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Press Conference by Defense Secretary, President of Afghanistan, Health & Human Services Secretary

Aired February 27, 2003 - 17:24   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the Pentagon where the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... a stable, healthy, Democratic moderate Muslim state and the leadership path that President Karzai has put that country on through the election that's taken place is a solid one.

We're pleased with the progress. We're pleased with the progress of the Afghan national army. We are anxious to be -- to continue the process of the provincial reconstruction teams which we believe will contribute to the stability in strengthening the central government.

I pointed out that Afghanistan is an important ally to be sure, but not just in the global war on terror, but also in the larger struggle across the globe. And we are committed as a country and certainly the Defense Department to seeing that we continue our interest, our involvement and our support and relationship with your government. We have great respect for what you've done and we're delighted you're here.


RUMSFELD: You may have the floor, sir.

KARZAI: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'm pleased to be in Washington. And I'm very happy with the trip I had. The meetings that we had, all were very fruitful and quite reassuring of the United States support for Afghanistan.

And I must thank you all so very much, Mr. Secretary, for the work you're doing for building the national army of Afghanistan, of which we now have 3,000 people and they're doing a wonderful job. They're going around the countryside and meeting with people. And people, when they see them first they have an impression that this is an army from Britain or Germany. And when they come closer contact, find that these are their fellow Afghans, well-dressed and well- equipped and well-trained. They are thrilled. They've been to three provinces so far with a very good reception from people.

We are also working on the program of DDR, which is disarmament, demobilization and reintegration that was in peril (ph) with the construction of the Afghan army. We are grateful for all that you've done in Afghanistan, keeping security and stability. The war against terrorism is largely over, successful, but we still have bits to do there in Afghanistan and on the waters of Afghanistan.

And the Afghan people will continue to hand over bad guys and bring them to justice. And I hope you too will continue to do that with us in that part of the world.

And thank you very much for having us here today. And let's see what the press has.

RUMSFELD: May I first, Mr. President ask my friend Secretary Thompson to join us up here. And, Tom, would you come up and just make a statement about what's taken place?

One day the secretary called me up and he said, I've got an idea. We can do something in Afghanistan, we can do it fast and we can do it well. And if you help me, we can get it done.

Tell them what you're doing.

TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Well, first let me just thank you, Secretary Rumsfeld, because it couldn't have happened without your leadership and your tremendous willingness to do things the right way. And thank you for coming, President Karzai. It's good see you again.

I went to Afghanistan and when I was there I talked to a lot of individuals and found out from the minister of health that 16 percent of the children die in childbirth. Children -- one out of five children die before age five. And Afghanistan is the worst country in the world for woman mortality during childbirth. The worst country in the world.

And so I came back from Afghanistan and sat down with Secretary Rumsfeld and I said what we really need to do is we need to build some maternal children clinics all over Afghanistan. And what we need to do get some expatriates, people that were born, raised and educated in Kabul and practicing medicine in the United States to go back to Afghanistan and teach courses on how to take care of children and women.

And we have formed an association, and thanks to the generosity of the Department of Defense and the leadership of Secretary Rumsfeld and the encouragement of President Karzai and support of President Karzai's Minister of Health Sadika (ph), we have built a women and children's clinic which will be opening up on March 12 of this year, less than 90 days after we started.

The Rabia Balkhi hospital has about beds for 200. We're going to have a clinic there. We are sending over five expatriates that are going to go over with me in the middle of April and they're going to be over there for six weeks teaching courses.

And we're also producing books. We're going to produce about a million books which are interactive, which are in Farsi and Pashtun languages to teach women throughout the country how to raise children properly and keep them healthy.

And it's just because of the support of Secretary Rumsfeld and the generosity that we've been able to get this done. And I want to thank you and applaud you. And it's going to be a great program. And then we're going to expand throughout the country.

We are hoping to build these clinics -- women-children clinics -- teaching clinics throughout the country, teaching Afghan men and women how to be midwiferies and go into midwifery as well as to go in and teach young doctors how to practice modern medicine. And thank you so very much.

RUMSFELD: Thank you, friend. Appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the Navy said today that a sixth aircraft, the Nimitz, will depart San Diego for the Gulf next week on a routine exchange, but the carrier that it's replacing could be kept a while. And the Air Force says that B-2 stealth bombers are preparing to leave in the coming days. Is this the final push in your massive military buildup near Iraq? And does this signal anything particular, these major weapon systems?

