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Pentagon Briefing

Aired March 15, 2002 - 11:13   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCOHR: Let's go from Jerusalem to the Pentagon. This is Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the daily media briefing.

Let's listen in.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: Well, it's morning still. You really want to wait a minute or two?

QUESTION: No.

RUMSFELD: No? To heck with them, huh? That's a nice way to treat your colleagues.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: That's a tough crowd. They wanted to go without you, I want you to know that.

(LAUGHTER)

Operation Anaconda continues in the area south of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The fighting is winding down, as you know, although there has been some in the last 24 hours.

Coalition forces are, for the most part, in an exploitation phase, doing the difficult work of searching caves and clearing areas where the battles and fighting has taken place.

Our forces are finding weapons, ammunition, some intelligence information.

There's been some discussion about how many of the enemy have been killed during this past, whatever it's been, eight or 10 days, during the course of Anaconda. There are clearly a lot of people who are willing to guess at those numbers; I'm not one of them.

We can't yet know how many fighters or bodies are still in the caves that have not been searched, or how many dead Al Qaeda were buried, which is, of course, their custom to do that very rapidly. Nor can we know precisely how many have escaped, although we suggest there are people in all of those categories. We do know, of course, that very few have surrendered. That we can know.

However, progress in one area of Afghanistan does not mean that we can relax elsewhere. There are still pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters at a number of locations in Afghanistan, and certainly there are others just across the various borders of that country that would like to come back.

They're determined to attack U.S. military forces and U.S. interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere to attempt to show their strength.

Six months have now passed since September 11, yet on Tuesday of this week, six months and one day after the attacks, more than a dozen additional bodies were pulled from the ruins of the World Trade Center, including firefighters who loved their lives in the burning towers.

They're a reminder of the fight we face. We are fighting because of firemen and friends and families and neighbors who are under attack, and we continue to be threatened. We lost thousands of Americans on September 11, and if we don't stop the terrorists, the next attacks could clearly be considerably worse.

At the outset of this campaign I outlined our objectives for Afghanistan, and they were to drive the Taliban from power, to end the use of Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists, and to provide humanitarian relief for the Afghan people, and to help the Afghan interim authority restore some stability in Afghanistan. We're making good progress.

Looking forward, we will continue to work with Mr. Karzai and the Afghan interim authority so that the Taliban and Al Qaeda will not return and are not able to create a haven for terrorists out of that country again. And we need to make sure that the well-trained terrorists who left Afghanistan do not set up sanctuaries in other nations.

We are providing training and equipment to other governments that are threatened by terrorists within their borders in the Philippines and in Yemen. As President Bush has said, there must be no refuge for terrorists and no sanctuaries.

One final note, in 1802, 200 years ago tomorrow, the United States Military Academy at West Point was founded by President Thomas Jefferson.

For two centuries, the long, gray line has marched into the history books, heroic in war and vigilant in peace.

Over the decades, graduates of West Point have become leaders in literally every walk of life. And today, many of those leaders are active in the global war against terrorism, men and women serving in far-flung places across the globe. We respect their service to our country, and we thank them.

I did the honors for the 200th anniversary of West Point, rather than General Pace.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I thought you were going to say 200 years ago.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: Sir?

PACE: Thank you, sir.

I just got back from a short trip to the European theater. I had a chance to go into Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia to visit our commanders and our troops, and that's just a great thing to do. The dedication, the focus on the mission, the pride that they all demonstrate when you look them in the eye and shake their hands just really makes you feel good as an American to see what they're doing over there. So to everyone there who may be watching this right now who hosted me, I appreciate the opportunity.

The secretary already mentioned Operation Anaconda. Troops involved in that operation right now are down below about 1,000. About a half are U.S. and the other half are Afghan and coalition forces. And they continue, as the secretary said, to finish their following (ph) sweeps of the area and to exploit the caves and the other locations that they found over there.

And we will continue to look for other pockets of resistance and continue to seek out Taliban and Al Qaeda and to attack.

And with that, we will answer your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you pointed out, it's six months after the attack in New York and Washington. Have you made any decision yet on the military commission/trials of the detainees you are holding?

RUMSFELD: We have. We have made no decisions with respect to who might or might not be assigned to a commission. We have, however, pretty much completed the work as to how the commissions generally will be conducted in the event someone is ultimately appointed to be tried by a commission.

