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Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired February 21, 2002 - 12:03   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, Don Rumsfeld at the podium now, live from the Pentagon.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Afghanistan and in the region performing important missions in the fight against terrorism.

Casualties in this conflict have been low, but each individual, of course, is part of a family, part of a community and part of a military force that deeply feels the loss.

The United States recognizes that and is grateful to those countries and their service men and women who are working with us in dealing with the problems of terrorism.

Australia, of course, is our friend and ally for many, many decades. They have actively supported the war against terror by providing forces, tactical and strategic airlift and a number of naval vessels.

Members of both the Australian and British forces, for that matter, have experienced serious injuries in recent months, and certainly the courage and commitment and contributions of these and other coalition partners are valued greatly by the United States.

I'd also like to comment a bit on these recent reports on information operations. Government officials, the Department of Defense, this secretary, this general and the people who work with us tell the American people and the media and, indeed, the world the truth. If anyone says something that proves not to have been accurate, they have a responsibility to correct that at an early opportunity, and they do.

RUMSFELD: We've tried and will continue to try to do our best to get the truth out as soon and as fully as is possible. The Department of Defense does not now and has no plans to conduct any disinformation campaigns or to promulgate false or inaccurate or misleading information to domestic or foreign audiences. Any suggestion to the contrary would not be correct.

The so-called Office of Strategic Influence was created in November of 2001 to assist in fashioning policy regarding the military aspects of information operations. The charter of the office is under development. Consistent with the Defense Department policy, under no circumstance will that office or its contractors, for that matter, knowingly or deliberately disseminate false information to the American or to foreign publics. The office will focus on helping our forces perform missions that are appropriate.

In the war on terrorism, for example, we dropped millions of food rations to starving people in Afghanistan. They were in yellow packets and they were dropped from aircraft. Taliban and the Al Qaeda conducted an organized disinformation campaign, falsely telling starving Afghan people that the United States was dropping poison food. It was most certainly not poison food.

So we had an information operation in which we dropped leaflets explaining to the Afghan people that the food was, in fact, good and was, as a matter of fact, also culturally appropriate and that they should not be concerned about the misleading information they were receiving.

Other projects have included activities, such as the so-called Commando Solo aircraft, which broadcast radio messages to the people in Afghanistan: Messages to encourage enemy forces to surrender; the advertising of rewards for information that leads to the capture of terrorists, weapons of mass destruction material or other items of interest that merit such a reward or bounty; announcements regarding the availability and location of humanitarian assistance; and warnings about dangers of unexploded ordnance or military equipment and the like. These are important activities. They are critical to our efforts. And this office is an attempt to better organize for these types of activities.

General Myers has some comments to make, as well.


And good afternoon. I just returned this morning from Afghanistan. Previous to that, I was in India and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. At each of these stops, I met with my counterparts and other senior government leaders. And we discussed, as you might imagine, a wide range of bilateral-related issues, military-to- military ties and most importantly this global war on terrorism.

MYERS: I spent some time thanking them for their cooperation in this war on terrorism. However, the main purpose of this trip was to visit our troops in the field. The soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines that I met were doing a great job. They're extremely dedicated, motivated, and realize the task at hand will not be over anytime soon. I'd like to tell the American public that they can rest assured that their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their wives and husbands, are doing a superb job for this country.

And just one last note, when I left for the region last week, we took some valentines written by elementary school-age children with us. This was from around the United States of America. We took a small portion of what was shipped and helped brought to the region by the USO. It was a wonderful gesture and brought a little bit of home to those serving so far away, so I'd just like to thank all those elementary school students, their teachers, and their parents for putting so much thought behind these valentines that everywhere I went -- some had already gotten there before us, some we delivered. I can just report to you that the troops loved them.

With that, I'll take questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the investigation into the January 24 raid at Hazar Qadam, have you determined whether or not you killed and arrested people that you didn't intend to kill and arrest?

RUMSFELD: I can't say whether the investigation is -- correction. Let me rephrase it even. What we try to do after an incident that comes to our attention is to ask ourselves what kind of lessons might be learned from this.

And the word investigation sometimes has the implication of more formality or disciplinary action, which is not the case in the overwhelming number of incidents, when we have to go out and try to determine and have a review of what took place which happens continuously and quite appropriately, because we do need to continuously find out what the lessons are that we need to benefit from.