RUMSFELD: I think what it signals is the fact that, as I've indicated, the president has asked us to flow forces in support of diplomacy. The diplomacy is still under way in the United Nations. And as he indicated, time is running out, but there is still the hope that one of several things could occur that would lead to cooperation on the part of that country. And until that happens, why, forces will flow.

QUESTION: Sir, these stealth bombers, these stealth bombers were not used in the 1991 war because they were not available.

RUMSFELD: This is the year 2003.

QUESTION: If you use them, would they not give you additional major punch in a war with Iraq?

RUMSFELD: The purpose of flowing forces is to demonstrate the seriousness of purpose of the international community. And I think that is exactly what's taking place.

Who has a question for President Karzai?

QUESTION: President Karzai, a couple senators this week were hinting that there may be a northeast -- a spring offensive in the northeast part of your country. Can you assess the danger of a potential spring offensive from...

KARZAI: Who? From where?

QUESTION: They didn't specify, but it implied remnants of Al Qaida or the Taliban could foment a spring offensive. Can you give us a reality check on that?

KARZAI: Well, I don't think there's going to be anything like offensives. Offensive means what? Means 1,000 people or 100 people or 500 people attacking a place? I don't think that is going to happen. These guys are on the run. They are hiding.

The two operations that we had, one on the border close to Pakistan at a place called the Adarat (ph) near Spin Buldak, people there were hiding in the mountain. They even had fake walls to conceal them further from search and arrest.

If by spring offensive is meant a terroristic activity of an individual or two that would come and try to shoot a Kalishnikov at somebody or throw an explosive device, that's something different. An offensive of the kind that we understand, no, never.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you spoke in your opening remarks of security and stability in Afghanistan. Part of that would be political stability. Currently, under your system, there's no mechanism to succeed you, the president, should you depart office. That issue was raised earlier in the year, as you know, and last year.

What steps is your government taking prior to the new constitution to ensure that in the event you decide to leave office or other occurrences, that the political stability will be there?

KARZAI: That's a very good question. I never expected this. We have -- after the assassination attempt on me, we had a number of mechanisms that we discussed that should be used or put into effect in an event of my death, either by an accident or natural or whatever, or if I'm fed up and I resign...


... that, too, is something that can happen.


QUESTION: I'd put that at the top of the list.


KARZAI: Yes. Yes.

A number of modalities were discussed. We are still working to refine the last modality further. And we are going to put that before the cabinet. And it is on my list of things to be done.

QUESTION: So that will be prior to the new constitution, you assume?

KARZAI: Yes, definitely.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there's been a lot of effort to pin the administration down on a cost estimate of combat in Iraq and a post- war Iraq and also the number of troops that would be involved. Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki said it would take several hundred thousand troops on the ground to secure Iraq and provide stability. Is he wrong?

RUMSFELD: He was asked, I believe, in a Senate hearing, what the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for occupation of Iraq would be following a war. And he responded something like that, that he said he didn't know. And then they said, "Well, do you have a range?" And so then he said, "Well, several hundred thousand, roughly what it would take to win the war," something like that, I think.

The fact of the matter is the answer to the question that was posed to him is not knowable. We have no idea how long the war will last. We don't know to what extent there may or may not be weapons of mass destruction used. We don't have any idea whether or not there would be ethnic strife. We don't know exactly how long it would take to find weapons of mass destruction and destroy them -- those sites. There are so many variables that it is not knowable.

However, I will say this. What is, I think reasonably certain is, the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces, I think, is far from the mark.

RUMSFELD: The reality is that we already have a number of countries that have offered to participate with their forces in stabilization activities in the event force has to be used.

Second, it's not logical to me that it would take as many forces to win the war as to -- following a conflict as to would to win the war.

So I can assure you that there are so many variables that it's not possible to come out with a point answer to the question. You'd have to first say, if you assume this, this or this with respect to the variables, how many other forces are going to be participating besides ours?

Until someone decides that there has to be a conflict and that the conflict's over, you're not going to know the answer to that question. So it's simply not knowable.

And I will say that I do think that any idea that it's several hundred thousand over any sustained period is simply not the case.

QUESTION: And while I'm on a roll, the cost estimate?

RUMSFELD: Same thing. If you don't know if it's going to last six days, six weeks or six months, how in the world can you come up with a cost estimate?

People who are trying to give single-point answers to questions like that are going to be sorry they did, in terms of when it's over, because there's no calculation that you can do about all of those variables and come up with an answer except for just plain lucky.