As I mentioned I think on earlier occasions, what we've done as we've come to conclusions with six, eight, 10, 12 of the critical issues, and then some of the decisions can be left to the convening authorities as is the case in most judicial systems.

So we've not answered every single question, but we've answered the ones that we need to in the event that someone is assigned.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) outline the decisions?

RUMSFELD: I can't. I could, but I won't.

(LAUGHTER) RUMSFELD: The reason I say that is because it's not something that ought to be done briefly. If you'll recall, we all agree that our criminal justice system can produce just outcomes. And it is quite different from the uniformed court of military justice which can also produce just outcomes.

So the point being that you can have different systems, each of which, in their own way, produce an outcome that is acceptable to society. So, too, with the military commissions. The answers to the questions are going to be different from both the criminal system and the uniformed court of military justice.

And the reason they're different is because of the differences in the kinds of people that will be tried and the needs for security and protection of the people involved, whether it be panel members or witnesses or counsel and so forth.

As you may know, from the World Trade Center trial some years ago, I understand that some of those people have still been needing security today, and so we're going to be handling this in a way that's different, although it too will produce a just outcome.

I give you that background because if I were to try to do a quick cursory summary, it would be pieces. And it seems to me it's critically important for people to look at the totality of it.

Therefore, when we do release it, it will be released in writing, there will be questions and answers. And we will see that there is as little confusion as is humanly possible, because we and the individuals we have discussed this with inside the government, the people we've discussed it with who were experts from outside the government -- a very distinguished group of people -- we're comfortable that it will produce a just, fair, balanced outcome.

But I do not want it leaked out piecemeal in a way that people start taking a single element of it and shaking it in their teeth, like a dog, and concluding that there's something wrong with it because it's different from the criminal justice system or the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, because they will be different; otherwise, there wouldn't be any reason to have had commissions.

So with that long answer to your first question, we'll pray there's not a follow-up.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to that quickly, so that, perhaps, readers and listeners will not worry about what you've said.

RUMSFELD: You could ask that we do that quickly, and I would rather do it well than quickly. And so what we're doing is, we're in the process of preparing papers and questions and answers and getting expert lawyers to read the over and make sure that no one can say that something's wrong with it. So it takes a little time to do things well. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mention in your opening statement the desire to help the interim government achieve stability. Where are you in your thinking now about the U.S. role in that and the possibility of expanding either a peacekeeping mission or some other kind of international security role that's currently limited to just Kabul?

RUMSFELD: We're farther along than we were last week, in this sense; there have been discussions taking place between the Brits that are heading up the International Security Assistance Force, the United States, and some countries that are potential ISAF countries for the period going forward toward the end of this year.

As you know, the current group, I believe, expires in June. The current ISAF commitment was through some early date in June.

We all feel that that needs to be extended beyond into the -- toward the end of the year so that the successor government that takes over isn't faced with the absence in Kabul of such an organization.

There have been some people who have speculated about the possibility of expanding ISAF in the press and elsewhere. One of the problems with that concept is, there's no one who's volunteering to do it. That is to say, the people who are the likely successors to the Brits as the lead are not enamored of that idea. The other people who are currently involved are not enamored of that idea. And I don't know that -- the line of countries volunteering to step up and do that is a very short one, which suggests to me that that is not going to happen. It's not an opinion of mine, or it's not a preference necessarily, it's an observation that I don't know of any volunteers.

Second fact, the situation in Afghanistan is relatively peaceful. Now, I use that word "relatively." That is to say, there is not a serious security problem generally in the country.

The forces that exist in various parts of the country, including ours as well as the Afghan forces and other ISAF forces in Kabul, are creating a situation that has been relatively peaceful.

Now, will it be tomorrow or the next week? No. Somebody could get killed get, for sure. And there's still a lot of land mines, and there's crime. But there is not a critical security problem at the present time.

We do have the ability to assist with quick reaction in the event there is a security problem that is terrorist-related or -- so that's a fact.

Our government is working with the interim authority and others to begin that process of training. They're going to need -- the interim authority -- the government of Afghanistan is ultimately going to need a border patrol, it's going to need policemen, and it's going to need an army. And the ISAF is currently beginning that training process, and we have offered to help with that training process and other countries will.

So it isn't for the United States government to make a decision. It's more for the countries that are willing to be helpful.

Someone also is going to have to raise some money. And it's very likely that the United States and the U.K. and the country that may very well succeed the U.K. in the lead will be out to other nations around the world pointing out the fact that if we want this to be a secure situation, we do need the ISAF and we best come up with some money to help fund this interim period.

