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Powell Says U.S. Focusing on Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida

Powell Says U.S. Focusing on Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush has examined all the options available to him and has decided "to go after the al-Qaida network, to go after the head of it, Usama bin Laden, and to mobilize an international community for that purpose," Secretary of State Colin Powell said September 23 in a televised interview broadcast on ABC. Source: Washington File (EUR109), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., September 24, 2001.

Bush, he said, "has been enormously successful in pulling that coalition together and giving us a singular focus for the moment.

"He has not ruled out what we might do in later phases, and all of that remains as options to him. But right now, we are focusing on what he said we were focusing on," in his September 20 speech to a joint session of Congress, Powell explained.

Usama bin Laden "has been indicted previously for terror activity against the United States. And so this is a continuing pattern of terrorism and we are putting all of the information that we have together, the intelligence information, the information being generated by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. And I think we will put before the world, the American people, a persuasive case that there will be no doubt when that case is presented that it is al-Qaida led by Usama bin Laden who has been responsible for this terrible, tragic incident," Powell said.

Asked about Saudi Arabia's cooperation with the United States in the anti-terrorist campaign, Powell said "the Saudi Government, the Saudi leadership and their representative here in the United States has been responsive to all the requests we have placed on them. They are a friend in this, they have condemned this attack and they have offered support in many ways. And we are satisfied with the level of their support and their commitment to this campaign."

Pakistan, he said, is cooperating "in a very, very substantial way. President Musharraf took a risk in joining this campaign and he understood that it was an important campaign to be a part of. So we are very pleased with the support that we are receiving from Pakistan."

Following is the State Department transcript: (begin transcript)

Interview on ABC's This Week, Secretary Colin L. Powell, Washington, DC, September 23, 2001

Question: Secretary Powell, thanks for being with us.

Secretary Powell: Good morning, Sam.

Question: Good morning. The Japanese news agency, quoting Japanese Government sources, says the United States has warned of possible new attacks this coming week. What can you tell us about that?

Powell: I am not familiar with that particular report, but I think we have to be vigilant during this time of heightened tension. And you can be sure the United States Government is doing everything it can to discern whether there are any threats coming our way. And this is a time for a little bit of heightened additional security. But at the same time, we have to start getting back to normal life in America.

Question: So here in the United States, what's your message? Heightened vigilance, but --

Powell: Heightened vigilance. We will increase security at airports. We will watch our borders more carefully, we will follow up on all the leads we have been given. But at the same time, we need to get back to work, we need to get back to ballgames, we need to show the world that America is strong, we can come through this and we're not going to be hiding under tables.

Question: Over the weekend, the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan claimed to have downed an airplane of some sort. What sort?

Powell: I would rather not talk about what might or might not have been downed. We are going to be very careful during this period not to blabber too much about what might or might not happen with respect to military activities or other kinds of activities.

Question: Mr. Secretary, there are also reports from that area that in Uzbekistan, US planes have landed with US personnel.

Powell: Can you talk about that?

Powell: Not to my knowledge. But, of course, we do have repositioning of forces taking place and we have been satisfied with the cooperation that we have received from the nations that have to provide overflight and other sorts of access requirements. And so we are moving right along, but we are not going to go into the specific details of individual countries.

Question: Well, you say "satisfied." But there are widespread reports also this weekend that Saudi Arabia has yet to grant permission for the use of an important base there for the command and control and perhaps staging for US forces.

Powell: There was a report in the newspaper yesterday that suggested I had placed some requirement on the Saudis that they had not responded to. That's not correct. We have been in touch with the Saudis on a daily basis. They have been very supportive and they have been providing everything we have asked of them so far.

Question: Well, you say "not responded to." But have they responded fully in the way we want them to?

Powell: They have responded to all of the requests we have asked them to respond to, and I am sure there will be more requests coming in the future. But I can assure you the Saudi Government, the Saudi leadership and their representative here in the United States has been responsive to all the requests we have placed on them. They are a friend in this, they have condemned this attack and they have offered support in many ways. And we are satisfied with the level of their support and their commitment to this campaign.

Question: I am sorry to prolong this, but one more question. Because the story that I read suggested that if the Saudis did not allow us to do all the things we wanted to do, it could delay an operation against Usama bin Laden for months.

Powell: I have read that story and it's not an accurate story. I did not place that kind of a demand on the Saudi leadership because nobody asked me to, there was no requirement to. We have personnel in Saudi Arabia, military and civilian personnel and diplomatic personnel, who are in close touch with the Saudi leadership. And we are working through all the issues and all the things that our side would like to see done. And we are working through with the Saudis on a very, very satisfactory basis.

