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Pentagon Briefing

Aired August 9, 2002 - 13:48   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take our viewers now to Washington D.C., at the Pentagon, where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is briefing reporters there now.
Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECY.: Everyday the men and women in uniform are voluntarily risking their lives to defend against terrorism.

At this moment, enemy fighters are still operating in a number of areas in Afghanistan. Coalition forces are searching them out and will continue to do so as long as they continue to threaten the new Afghan administration and the Afghan people.

War is of course fought in fog and shadows. One cannot know precisely where the enemy is or what they'll do next. We do know that there are fewer of them in Afghanistan today than there were on September 11, a lot fewer. We know that we've killed and captured a fair number of terrorist leaders and terrorist foot soldiers. We know that the Taliban has been removed from power and the Al Qaeda network no longer can use Afghanistan as a haven from which to plan their attacks. And we know they are less able to raise money, cross borders and plot new attacks against free people.

And we know that, notwithstanding the periodic flair- ups, the security situation in Afghanistan is good and improving and that the Afghan people have chosen a government to through the loya jirgah process and that that government is working hard to get on its feet and that the Afghan national army is in the process of being trained and that the humanitarian crisis that faced the country has largely been averted. That is good progress.

I understand you have no opening statement.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I do not.

RUMSFELD: And we'll start with Charlie.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I thought I'd ask you one on Iraq.

RUMSFELD: You're kidding.

(LAUGHTER) You know, I have a minimum of high regard for that approach. And I think I'm going to have an agonizing reappraisal and consider calling on someone else first in the future.

QUESTION: Just a couple of quick ones. Number one, Bush administration officials are meeting with Afghan opposition...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Iraqi...

RUMSFELD: Iraqi opposition. True.

QUESTION: Do you plan on meeting with them, or perhaps taking part in the teleconference tomorrow with the vice president?

RUMSFELD: I hope to. I have not arranged it yet, but I would like to find an opportunity to do that.

You are correct. There are a group of opposition leaders who have been invited to a meeting. I believe it's hosted by Undersecretary of State Mark Grossman and Undersecretary Doug Feith. And they're going to -- they're here today I guess and tomorrow. They represent some seven different groups. Six is it?

(UNKNOWN): Six.

RUMSFELD: OK. Let me count. Six, seven. I count seven.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Well I could be right.

(LAUGHTER)

Maybe by accident, but -- It may be six, it may be seven.

RUMSFELD: So, the ones I've got listed here are the Iraqi National Congress -- that's one -- the Iraqi National Accord, the Kurdistan Democratic Party -- comes to three -- Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Islamic Movement of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Constitutional Monarchists.

How many does that come to?

(UNKNOWN): Seven.

RUMSFELD: Way to go.

(LAUGHTER)

I might just mention that the Iraqi Liberation Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1998, established as U.S. policy and that policy remains in effect today, regime change in Iraq. Specifically, that law says quote, "it is the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."

And it is in that context that these various Iraqi opposition groups are in the country and the meetings are taking place.

QUESTION: Do you plan -- would you plan to meet directly with them, or perhaps take part in the teleconference?

RUMSFELD: I just haven't decided. I haven't worked out my calendar. But I hope to have a chance to meet them and say hello at least.

QUESTION: A brief follow-up. Could I ask why the Defense Department is now financing these groups as opposed to the State Department?

RUMSFELD: I guess they're not. The department is not. My understanding is that the State Department, DOD and the INC are working together, on transferring some responsibilities for information gathering activities by the INC from State to DOD.

The details have not been worked out. The discussions are underway, and as it involves information-gathering, I guess that's all I'd be inclined to say about it. To my understanding, it's been discussed.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... not going to take over financing these groups?

RUMSFELD: I've really just exhausted my knowledge on the subject. It's an administrative issue that's being sorted out.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can we go back to Afghanistan for a moment? There are published reports...

RUMSFELD: It'd be a pleasure.

QUESTION: There are published reports that at least two large groups of Al Qaeda, backed by Taliban, are amassing in Pakistan, preparing for large-scale attacks on the current government in Afghanistan. Can you shed some light on that? Are those reports accurate, and if so, why can't we find those groups?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know if it's true. If it proves to be true that large gatherings of these folks actually can be located, and it actually happens and can be located, you can be sure there'll be people interested in that.