Therefore, I can't say that CINCCENT has completed everything they're doing. I do have information that I can provide you however today.

The -- I think it was January 23. I could be wrong, but I think that was it. At a place called Hazar Qadam -- Q-A-D-A-M -- there were two compounds.

RUMSFELD: They were observed, we are told, over a period of several weeks. The signature and the intelligence information that was gathered over these several weeks was persuasive and compelling. It was -- they used the word "signature," it provided a signature and a belief on the observers' part that there was Al Qaeda or Taliban activity there.

However, it was not strong enough to simply call in an air strike, which would have been clearly the easiest, quickest thing to do. So they did not do that. Instead, they decided to go in and conduct a ground, direct-action activity, which they did do.

And as they proceeded toward these two compounds, my information is that the people in one compound did not fire at them, and they entered the compound and captured a number of people, in the high 20s.

As the approached the second compound -- these are two separate teams, U.S. Army teams -- as they approached the second compound, an individual saw them, went inside the compound, and shortly thereafter, the people inside the compound began firing at the U.S. Army forces that were moving toward that compound.

In the course of the fire fight, some number between 10 and 15, as I recall, of the Afghan people in that second compound were killed.

In that compound and in the other compound, the Special Forces proceeded, and to the extent people did not resist, they were put in plastic cuffs and held. To the extent people did resist, they were subdued physically and put in plastic cuffs and held.

They then were placed aboard helicopters and moved to some other location, whether it was Kabul or Kandahar I don't recall. And they were then interrogated, and after a period of some days, the individuals were released.

I think that the way to characterize it is that there -- it is -- it appears to the people who reported to me that, in fact, these individuals were not Taliban or Al Qaeda, number one; number two, that the suggestion that anyone was mistreated while in captivity was not correct.

RUMSFELD: There is very likely a situation where some of the people resisted being subdued and may have been bruised in that process. But in the suggestion that someone was bruised or harmed in some way after they were in captivity is not the case.

Just to kind of recap what took place there: We have -- we know there are large numbers of Al Qaeda and Taliban that are still loose in the country. We pick up intelligence that they are threatening U.S. forces in various parts of the country.

The individuals involved in this instance used, in my view, their best judgment. They measured and watched the situation over a period of time before acting. Instead of acting from the air, they decided it would be appropriate to act from the ground. They have instructions from me and from their commanders to be leaning forward, not back, that we do have a high interest in finding Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists and supporters of terrorists so that we can gather intelligence and prevent further attacks and prevent attacks on U.S. forces and coalition forces in the country as well as attacks on the interim government in the country.

The forces that went in, in the instances where they were not fired upon, did not use lethal force. In instances where they were fired on, they did use lethal force, which is exactly what their rules of engagement provide.

My impression is that they did their jobs, and it is a difficult situation that they're dealing with, and they used good judgment throughout the process.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, just a brief follow up, if I may? Since these people were not Al Qaeda and were not Taliban, would you say, in retrospect, that the raid was a mistake, and can we take it from what you've said that no disciplinary action at all will be involved?

RUMSFELD: Let me try to use my words. I do not think it is a mistake for people to observe carefully and make a judgment about behavior on the ground, and then make a calculation that there is compelling evidence of Taliban or Al Qaeda activity, but not sufficiently compelling to use air power, instead to go in on the ground.

RUMSFELD: I think that is certainly no mistake.

And once going in on the ground, it seems to me, it is no mistake at all if you're fired on to fire back. And we expect people to defend themselves and to take exactly the action that, at least at the moment, I'm aware they took.

QUESTION: And no disciplinary action.

RUMSFELD: Why would there be? I can't imagine why there would be any.

QUESTION: In your review of this, you say you're looking back for the lessons learned. Where then is the error in the persuasive and compelling information that you said...

RUMSFELD: I don't think it is an error. I think it's just a fact that circumstances on the ground in Afghanistan are difficult. It's untidy. It is not a neat situation where all the good guys are here and the bad guys are there. It is a difficult situation.

And I think all you can do is exactly what was done, is to be serious about pursuing Al Qaeda and Taliban, to make judgments based on experience and best information as to the kinds of behavior that could suggest the possibility of Al Qaeda or Taliban people and then to, in some instances use air power, in some instance you take direct action by the ground.