Question: All right. Sanctions have been lifted against Pakistan and I suppose, to be even-handed, against India that were placed on these two nations at the time we were concerned about their nuclear development. Is lifting the sanctions something that in the long run may come back to haunt us?

Powell: I don't think so. We have been examining the lifting of those sanctions -- not all sanctions, just the sanctions that were put in place against India and Pakistan as a result of their nuclear experimentation a couple of years ago. And so, frankly, I had made the judgment to recommend to the President some weeks ago that some of these sanctions be lifted. Not all of them; there are other sanctions that are still in place. And we consulted with Congress over the past several days. Congress was fully supportive. And, in fact, there were even some suggestions from members of Congress that we lift even more of the sanctions that are in place. But the President made a decision yesterday to lift those specific sanctions that were related to the nuclear test. I don't think it will come back to haunt us.

I think we have made it clear to both of these countries that we don't want to see a nuclear escalation any further in the region and I think they both have been acting rather responsibly, especially in this present instance.

Question: So we are now getting total cooperation from Pakistan?

Powell: We are getting cooperation from Pakistan in a very, very substantial way. President Musharraf took a risk in joining this campaign and he understood that it was an important campaign to be a part of. So we are very pleased with the support that we are receiving from Pakistan.

Question: We don't use the word "crusade" again?

Powell: I don't. Campaign.

Question: What is victory against Usama bin Laden?

Powell: Victory in this campaign against terrorism, ultimately, is for all of our societies to be safer, to feel that they don't have the same kind of threat from terrorists as may have existed in the past.

And so we hope to bring Usama bin Laden to justice, or bring justice to him, as the President has indicated. And not just him but his whole network, al-Qaida, which exists not only in Afghanistan, but in countries all around the world. And we have to pull it up, and we're doing that. The campaign has begun. It has begun with the kind of coalitions we have pulled together, with the United Nations, with NATO, with the European Union, with some 40 different organizations coming into it.

The campaign has begun because we have gone after financial transactions. We are being more vigilant on our borders. We are doing everything we can to find out where they are and drying up their sources of support and their haven, so this campaign has already begun.

Question: Does it matter which? Would we prefer, in the first instance, to attempt to bring him to justice and, if that is not possible, then to bring justice to him? And we know what we're talking about.

Powell: What we want to do is to make sure that his activities are stopped and that he is stopped.

Question: One way or the other.

Powell: One way or the other. I think the way that we had suggested to the Taliban was that they turn him over to justice, to authorities who could administer justice.

Question: All right, let me show you something you said the other day and just see whether you have changed your view on it, concerning proof. You said, we are assembling the evidence that will tell us, in a way that the world will fully confer with us -- concur with us who is responsible for this. Are we going to present before the world evidence of Usama bin Laden's guilt?

Powell: Yes. And I think his guilt is going to be very obvious to the world. I mean, he has been indicted previously for terror activity against the United States. And so this is a continuing pattern of terrorism and we are putting all of the information that we have together, the intelligence information, the information being generated by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. And I think we will put before the world, the American people, a persuasive case that there will be no doubt when that case is presented that it is al-Qaida led by Usama bin Laden who has been responsible for this terrible, tragic incident.

Question: So you are talking about something beyond simple assertions by US leaders? You are talking about assertions backed up by the evidence?

Powell: Yes.

Question: Okay. Are we intending to remove the Taliban leadership? That is, physically remove them from power in Afghanistan?

Powell: We are interested in getting the al-Qaida network, led by Usama bin Laden. They are very intertwined with the Taliban leadership. We hope the Taliban leadership, regime, comes to its senses and decides that it is not worth the game to keep him in their country and they remove him or send him out of the country where he can be brought to justice.

With respect to the nature of the regime in Afghanistan, that is not uppermost in our minds right now. It wasn't 15 days ago and it isn't right now, except to the extent that the Taliban regime continues to support Usama bin Laden.

Question: Not uppermost in our minds, meaning that it's a back-burner issue or meaning perhaps it will go away?

Powell: We don't know yet. We will have to see how the Taliban regime decides to deal with this issue as we continue down the road of this campaign. But right now, I am not going to say that it has become one of the objectives of the United States Government to either remove or put in place a different regime. But this regime, clearly, is a regime that has not done much for its people. It is repressing its people in incredible ways, in unthinkable ways. But, at the same time, we have to keep our focus on the al-Qaida network, terrorism across the board, where it exists throughout the world, and especially the head of the al-Qaida organization, Usama bin Laden.

Question: Okay, terrorism exists throughout the world. President Bush spoke to that, of course, in his address to the Congress and the American people. Here are some of the words that he used: Our war on terror will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated. Mr. Secretary, the State Department has 31 organizations as foreign terrorist organizations on its list. How many of these have global reach?