QUESTION: Yes, but you must have some idea of these things? People are not asking you for precise dollar figures, they're just asking for some idea, some general notion, and you must have some idea what this war is costing and what it's likely to cost?

RUMSFELD: What we have done is we have taken estimates looking at different variables and said, if this were the case on this variable and then on this variable, but there are so many variables that the numbers of possible point answers create a range that simply isn't useful.

The people who tried to estimate those things for the Gulf War were flat wrong by an enormous amount. And it makes no sense to try to do it. QUESTION: But you're going to have to ask if something is useful or not.

RUMSFELD: I've already decided, it's not useful.


QUESTION: Question for President Karzai. You mentioned that you were quite encouraged by the commitment that you've gotten from the U.S. in these meetings. Can you be more specific about what you've asked for in additional resources, additional assistance?


QUESTION: And are you concerned that this war with Iraq will avert American attention away from you country?

KARZAI: Well, in the meetings today, we have asked for specific assistance for the current year, 2003, on irrigation and power, and the reconstruction of the Afghan dams and canal system that was damaged in the past years of war and all of that.

KARZAI: They've also asked assistance on the ARTF, on the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, to be done through the World Bank. We've also sought more support for the national army of Afghanistan and the overall stability operations of the country.

We have received assurances that the United States will continue to support Afghanistan and that the attention there will be focused and continuous, and that Iraq will not reduce attention for Afghanistan or the amount of help given to Afghanistan.


QUESTION: We are hearing that Iraq has agreed to destroy the Al Samoud missiles. Do you have any information about that and if they have agreed to do it and go forward, how would it affect the overall decision that we're moving in the direction of war?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, this is exactly what's been going to for years. They refuse to cooperate, don't cooperate, drag it out, wait until someone finally nails them with one little piece of the whole puzzle and refuse to do anything about it and then finally when they see the pressure building, say well maybe we'll do some of that. So I don't see a change in the pattern at all. If one is looking for cooperation, which is what this is all about, it is not trying to discover things, it is a question of to what extent have they decided to cooperate with the United Nations resolutions?

The answer is they've not decided to cooperate and it's clear. They have resisted throughout with a false declaration. They've continued to resist. Only when finally something ends up as a possible problem for them in the United Nations does he at the last minute throw in the towel and say, well, maybe I'll do that.

QUESTION: If you couple that with the concept that we've told today that the Iraqis are moving troops from Mosul down toward Tikrit, possibly, and into Baghdad, maybe setting out defense perimeters. Is there a message there?

RUMSFELD: Well, needless to say, we're interested in deployments, but we don't talk about theirs or ours.

Last question.

QUESTION: President Karzai, are you at all worried that as the United States becomes engaged in Iraq that the Taliban and remnants of those forces in Afghanistan will begin to mount challenges to your government?

KARZAI: The Taliban or the remnants of Taliban and al Qaeda are already trying their best to do what they can. And they're using the maximum capabilities to do terroristic activities or to show that they're still there.

I don't know how the situation in Iraq or the war in Iraq will add up to that capability for them to go straight. Of course, it depends on lots of other variables in the region. Within Afghanistan, I don't see any such threat or a rise in the terroristic activities.

We have to really coordinate in the event of a war in Iraq with our neighbors to check cross-border activities and also some terroristic functions there.


QUESTION: What about from Pakistan?

KARZAI: Go ahead, now.

RUMSFELD: You go ahead, now.

KARZAI: Well, we have a dialogue now with Pakistan. I've had very nice meeting with President Musharraf a few days ago and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I'm going to visit him on the 22nd of March to talk in further detail of the joint cooperation that we will have in fighting the remnants of terrorists on the borders of the two countries.

RUMSFELD: Just to close, in the course of our discussions today, several things came up which indicate marks of progress that has taken place. If you go back to September 11 and October 7 when the United States and the coalition of forces began the process of working with some folks on the ground including President Karzai, the changes that have taken place are enormous.

The president pointed out that there have been 2 million Afghans who have left where they were as refugees and returned to that country. They have made a conscious decision to vote with their fate. They decided that where they were was not as attractive as where they wanted to go. And they went there. They went back to that country.

He said there are 3 million young people in schools today, compared with two years ago, almost nothing. Next to nothing. And he also announced that they now have a free press. Think of that.

Thank you.


QUESTION: Maybe we should move there.


BLITZER: The Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, emerging, walking out of the Pentagon Press briefing room.


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