QUESTION: Would you be a little more forthcoming, perhaps, General, telling us what gave these persuasive indications?

RUMSFELD: I'd rather not.

QUESTION: Were these citizens that were acting as though they were...

RUMSFELD: There are a whole series of behavior patterns.

QUESTION: Because there is a lot of people then who were innocents here that were killed. What is happening to them?

RUMSFELD: Well, wait a second. Let's not call them innocents. We don't know quite what they were. They were people who fired on our forces.

QUESTION: Do you know how many or -- one? I mean, 10 or 15 people were killed.

RUMSFELD: That's right. And they were in a compound, and our people approached. And the one compound did not fire at them, and they were not killed. And the other compound did fire at them, and they were killed.

QUESTION: Well, asking, though, is there some indication that you had that... RUMSFELD: Sure, there are a lot of things that the people on the ground look for that give them indication that there may be Al Qaeda or Taliban people operating in an area.

For me to sit here and list all of the different types of things that they might look at would simply tell the world things that people ought not to do, so that they would not be found and, it seems to me, it would be unuseful from the standpoint of the men and women in the armed services in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Have you ascertained who these people were?

RUMSFELD: Yes. They were apparently individuals who were associated in one way or another with one of the leaders in that area called, I believe, Yan Mohammed (ph), if I'm not mistaken.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, the signature, though, did any of that information for the signature come from non-U.S. forces, in other words perhaps from some local Afghans who may have had (OFF- MIKE)


QUESTION: They all came from U.S. forces?

RUMSFELD: That's my understanding. I could be wrong, but that's my understanding.

QUESTION: I was in that very village three days after the raids.

RUMSFELD: Were you?

QUESTION: And there seemed to be considerable discrepancies between what you're saying and what the locals reported in very large numbers, including the fact that it seems that U.S. forces had no interpreters with them, that the people in the building where 19 people were killed were shouting that, "We're friends, we're friends," in Pashtun, that most of them were found dead in their beds, that -- there were considerable other discrepancies that don't match with what you're reporting here.

Is there any intention to go further into this case, especially the fact that the building that was hit, where 19 people were reportedly killed, was in fact a collection point for weapons that were surrendered by the Taliban to people we were told associated with Mr. Karzai?

RUMSFELD: I've never heard or seen or watched an incident where there were not various reports and discrepancies about what happened. If you watch a car accident and ask five people standing on the street what took place, they will come up with different versions of what took place. We know that.

I don't doubt for a minute that what you're saying is what you found. I also don't doubt for a minute that what I have just said is what the people who went in to look at the situation found and reported back to me.

For example, the difference between 19 and 14. All I know is I was told 14. That is what these fine young men and women who do this work for the United States armed forces reported back that was their best judgment was that there were 14. Your number is 19. I don't doubt that either of you counted bodies. It's hard to do. They're buried promptly in that country. I don't know how to sort that type of thing any better than I've done.

QUESTION: Secretary, these seems to be a disagreement between your department and the State Department as to how to restore peace and stability to Afghanistan.

The State Department, we're told, wants to beef up the security force and spread it out to other cities beyond Kabul. You said yesterday that you would be more willing and would prefer to put your assets and the assets of this department into training and building up an Afghan army. And yet, it will take more than six months, perhaps, to do that.

Will that give you sufficient time to stave off what seems to be an impending civil war in that part of the world, in Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: My goodness gracious, there's a lot of things in there I'll have to disaggregate and comment on.

You said first, I believe, something to the effect that there seems to be a disagreement between my department and the State Department on this issue. Not to my knowledge. I'm aware that there was a front-page story in the newspaper that suggested that, but if there is such a disagreement, it has not come to my attention.

The second thing you said, it would take six months, I believe, to do something one way, and the implication being it would take a different amount of time to do it another way. I don't know that is the case in either instance.

Third, I believe what I said yesterday -- I don't know what I said, but I know what I think...


... and I assume it's what I said -- the situation on the ground is as you suggest; it is very difficult. It is dangerous. There is a need for security. The chairman of the interim authority is properly concerned about security in the country. There is at least one neighbor that's been doing things in the area that have been somewhat unsettling for Afghanistan.


RUMSFELD: They've clearly been providing some weapons and doing some things in that area that are not helpful, I don't think.