Regrettably, the money that was -- I apologize, I am taking too long on these questions, but they're important questions.

The so-called Tokyo conference that raised money for Afghanistan, regrettably, had a lot of that money phased over one, two, three, four, five years; number one. And number two, a lot of it was in kind; maybe food, maybe some other kinds of assistance. And third, to my knowledge, none of it was for security. And without security in a country, and nothing else happens.

So it was unfortunate, in my view, that there was not a reasonable pot of money that could be helpful to Afghanistan getting their security situation going.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I would call on your reputation as a straight shooter to see if you clear up something. All this week, the Washington Times has run a series of articles that suggest that a pilot from the Gulf War is still alive and being held captive in Baghdad. The public statements from government officials have been a little ambiguous.

Can you tell us just straight out whether you have any credible evidence that suggests a pilot is being held alive in Iraq for more than a decade since the Gulf War?

RUMSFELD: This is a very well-known case. It is a pilot that was shot down during the Gulf War. In that general time frame, he was declared killed in action. At some later point in more recent years, he was declared moved from killed in action to missing in action.

We have a very real interest in his circumstance, if he's alive -- indeed, in knowing about his circumstance even if he's not alive. And one would hope and pray that he is alive. We do not know.

There has been a very serious effort on the part of the United States government over a sustained period to try to gather as much information as possible. And some of it is information that is from sources that require it to be classified; some of it isn't. Some of it is speculation. Some of it -- most of it is unauthoritative, that is to say, it is coming from people who heard from somebody about something or believe there might be a situation that could be characterized as encouraging from our standpoint.

But I do not have any -- I have not seen any intelligence on this in the last week, myself.

QUESTION: You say you hope he's alive. But do you have any evidence that would lead you to believe that he's still alive and being held at this point?

RUMSFELD: And I have answered that to the best of my ability. I have not seen -- you mention the articles during this course of the week; I have read them. I have not seen any current intelligence in the last week that would enable me to cast additional light.

How about you?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) prior to the last week?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I've seen intelligence over the last year on this subject, because we're interested and we ask the...

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, since you're waxing eloquent this morning, wondering if you would...

RUMSFELD: You want shorter answers, I know.

QUESTION: No, no, I'd like a rather lengthy answer on this one, if I may.

The leak of the Nuclear Posture Review, has that caused you personal embarrassment, particularly since your counterpart was here at the time from Russia?

And has the content of this leak, as much as we are able to ascertain it, caused or is causing serious problems or even a rift between this country and Russia, particularly since the summit is coming up in May?

RUMSFELD: The answer is no. I am disturbed by the leak because I think it's just enormously unprofessional. Is it embarrassing? No, it's not embarrassing. It's just a fact of life in Washington, D.C., in the 21st century that there are a lot of people running around who are perfectly willing to compromise the national security of the United States of America, and I don't like it. But is it embarrassing? No.

It's a very fine piece of work, the Nuclear Posture Review. It has not caused any difficulties with Russia. The Russians had been briefed on it previously, as had our allies. It was even fortuitous, as a matter of fact, because Minister Ivanov was here and we could give him a personal full briefing on it and discuss any of the issues that came up.

There's nothing surprising or particularly notable in there with respect to Russia, except for the fact that the president of the United States has indicated that he is going to draw down deployed offensive strategic nuclear weapons by some two-thirds, which certainly ought not to disturb Russia or anyone else.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up, if I may? Mr. Secretary, a quick follow-up? Quick follow-up, sir? Precedent, established here long ago.

RUMSFELD: Everyone in favor of a quick follow-up, hands up. (LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

Thank you, brethren.

It seems that the one key disagreement here, perhaps, in the shift in U.S. policy is that, if the leak is correct, five of the seven nations do not now posess nuclear weapons. This seems to be a shift, almost shifting toward an offensive deterrence rather than the defensive deterrence of the Cold War.

RUMSFELD: The threshold for the use of nuclear weapons has not changed.

The Cold War is over. The whole orientation of the United States of America for many decades was to the Soviet Union, properly so. They had, and even today have, the largest number of offensive strategic nuclear weapons.

We don't consider them an enemy today, so the orientation of our nuclear posture is significantly different today than it needed to be during the Cold War.

Other countries are interested in developing nuclear weapons and engaged in activities that demonstrate their intent and their purpose. And the United States is -- it's perfectly proper for the United States to take note of those things and be sensitive to them.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the body count issue; some of the very rough estimates of the numbers killed did come from this podium, as well as from Bagram, and they were in quite a contrast to your determination earlier in the campaign to avoid any kind of speculation about that.

