Yes. Is it true that a national from the same country as the detainee might be able to get some additional information out of an individual? Probably. We are also using interrogators from other countries on occasion, when those countries have indicated a willingness and desire to do so.

QUESTION: Can I do a follow-up on that please, Mr. Secretary? There are also reports that Abu Zabaydah, the so-called high-ranking Al Qaeda now in custody, and, as you said, talking to interrogators, gave false information that the warnings that financial institutions in this country were at risk are now considered to be a lie. Can you comment on that?

RUMSFELD: No. I have no idea if it was true or a lie or if he gave it. I'm not going to be reporting on what Abu Zabaydah does or doesn't do from day to day.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, will Canadian investigators be given access to the F-16 pilot involved in last week's bombing of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: My understanding is that the Canadian armed services will have observers present, to my knowledge, in every aspect of it. That is to say, it will be fully transparent to the Canadians.

It's also my understanding that they are conducting a parallel but separate investigation of their own. And so I think the answer is undoubtedly yes, that they're -- whatever it is that is done will be transparent to the Canadians.

QUESTION: On that same matter, can you help us to understand -- a lot of Canadians have questions about this inquiry. Can you help us to understand when it's going to happen, where it will be headquartered, who will be sitting on it?

RUMSFELD: Well, those details will be coming out of the Central Command, General Franks. And it will be done under his auspices as I understand it, and it is due to start relatively soon. And it is currently estimated it will run from some 30 to 60 days. I suppose that depends in part on weather and transportation and availability of people to communicate with them. So I think that's very likely as much as is knowable at the present time.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, an Indian general was here in the building this morning. I understand he met with you. And also...

RUMSFELD: He didn't.

QUESTION: According to the reports...

RUMSFELD: Did he meet with you?

I was delayed someplace, and I'm afraid at least thus far today I have missed seeing him. I had hoped to, and he had been on my schedule. You could respond.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for General Myers on his visit.

And second question for you, sir, that according to the reports U.S. and India is going to have -- will be holding some military exercises, and you can describe, sir, today military-to-military relationships between U.S. and India and about this exercise going to be taking place; first time ever Indian troops will be on the U.S. soil?

MYERS: I'll talk about General Padmanabhan's visit. He is here precisely to discuss our military-to-military relationship and see U.S. training facilities and discuss things that are of mutual interest to both India and the United States. In fact, I just came from lunch with him and had an office call earlier in the day with him as well. He's actually being hosted by the chief of staff of the United States Army, because he is also chief of the Indian army. So that's his real host during this visit. He will be traveling to other bases and camps and posts here in the United States to learn, observe and exchange ideas.

As far as the exercise, we'll have to get you that information. I know that we have an extensive program with the Indians in terms of training, where we bring Indian officers and others here to the United States to attend our educational institutions.

QUESTION: Did he talk to you about any U.S. military sales to India or...

MYERS: Sales?

QUESTION: Yes.

MYERS: No, that did not come up in our discussions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you see any increasing evidence that Saddam Hussein is getting more aggressive toward the U.S., adding the four incidents threatening U.S. and coalition aircraft this month and his recent statements encouraging Arab countries to use oil as a weapon?

RUMSFELD: His general behavior is of a kind with those things. I don't notice that there's been a notable difference. He tends to move things around and do things that are inconsistent with the U.N. resolutions, and his rhetoric has historically been provocative and favoring terrorists.

MYERS: It was just reported to me today that some of these movements of surface-to-air missile systems into regions where we enforce the no-fly zone under the U.N. resolutions are greater than they've been in a couple of years, so. But that's episodic, as well. But, in fact, that's happened.

QUESTION: Could I follow-up on that, please, to General Myers? In regard of these incidents that you mentioned, is Iraq becoming more aggressive in its threat to coalition aircraft or are coalition aircraft simply becoming more aggressive in enforcing the no-fly zone?

MYERS: I think a fair way to put it is that we've had the mission of enforcing no-fly zones now for some time. We have not -- without getting into a lot of detail, we basically haven't changed our method of operation. And as we've just talked about, it intends to be episodic, in terms of threats to our aircraft, but it's been consistent. It's been consistent over time.

Today, I thought I'd just emphasize it because we tend to forget that we have Americans being shot at on a fairly regular basis in other parts of the world besides Afghanistan in a country that we're worried about their intentions.

QUESTION: Can you somehow quantify the movements of these missile batteries and what increased risk that poses to coalition aircraft?

MYERS: Well, if they're moved inside the no-fly zones, obviously, that increases risks to the pilots that are patrolling in those zones. And that's what's been happening. And beyond that, I don't want to get into the specifics of exactly where.

QUESTION: But it's both zones, north and south?

MYERS: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: Are you aware of any plans for anyone, representatives of the U.S. military or government, to attend the funerals of any of the four soldiers, Canadians, who were killed or of any other plans to honor their memory in some way?

RUMSFELD: I have not been given information as to their plans. I know that the wounded, for the most part, were all taken to Germany, I believe, eventually. And the last I heard, they were still there receiving medical attention.

QUESTION: The airlift to Afghanistan appears, in some cases, to have pushed U.S. capacity. It got old tankers refueling those planes and sometimes one out of three is still in the shop. Is the U.S. prepared to carry out that kind of an airlift on a second front, if necessary?

RUMSFELD: Well, I'll let the expert answer it. But I can assure you that anything the United States gets into we'll be able to do.

MYERS: The only thing I would add on the tankers is that it is true, as you mentioned, that a fairly large percentage are in depot for maintenance because, generally, for corrosion. And we went into that, I think, in a previous session, we talked about the design is fairly old and corrosion is one of the byproducts of that, that older design.

On the other hand, most of our tankers have new engines and new avionics. They are continuing to upgrade the cockpit. They have an airframe life that goes well into the future. And so I don't think it's fair to characterize those that are flying as these old -- have in your mind an old, decrepit tanker. These are very good machines that are out there on the front line. And I agree with the secretary: Whatever the president asks the secretary to do, we'll be able to do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, point of clarification on the friendly fire incident: You said that the Canadians would have observers at everything. I think General Myers said Thursday or Friday that a Canadian officer would be on the investigation board. Could you help clarify that?

RUMSFELD: I've got a release here, and my understanding was that the Canadians have, at their instance, decided to conduct a parallel investigation and that General Franks has offered and they have accepted the idea of having an observer in every element of the U.S. investigation.

Is that your understanding as well?

MYERS: My understanding was that they would participate in that investigation just like you said it. So I think we can clarify that...

RUMSFELD: CENTCOM can give you.

MYERS: Yes, because they've delegated that to the Air Force to do the investigation, and my understanding was that there would be a Canadian member of the board, which would not be an unusual situation. It was very similar to the one we had in the Udairi range mishap, where we had other countries involved in that investigation as well.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we continue to hear voices, largely from the NGO community, but also to some extent from the Karzai government as well, advocating an expansion of the International Security Assistance Force, and there are reports that you've been cited as being reluctant to endorse, on behalf of the U.S. government, the expansion of that force.

QUESTION: Can you address that issue again?

RUMSFELD: I'll try. First of all it is not a decision for the secretary of defense. It's a presidential decision.

And second, I have no objection to the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force -- I never have. That issue is one that is being discussed, for the most part, by people who don't have forces. And the country that has been leading the International Security Assistance Force, the United Kingdom, has asked to stop leading it. And the country that has been persuaded to undertake the leadership role, Turkey, has indicated that they'd prefer not to do so...

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