There are still some controversies between various elements among the anti-Taliban forces. There are still pockets of Al Qaeda and Taliban people there. are criminals, there are drug traffickers. It is not a pretty picture. It's a difficult situation.

There isn't anyone in the United States government who I know, who I've been in a meeting with, or been reported on being in any kind of a meeting, from any department, that doesn't recognize that and isn't aware that it's in our interest, as a country, to take the kinds of steps that would be appropriate to assist that country in providing a more stable and secure environment, so that humanitarian people could move around, so that displaced persons would return home, so that refugees would return, so that the economy could begin to flourish again.

RUMSFELD: As a matter of fact, Dick Myers mentioned this morning when we were visiting that while he was there he talked to people in the International Security Assistance Force and they do believe the economy is picking up and you can see more activity on the streets and more energy and vitality in the country, which is a good sign.

How might all of that be done? Well, there's a variety of things across the spectrum that you could do. One is, the United States could go in and just police the whole country with lots of troops, say for the sake of argument, 20,000; 25,000; 30,000. Another country could go in to do that.

Another way it could be done is, one country could go to one city and do it, and another country could go to another city and do it.

A third way it could be done is the way the chairman of the interim authority would like it done, and that is, assist in creating an Afghan army that wouldn't be leaving in two, four, eight, 10, 12 months and would be there, and would be mulitregional and that the investment of time and money go into providing that kind of assistance.

Another way to do it would be to decide to not put your time and money and effort in to that, but put it into building up a more permanent, much larger International Security Assistance Force.

Now, which way is the best way? I don't know. Which way is the fastest way? I don't know. Which one would be the cost-effective? I don't know.

Those are things that are being discussed. I've announced here that we have people in the region conducting an assessment at the present time. Fahim Khan, the interim defense minister is addressing the subject.

Mr. Karzai is addressing the subject. All of us are interested in doing that. The president's special envoy, Zal Khalilzad, has been interesting himself in that subject. It's been discussed at various levels in the government. But how it'll all come out or what I'll think when we finally hear back from the assessment team, I don't know.

What I expressed yesterday, it seems to me, is logical. And it is this: To the extent we can put our effort in time and money into creating something that lives there and is going to stay there rather than something that's temporary and is going to be pulled out at some point, with the rest of injecting instability back into the equation, my view is that would be preferable.

RUMSFELD: If it turns out it can't be done as rapidly or as effectively or in a way that is cost-effective, then clearly we do something else.

But I think the whole premise of your question probably lacks substance in fact, notwithstanding the report that you read.

QUESTION: Do I get a D, then, on that question?

RUMSFELD: No, the question was fine because it was right off the front page of the New York Times.


And I'm happy to answer it. If there is such a controversy taking place -- I've been out of town, and so has the general. I've been talking -- he was talking to our relatively modest number of troops in Afghanistan; I was talking to our somewhat larger number of troops in Salt Lake City at the Olympics and Nellis Air Force Base.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, yesterday European Command confirmed that coalition aircraft were threatened, patrolling the no-fly zone in northern Iraq, and there hasn't been a response yet. Previously, of course, we've struck back when they've been threatened.

My question is not about a response to a threat, but if we, the U.S., identifies a weapons-of-mass-destruction facility in Iraq, would we now act alone to take it out?

RUMSFELD: We certainly wouldn't discuss it in a press conference.

QUESTION: You have mentioned that one of the missions of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, using your words, is to "prevent attacks on the interim government."

Can you explain a little bit further, with more precision, your policy at the moment about when U.S. military forces will in fact step in to prevent attacks on the interim government? Only if you believe Taliban or Al Qaeda are involved? You had stepped in in some of the warfare going on several weeks back in eastern Afghanistan when the interim government forces were threatened. What is your policy on that right now?

And my other question is...

RUMSFELD: Wait a second, let's -- that's a long one.

QUESTION: As long as I get my follow-up.

RUMSFELD: That's a long one.

Our policy has not changed at all. There was some speculation in a news story about the fact that we were taking sides of some sort; we were not. In fact, the activity -- I've forgotten exactly when that was -- but it was, I think, February 19 there was a story about a change in our policy, the implication being that, because we had used airstrikes, that our policy might have changed because we seemed to be taking sides. We weren't.

These were instances where there were friendly Afghan forces and U.S. special forces proceeding on the ground; came to roadblocks, came to situations where they were fired upon. They called in air power.