First of all, how was it that we did begin to hear estimates of enemy killed? Do you now, in hindsight, feel that was a mistake to make any reference to it? Can you explain that a little bit?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, who knows?

Different people have different views as to how to handle things. I guess I'm so old I watched the Vietnam War and the body counting and never found it impressive.

I know what I know, and I know what I don't know. And how can I stand up here when I know I don't know how many people were killed? I don't. And I don't think anyone does. But there may be people who are in positions where we can be more comfortable estimating.

If you recall, when the attacks took place on the United States on September 11, there were two locations, one was in New York and one was here. New York made a series of estimates of how many people were killed, and they started in many, many thousands and went down by a thousand and down by a thousand and down by a thousand and down by a thousand over a period of six months and they just found more bodies.

We didn't do that here. I said to everyone, "I do not want to make an estimate. We don't know." The only thing I did do was when the estimates in the press were 600 or 700 or 800, I started tapping them down. I said, "We have no reason to believe that the number's that high." And that's all we did.

Now was that the right way to handle it? I don't know. In retrospect, I'm comfortable with it. The reason we're not giving you numbers is we don't know.

PACE: If I might add to that, having been a rifle platoon leader in Vietnam, asking questions in Washington about how many dead today is truly counterproductive, and can seriously negatively impact the safety of our forces on the ground. We want them to be focused on executing their mission, doing it safely, taking care of their fellow soldiers and Marines and getting the job done.

And at the tactical level, it may be important to a tactical commander how many killed there are. But at the strategic level, what we are about is to free Afghanistan from Al Qaeda and Taliban and to ensure that that country does not become again a haven for terrorists. So at this level asking questions about how many dead today is truly counterproductive.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) which I thought meant that it automatically (inaudible).

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Can you -- either of you or both of you -- give an overall assessment of Operation Anaconda?

It's now winding down. This was a major operation. Can you provide an assessment of what you have actually accomplished versus what you had planned or hoped to accomplish? And more specifically can you address the question that's come up in some press reports about so-called escapees over the border and the suggestion in some accounts that the Pakistanis have not sealed off that border area quite as tightly as we had hoped -- as the United States had hoped?

PACE: Started out with an area of about 65 to 75 square miles inside of which there were several suspected pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda; had a force of upwards of over 2,000, not only of Afghan, U.S., but of coalition forces working together very well and supported by aircraft -- over 100 plus sorties per day dropping ordnance in support.

Since the operation began, they have, in fact, gotten to the point now where they're going through the final sweeps of the area, looking into the caves that have been uncovered and those types of things. The enemy forces that were there, to the best of our ability to monitor, are not there now. As the secretary mentioned before, some have been killed, some have escaped. We don't know the exact numbers. But I think from the standpoint of a military operation, the intent to go in and to take this area in Afghanistan and to clear it of Taliban and Al Qaeda, that it's been highly successful to date.

RUMSFELD: I would agree.

QUESTION: There's something that was released earlier this week from a week ago, on March 6 there was a vehicle that was bombed by tactical aircraft in eastern Afghanistan. It was leaving the area, I guess, on the edge of Operation Anaconda. Women and children were in this, the release said this. We got the release a week later and one of the things that the release said was that a child was immediately taken to a military hospital.

RUMSFELD: When you say "a release," it was from...

QUESTION: A press release from Central Command.

RUMSFELD: From Central Command, good.

QUESTION: Right. A child was taken to a military hospital immediately and was, you know, in stable condition. I'm wondering why it took a week for this information to get out when it was obviously clear that a child had been at least wounded in this attack, if that child was taken to a military hospital? It looks bad, a week's delay between announcing that there were women and children killed by U.S. forces.

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know that it looks bad at all. When we discovered that this situation had occurred, the first thing one wants to do is determine what actually happened. There's a conflict going on. There are people fighting. And people are busy, both at CENTCOM and in the Anaconda region. It has been a period -- today's the 15th -- the last 10 days have been rather busy days for everybody.

And as the information was developed, I was made aware of it, discussed it with Torie. And the decision was made to make sure that that was put out. It takes some time to tell people to do that. They put it out.

I suppose that where you stand depends on where you sit, but I would say it should look good not bad. If one puts out information immediately after something happens, you end up misinforming people, as happened out of New York and did not happen out of here.