QUESTION: That's probably (inaudible) for a moment. The reports go on to say that the training camps or the staging areas are at least 100 miles from where Pakistani authorities and U.S.-coalition troops are looking for. RUMSFELD: That's a statement not a question.

QUESTION: Well -- but sometimes you'll react well to statements as opposed to questions.

RUMSFELD: Look, there are going to be reports all the time. Everyone has an idea where people are, where individuals are, where clusters are. We have a lot of intelligence information, that the Pakistanis have been helping, the Afghanis have been helping. And to the extent information comes together, and it proves to be true, as opposed to speculation in the press, and then people go out and try to find those folks and visit with them.

Yes?

QUESTION: You've said a couple of times recently that the war on terrorism is closer to the beginning than the end. And I just wondered, do you feel the United States is winning the war on terrorism, and...

RUMSFELD: Oh, indeed.

QUESTION: If you do, could you tell us how to measure that?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's -- first of all, the way to think of the thing is like an iceberg. There's a certain amount of it above the surface of the water, and then there's a great deal going on that's below the surface of the water.

And since terrorists don't have armies, navies or air forces, one has to assume, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, that there's fog and shadows where those folks are operating, and there's an awful lot we don't see.

If you want to know what the progress is and how you can measure it, why, I cited a number of things. Afghanistan is no longer a training camp for terrorists. That's a nice thing, that's a good thing. Those people have been liberated; that's a good thing. The Al Qaeda that were there are either dead or captured or on the run. And they're in other countries, and I've listed four or five or six other countries where we know they've gone.

The pressure is on these networks. And it doesn't mean that the pressure is sufficient or the success has been sufficient or the progress sufficient that there won't be more terrorist attacks. We know there are thousands of these people around the world. And we know, for example, that there are clusters of hundreds in a number of different countries that have escaped and fled from Afghanistan or congregated in different places.

But the way one would think that you would measure success would be the extent to which you get other countries to cooperate -- we're now up to something like 90 worldwide; the extent to which other countries are willing to share intelligence, and that's an enormous number; the extent to which countries are more aggressively pursuing terrorist cells in their own countries. And as I've indicated, there are over 2,000 people who've been swept up off the streets in dozens and dozens and dozens of countries who are being interrogated.

So I think the American people have a pretty good sense that this is not a set of pitch battles on a continent, in the air or at sea. Rather, it is like an iceberg, where there will be periodic places where we'll see it above the surface. And this is something I think I said in September, almost identically, that this is the nature of what we're up against.

QUESTION: One more thing on that. Would removing Saddam Hussein from power be a major victory in the war on terrorism? Or is it a discrete issue?

RUMSFELD: It would seem that it's the policy of the United States Congress and the executive branch of successive presidents that regime change in that country would be desirable for a host of reasons.

I would have to go back and read the legislative debate as to what led the Congress to decide that, but I assume it had to do with weapons of mass destruction, I assume it had to do with him trying to impose his will on his neighbors. I also assume that it's because he's been elevated to the status of a terrorist state.

QUESTION: General Myers, can you help us a little bit, put this Christian Science Monitor story in perspective? It has three main sort of startling allegations. One is that Al Qaeda is massing in Pakistan. Is there any evidence of that? Two, that Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Zawahiri, have both been spotted recently. Have there been any credible sightings of them that you're aware of? And three, that the Al Qaeda in Pakistan is seeking or obtaining help from China to get anti-aircraft missiles to threaten U.S. planes. Can you help us put that in perspective? How much credibility should we put into those kind of accounts?

MYERS: I think on the issue of massing along the border, the secretary pretty much covered that. We know that's where there are, that's where a lot of the Al Qaeda fled; some of the Taliban probably for that matter. And it's a long border. And I guess there's no doubt that there are pockets of them. Whether they're massing or not, I think remains to be seen. I would just tell you that from what I've seen we have no evidence of that.

On the other hand, General Franks, this is something that he and General McNeill inside Afghanistan work on a daily basis. We've got reasonably good intelligence. We get good cooperation from Pakistan and from Afghanistan. And so, you know, I don't know there's any truth to that particular story.

On the issue of UBL, I'll give you my standard. I have not seen anything that says we know where he is or Zawahiri.