To go to the narrower point of to what extent one might support or help to defend the interim government, it seems to me that that's difficult to know.

RUMSFELD: First of all, we have very few forces on the ground. There are a lot of Afghan forces on the ground. There is an international security assistance force in the town where the interim government resides, and it is their task to provide that kind of security.

Now, we do have -- have agreed to assist them with some intelligence. We've assisted with some logistics. We've agreed to be available as a quick reaction force in the event there was some difficulties there. But our hope is that the Afghan forces that exist and have prevailed over the Taliban will be the ones who will provide security during this period, and that the international security assistance force would provide it in the Kabul area.


QUESTION: For General Myers, can you give us some of your thoughts on, having come back from the region recently, is there an appetite there for a long-term U.S. presence by their base, smaller amounts of troops, pre-positioned equipment? What's the feeling?

MYERS: I think I'd characterize it this way. The appetite there is for sustained and meaningful military-to-military engagement.

And as you know, in a place like Uzbekistan, where we're getting great support for our operation down in Karsi (ph) Khanabad, we had a relationship through NATO and Partnership for Peace with Uzbekistan. And what we're talking about is to continue that relationship and have a bilateral component, a U.S.-Uzbekistan, probably more robust in terms of training, training there, training here, training their people here through IMET and other ways. So that's what we're really talking about.

Now, I think we're also talking about having the ability to get access, perhaps, to places there. But in terms of -- there's been no decision made about permanent troop presence in the region or anything like that.

QUESTION: Do you think now, having come back, that maybe we should have some established bases and pre-positioned equipment there?

RUMSFELD: I think to support what the secretary just described are our objectives in Afghanistan, we're going to need some logistics hubs. And we've established -- we have a couple of those, one in Kyrgyzstan. They've been gracious to give us some room out at Manas (ph), which is their international airport, serves their capital, and down at Karsi (ph) Khanabad as well.

We may have a very small reception presence there. I mean, who can say because we don't know how long we're going to be in Afghanistan. We don't know what the logistics requirements are going to be in our training efforts, if we go that way for an Afghan army. And there's a lot of questions out here.

But basically, it's just a more habitual and maybe a deeper military-to-military relationship.

QUESTION: Can either of you provide us with some insight into whether or not it has become necessary to fine tune the criteria for when an airstrike is conducted against a potential target, or when a direct action -- on the basis of what you have learned from Hazar Qadam?

QUESTION: And then, is there any investigation under way for the situation in Zhawar Kili, where the CIA attacked and killed, apparently, three people, or is that just being left?

RUMSFELD: The first has to be answered this way, that the criteria are being revised all the time as people learn. And from day one, the more one learns, you gain experience as to how people behave and what seems to make sense and what doesn't make sense and what might be a clue for this or a clue for that. And they do that continuously, and that's still going on.

QUESTION: It was January 23 when...


RUMSFELD: I'm sure if you talk to the folks on the ground and asked them the question, are they constantly making judgments as they look in different parts of the country where different behavior patterns exist? I'm sure that different behavior patterns exist between the Taliban and the Al Qaeda. It is a certainty that that is happening on a regular basis.

QUESTION: But that's not the question, of course. The question is, as a direct result of what you have learned from the attack on January 23...

RUMSFELD: And I gave you the answer to the question. The answer is, I am certain that's the case. You would have to ask CINCCENT, and he would have to go down and ask the people at the tactical levels who are the ones that are involved in making those kinds of judgments.

And you can be certain -- I can be certain, without knowing, I can be absolutely certain that the people involved look at each instance and continue to learn and continue to make revisions in how they approach things and how they look at things, and they get better and better at it every day. QUESTION: What about Zhawar Kili?

RUMSFELD: I'm not sure that I like the word "investigation" that you used in your question, so I'd go back to my earlier comment.

My understanding is that there have, in fact, been people who have gone up there and have, in fact, gathered, as I've announced from this podium, various kinds of materials and are examining them. And I do not have a report as to what they have found in those examinations. MYERS: I'll just give you a little bit more on that, how this learning goes on.

When I was in Afghanistan just the other day, yesterday I guess, the best I can tell you.


You lose track. All I know is we flew for about 20 hours, and here we are.