If you take a pause, try to figure out what took place, and do it properly then you have fewer things you have to correct later. And that process, seems to me, to, in fact, look worse if there is a worse.

QUESTION: And has it been determined...

RUMSFELD: Just a second. I'd like to have Pete go ahead and talk about the details of it.

You're knowledgeable, as I recall. PACE: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) a breakdown of the folks that were killed in that?

RUMSFELD: Sure.

PACE: The target itself was developed, as we do with all of our targets, with the best intelligence that we had at hand. That appeared to be then, and in retrospect still appears to have been, a correct target to be struck. The number killed were eight men, three women and three children, and the one child who, as you mentioned, was medevaced. And the belief at the time of the strike was that, the men were Al Qaeda/Taliban, and that is still the current understanding.

QUESTION: And they were medevaced by U.S. forces, Afghan forces, coalition?

PACE: I've got to check that. I'm pretty sure it was U.S. forces.

QUESTION: Did intelligence at the time indicated the women and children in that vehicle, did you only know that after the fact when the SF forces got there?

PACE: To the best of my knowledge, we only knew that after the fact.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have just returned from the subcontinent of India and you are very popular in India, among and including their military. But what they are saying, sir...

RUMSFELD: Including where?

QUESTION: Including in the military, in the army, Indian army. Because I went on the Kashmir border and all that where the Indian- Pakistani border for seven days in Kashmir.

What they are saying, sir, that you are fighting against terrorism. This is the first time that this administration officially or publicly fighting against this evil of terrorism around the globe. But now they're asking you that you are not doing enough to fight terrorism inside the last two months ago that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping, and they might come back in the theater again. In (inaudible) that's what happened. And they just went from Afghanistan into Pakistan. And now what they are saying is they have evidence out there that all these people are inside of Pakistan. How can you -- until unless you fight the terrorism in Pakistan, you can not have peace in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

RUMSFELD: There is no question but that when the Al Qaeda were concentrated and Taliban were concentrated in Afghanistan and nobody was bothering them, that they were perfectly free to stay there, come and go, conduct terrorist training camps, bring in recruits and send them out across the world to kill people. Once you go after those people, you end up killing some, capturing some and others go across the borders. And there's no question but that's true. There's also no question but that many of them we know have left -- have not stayed in neighboring countries, but have departed neighboring countries and gone elsewhere in the world; some to the Middle East and some elsewhere.

Now, are we better off today than we were? Yes. We're better off because Afghanistan is not a sanctuary for terrorists. Did we prevent everyone from going across the border and getting out of a landlocked country and going wherever it is they wish to go? No, we did not. Does that pose a slight problem for some of those countries? You bet. And I must say that I am very pleased with the way that other countries have participated and are cooperating and are arresting people.

The Pakistanis have arrested people. I know that India has been involved in dealing with the terrorist problem. Where people are being arrested in the Middle East, they're being arrested in Singapore. They're being arrested in Europe.

And those folks are on the run, and that's a good thing. The fact that we have not caught them all is a fact, and we've just got to keep working.

QUESTION: One more thing, Mr. Secretary: I'd like to bring you back, if possible, to the nuclear issue. You were extremely insistent on the fact that the ABM Treaty constrained the United States in the development of anti-missile defenses. There are legal constraints -- U.S. legal constraints on the development of new nuclear weapons, particularly low-yield nuclear weapons. Can I get your comment on the existence of those constraints and whether or not you would like to see the constraint on that development done away with, just as the ABM Treaty is going to be done away with?

RUMSFELD: Interesting connection. It's correct that I -- accurately characterized the ABM Treaty as being designed to prevent the deployment and the development of missile defense. That is exactly what it did do. So you have properly characterized it. And by June it will no longer restrain the United States and we will be able to test and develop, and at some point if we make the decision and have decided what's the best way to do it, actually deploy missile defenses.

We have made no such proposals with respect to nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: I'm aware of that. I'm asking you about whether or not...

RUMSFELD: And I'm answering.

QUESTION: ... you see that as a constraint.

RUMSFELD: If we felt that we were unduly constrained, we would be making the request for changes. And we did so with respect to the ABM Treaty, we have not done so with respect to nuclear weapons, and speculation to the contrary notwithstanding.

QUESTION: Since the fighting has wound down in the last few days, have coalition or U.S. forces or Afghan forces caught any Al Qaeda or Taliban escaping from the mountains or found...

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

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