MYERS: And the last issue, on help from China. We know that they want weapons, they want weapons of mass destruction. They probably need all sorts of supplies. And they'll go to whoever will provide those. I'd be very surprised that the government of China would help. We've gotten pretty good support from China on the war on terrorism. And it'd be hard for me to believe that they'd want to help the Al Qaeda.

QUESTION: Speaking of help...

RUMSFELD: Can I make just a comment, which I find interesting here. I mentioned that we're getting a lot of tips from Afghan people in villages all across the country saying that we ought to go look at a certain place. And we've gone and looked.

And here's a -- this is only through July 8 -- July 16, but this is from 345 caches that have been identified, mostly by other people telling us about them: 1,785 AK-47 rifles, 375 -- correction -- 370,000 rounds of ammunition for the rifles; 30 heavy machine guns, 3.5 million rounds of ammunition for the machines guns; 72 mortar (inaudible), 52,000 rounds of ammunition for the mortars; 142 recoiler rifles with 1,700 rounds; 2,100 air-to-air missiles; 2,800 rocket- propelled grenade launchers with over 4,000 grenades; 43,000 rounds of rockets, 107, 122 millimeter; shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, 319 missiles, 269 were SA-7s; 50 tanks; 40 armored vehicles; 2,000 mines; over 20 anti-aircraft weapons.

Just the nation is filled with weapons. It is a country that has -- they've been pouring in from all countries. The reason I mention it is in a number of these caches you do find things from China.

But you find them from country after country after country. So it isn't anything distinctive. And a lot of it's -- a lot of it's quite old and probably not stable. We've destroyed a good portion of it, and we've, my conservative background leads me to, as my background in the Depression, we're saving as much we can for the Afghan army, I assure you. We're not going to waste anything if we can avoid it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about the comments from House Majority Leader Dick Armey suggesting that the United States cannot move against Iraq without a significant provocation. Are those kinds of statements unhelpful?

RUMSFELD: No, Dick Armey's a fine congressman and a good friend, and I think it's important for people to say what they think on these things. And that's the wonderful thing about our country. We have a public debate and dialogue and discussion on important issues.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, to follow on that, he, House Majority Leader Armey, said that, as long as Saddam Hussein behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him.

Do you believe that containment of Saddam Hussein has worked, is working, without getting into the hypotheticals that I know you don't like?

RUMSFELD: Containment has -- you can't say it's worked or not worked. It has not done the job in this sense.

Economic sanctions historically, not just in the case of Iraq, but I believe historically, once they're applied, they're effective for a reasonable period of time, and then they tend to be eroded.

For a lot of reasons. People decide they don't agree with them any more, and they start trading. People figure clever ways to get around them with dual-use technologies. People do it illegally across borders, and these are porous borders.

And it is very clear that the political and economic sanctions have, with respect to Saddam Hussein, have not worked, the containment.

A third part of the containment clearly was Operation Northern and Southern Launch. And we know for a fact that he is continuing to operate in those areas, and doing things that it's very hard to stop him from doing. Because he's got mobile anti-aircraft capabilities. And when he shoots at us, we shoot back. He hasn't hit us -- very fortuitously. But by the same token, we've not done a great deal of damage to his air defenses, or any of these other capabilities.

The big thing that was there was the weapon of mass destruction issue. And he had agreed, and the U.N. had agreed that they would -- he would not have a WMD program. We know he does have one. And he is continuing it.

So there is no way any reasonable person could look at that record and say that it's worked. It hasn't worked. And it's not working. It has -- it started out working better than it is today, and it has kind of declined, as is the case in most of these types of things, which means that he's moving farther and farther away from the circumstance he was in when they were first imposed.

Yes?

WHITFIELD: You've been listening to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from the Pentagon talk about two -- a few different fronts from Iraq and also from Afghanistan. On Iraq, he says he was responding to a question about whether Representative Dick Armey was making a good point that perhaps the U.S. should not be moving aggressively toward Iraq without provocation, but Donald Rumsfeld says that Iraq is certainly a threat, as long as it is led by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

In the meantime, at the U.S. State Department today, Iraqi opposition leaders are meeting with U.S. State Department representatives, who say that they do want the U.S. and international support, but as long as the U.S. and other international countries do not dictate as to whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should be removed, and who should replace him.

Donald Rumsfeld said on Afghanistan that Afghanistan is no longer a training ground for terrorist as such as Al Qaeda and Taliban.

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