The intelligence effort inside the country is absolutely superb. It's a multi-agency civil law enforcement, our civil law enforcement. It has contact with people that are out with the Afghans.

It is, of course, a learning body. I mean, that's what they do. They've learned from the first time they've set up to now. It's constantly changing.

You know, somebody said it's a bunch of (inaudible)-pound brains on operator bodies, which in our parlance means we've got some really smart people that are not only doing the intelligence part but are also the operators. And they're the ones that make these judgments and come up with these recommendations. And it's the finest group of Americans, the smartest guys and gals that I've ever seen that are there working. And so...

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that question. When you were in Afghanistan, did you have some discussions about these episodes where some of the local folks were killed? And were the Afghans concerned that not enough due diligence was made on the part of the Americans before these actions were taken?

MYERS: No. In our discussions, nothing but support for our actions. And when I was talking to the folks that are developing intelligence and so forth, it was on the future, not on the past. I was leaving that up to CENTCOM.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense -- do they have some suggestions for you as to how to differentiate between friend and foe in these...

MYERS: No, we didn't get into that.

RUMSFELD: We'll take two more questions. One here and then one way in the back.

QUESTION: Have you personally been given an adequate explanation or seen any photographic evidence to refute these claims that some of these victims at Hazar Qadam were shot in their beds or dead and then were found handcuffed?

QUESTION: And second, given what you know now about the incident there, should the U.S. formally apologize for what happened at Hazar Qadam?

RUMSFELD: The people that went in to review what took place in that situation and who were there have been met with, talked to, and I have received a report back.

And as I said earlier, there's no question but that there are different versions of what took place. We received no information that would validate the suggestions in your question.

MYERS: In fact, Mr. Secretary, it's just the opposite, I think, in -- we know that there were people that presented themselves that weren't armed and were not shot. Those that were shooting back, we dealt with with force.

You put the quick plastic straps on to subdue people, and some of those may have been shot. So while they're waiting for medical care, you handcuff them. But they certainly weren't shot in their handcuffs. I mean, that's an after-the-fact situation.

RUMSFELD: Which is not to say a person could not go in, see something, and go away with the impression you just gave.

MYERS: It's possible maybe somebody died. Because with their cuffs on, thinking, "Well, they were shot with a mullet (ph)." That's not how that would work.

QUESTION: And a formal apology, Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: My impression is that the CINCCENT people in the region have talked to Karzai, have talked to Yan Mohammad (ph), and are fully aware that, to the extent people were detained who, in retrospect, need not have been detained, that those kinds of assurances were made.

RUMSFELD: With respect to the people that fired on the American forces and then were killed, clearly, in retrospect, that's unfortunate. On the other hand, one cannot fault the people who fired back in self-defense. At least I can't. I'm sure others feel they can. But I think, from everything I've been told, the people involved in this operation handled themselves in an appropriate way, both during and after the incident.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the Defense Department prepared to resume the annual military-to-military consultations with China?

RUMSFELD: I think the way the question is phrased suggests that we're not having relationships. I do think we currently have some connections.

And what happened was, if you'll recall, after the EP-3 incident, we -- I put a stop to it. It struck me that with American citizens being held prisoner in China it was not an appropriate time to make port visits or have courtesy calls. Once they were released, we then have been reviewing things on a case-by-case basis.

And my impression is that, at the present time, decisions are being made, yes, no or maybe, depending what it looks like and whether or not it would be deemed to be something that would be at least as beneficial to the United States as it would be to China. And I'm also quite certain some port visits are still going on.

So I would say that we're in probably a rhythm that's fairly predictable at the present time.

QUESTION: I was referring specifically to the defense consultative talks, the annual talks of a high level.

RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. I think that's at the deputy assistant or the assistant secretary level. My recollection is that these kinds of things are going to be discussed, probably, during the trip that the president's going to be making to China.

On the other hand, with respect to that particular meeting, my recollection is, we offered to meet with them. You're talking about the thing that talked about maritime incidents that was...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) no. That has gone on. It's the annual -- I think it started in '97 or '98, the defense consultative talks. They sort of lay out the blueprint for exchanges.

RUMSFELD: Then I just don't have an answer for that particular forum.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) more broadly, in terms of China's...

RUMSFELD: We're really limited on time. Why don't we do one per person.


QUESTION: I find it kind of odd that you cited that they were shooting in self-defense when, in fact, they were the ones who were -- the special forces were the ones who were attacking in this incident.