Powell: Quite a few of them. And quite a few of them will go after our interests in the regions that they are located in and right here at home. And so we have to treat all of them as potentially having the capacity to affect us in a global way. Or to affect our friends and interests in other parts of the world.

For example, we have designated three groups in Colombia alone as being terrorist organizations, and we are working with the Colombian Government to protect their democracy against the threat provided or presented by these terrorist organizations.

Question: Do any of the organizations with whom Yasser Arafat is connected have global reach?

Powell: I would say that there are organizations in the Middle East, some have a link to Mr. Arafat, some do not. But there are organizations in the Middle East that do have some global reach.

Question: Then could he potentially be a target?

Powell: At the moment, he is not a target. At the moment, we are working hard to see if we can get Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres to have a meeting in the very near future -- Mr. Peres, the Foreign Minister of Israel -- so that we can get started on the Mitchell Peace Plan.

Question: As you know, the meeting scheduled for today has been called off by Israel because

of two mortar barrages. Fortunately, no one was hit, but Prime Minister Sharon said, we're not going to do it until at least 48 hours pass with no attacks. Is that reasonable?

Powell: I spoke with Mr. Sharon this morning and he reaffirmed to me that he is committed to the process, he is committed to having a meeting. He is committed to finding a way to move forward into the Mitchell Peace Plan. But he also made it absolutely clear that he needs more quiet, a lower level of violence before he is able to allow Mr. Peres to have that meeting.

But I still have hopes that the meeting will take place in the near future. And I am encouraging both sides, encouraging Mr. Arafat -- who I spoke to yesterday -- to do everything in their power to get the violence down.

Question: Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary, and Jesse Helms, the influential Republican on Capitol Hill in foreign affairs both agree, Iraq, Saddam Hussein, should be struck. Do you agree?

Powell: The President has examined all the options available to him and he has decided to focus on the campaign, which he described to the American people on Thursday evening, which is to go after the al-Qaida network, to go after the head of it, Usama bin Laden, and to mobilize an international community for that purpose. And I think he has been enormously successful in pulling that coalition together and giving us a singular focus for the moment.

He has not ruled out what we might do in later phases, and all of that remains as options to him. But right now, we are focusing on what he said we were focusing on Thursday night.

Question: Is this global campaign something called Operation Noble Eagle?

Powell: The name -- I don't know that name. Lots of names come along.

Question: The newspapers used it. Well, if Iraq is not to be hit now and you're holding out the possibility that down the road it might, the President also used the phrase -- I think you've used the phrase -- that continue to support terrorism. So that's an out for countries as well as organizations, isn't it?

Powell: It's not intended as an out. It's intended as a signal that the whole world has now unified against terrorism in all of its many, many forms. And for those nations who thought that there was some political benefit from supporting terrorist organizations, the message that the President gave them the other evening is, if you continue to do that, in light of what happened on the 11th of September, in light of the fact that the whole world is coming together now, you have to be prepared to suffer some consequences. They could be economic consequences, they could be other kinds of consequences.

But it's time to stand up and be counted. If you want to be part of a civilized world that is moving forward, these are not the sort of activities you should be participating in, supporting or the kinds of organizations you should be providing a haven to.

Question: You're a general. But you don't sound very warlike compared to other voices in this town and some within the administration.

Powell: The only voice that I try to compare myself to and to be consistent with is the President of the United States. All of his Cabinet level security advisors are in agreement with the policy direction he has given us, with the instructions he has given us and the decisions he has made. Mr. Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, myself, Dr. Rice, the Secretary of the Treasury, the FBI, the Attorney General, all working together understand the instructions the President has given us.

Question: We're just about out of time. But you remember the guns-versus-butter argument in the Vietnam War. Can we, in fact, sustain a national effort with the American people sustaining this effort in the war against terrorism over a protracted time and still get back to routine, almost normal, as the President said the other night?

Powell: I think we can. I think we are a strong people. I think we are a people that know we have to get on with life and not walk around in a state of fear. I think we can have confidence in our security officials, police officials, our intelligence organizations which do a good job. They can't -- they can't find everything that's about to happen or is going to happen. But our intelligence organizations, the CIA and others, do a very good job.

And we just have to get moving forward, we have to get our economy up again, we have to start doing those things which make life normal in America. Let's remember what we're made of. We're made of strong stuff. We have a backbone of steel. We can get through this and we will get through this and we will get through it in the kind of patriotic, proud way that you have seen demonstrated over the last week-and-a-half.

Question: Secretary Powell, thanks very much. Come again, won't you?

Powell: Thank you.

(end transcript)

 

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