RUMSFELD: Trying to think what a better world would be. Here, you have two special forces teams. They move toward two separate compounds. In one case, the compound did not fire at them, and no one was killed, is my recollection.

RUMSFELD: And they were in fact detained.

Was someone killed in that compound, as well?

QUESTION: The first compound which is in fact not in Hazar Qadam, the town is Oruzgan. In the first compound, which was the district administration building, there were two people killed.

RUMSFELD: OK. And afterward, the detainees were taken?

QUESTION: Yes, sir. And in the second compound, which is in a section of Oruzgan called Hazar Qadam, there was a school, and there were, according to villagers, 19 people killed in that school.

RUMSFELD: And our report is, I believe, 14 total. But I guess different people would use different words.

It seems to me if you were in a Special Forces team and you were moving towards a compound that you believed contained Al Qaeda after a good deal of attention over several weeks, and you made a decision not to use air against it, and you wanted to go into the ground and try to determine what it was, and you approached and you began taking fire, that you would in fact defend yourself by shooting at them.

I can see where you would say, well, is that really self-defense if you're in their neighborhood and it's not your neighborhood.

But maybe there's a better way to characterize it.

QUESTION: If you're in the compound, and it's at night, and you see armed men coming at you, then it would seem to me that it would be in acting in self-defense to fire at them.

RUMSFELD: You can look at it that way as well, I suppose, even though you weren't fired on. Someone could say that they saw someone coming up with a weapon, and even though the weapon wasn't pointing at him, and it wasn't being fired at them, that in their own self-defense they decided to shoot. Someone could say that. My impression is someone could say it either way.

QUESTION: Did you get any report on how long the exchange of fire lasted? I mean, for 14, 15 people to be killed, was there a real gun battle that went on here, or was it...

RUMSFELD: I have no length of time, do you -- have you heard any reports on that? (LAUGHTER)

You should come up here with me.


It's minutes. It doesn't take long.

QUESTION: According to the locals, it began -- the operation itself began very late on the 23rd and it continued into the 24th until about 3 o'clock in the morning. So, yes, it continued for some length of time.

RUMSFELD: We're going -- we'll take this last question.

QUESTION: Could you explain if there's any special significance to the fact that you've been pointed out these people were loyal to Mohammad (ph)?

RUMSFELD: No significance at all. That just stuck in my head. RUMSFELD: I read a report, and they apparently were part of -- in some way associated with him.

QUESTION: And were the weapons and ammunitions that were found there and that were later blown up, were they from Taliban collections? Was this a government collection point?

RUMSFELD: I do not know.

QUESTION: So you don't know the origination...

RUMSFELD: It could have been what has been indicated here, or it could have been something entirely different.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what about the attack on the convoy in the Paktia province? Have you gotten a report on that one yet? That was another one that was about the same time.

RUMSFELD: I don't have one.

QUESTION: Still nothing on that one? These were the leaders that were supposedly going to Hamid Karzai's inauguration.

RUMSFELD: No. I don't have anything. I'd have to go back and look at that one.

Thank you very much.

HEMMER: Sometimes contentious, rather, hearing today, or a press briefing anyway, with Donald Rumsfeld there. And two main topics discussed. One is this raid, on a compound north of Kandahar, going back on the 23rd of January. We now know, through the defense secretary, that there were people inside that compound that were not al Qaeda and were not Taliban.

The Pentagon reporting 14 casualties, there. Some reporters on the scene say it was higher than that, possibly as high as 19. But the Pentagon clearly defending U.S. forces there and their use of force, saying that they were fired upon first in that raid, again going about a month ago.

The other matter has to do with the story on the cover of the "New York Times" earlier today, that said that there was a report out, through the CIA that the threat and the possibility of civil war in Afghanistan is imminent.

We are hearing, through David Ensor and others in Washington, that, actually, the focus of that report dealt more with the possibility that it was not imminent, right now, in terms of civil war. But clearly, through Donald Rumsfeld's answers there, you know the U.S. government and the Pentagon searching for long-term security answers on the ground in Afghanistan. It is far from it right now. It might be easier said than done, based on what we're hearing over the past week or 10 day's time. Donald Rumsfeld saying, "How will it come out? I do not know." That's our briefing from the Pentagon today. 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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