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What's Left of the Taliban and Al Qaeda After Two Weeks?

What's Left of the Taliban and Al Qaeda After Two Weeks?

DoD News Briefing: General Richard B. Myers, CJCS, Sunday, October 21, 2001 - 11:30 a.m. Interview with This Week on ABC TV. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Stephanopoulos: And joining us now, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. General Myers, thanks for being with us this morning.

Myers: Thank you, George. It's good to be here.

Stephanopoulos: Bombing raids last night. The AP is reporting civilian casualties in Kabul. At least five dead, including three women and two children. Can you confirm that?

Myers: I can't confirm that, but let me say this about civilian casualties. The last thing we want are any civilian casualties. So we plan every military target with great care. We try to match the weapon to the target and the goal is, one, to destroy the target, and two, is to prevent any what we call "collateral damage" or damage to civilian structures or civilian population.

Stephanopoulos: ABC News in Islamabad has also received a report that at least one U.S. military personnel has been injured by a land mine and several may be missing. How about that?

Myers: We have no reports of that. So, again, I think it goes to show you that some of the reporting we get out of that part of the world is often -- to find ground truth is very difficult and it's often exaggerated.

Stephanopoulos: Finally, sir, one more report from the Taliban about last night. They say they downed a U.S. helicopter near Kandahar and there are maybe 20-25 Americans dead.

Myers: I think that is the Taliban wishing for some good news, these days. That is not correct, as well.

Stephanopoulos: Okay. Let's go back to the Special Forces operation on Friday night. Tell us specifically what was their mission and what did they achieve?

Myers: As has been reported, they had two objectives. One was one of the Taliban leadership compounds. Specifically, Omar's compound. And the other was an airfield. And on both of them, we thought there was a pretty good chance that we could find some useful intelligence to meet our overall objectives in Afghanistan and that is to hunt down al Qaeda and to help destroy the regime that is supporting al Qaeda. And so, we had hoped to get some intelligence from those.

Stephanopoulos: Has that mission been completed? Or are there still forces on the ground?

Myers: Well, I don't want to -- I can't go there, George. And let me explain why. Anything that puts our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen at risk, I think we have to be very careful about how we speculate about future operations. Let me use the analogy, it's a simple one, but today some of us will be probably watching NFL football. I doubt if a coach is going to give away his game plan for today before he executes that plan. I think the American people understand why we have to keep the details of our operations confidential.

Stephanopoulos: But if the mission were completed, you could talk about it?

Myers: Well, again, and as we've said before, some of these missions that we're going to do in the military are going to be visible, some are going to be invisible. The visible ones, obviously, we can talk about. The invisible -- sometimes we'll talk about them. Not all times. And yesterday, after that particular mission, we did reveal some of what we did.

Stephanopoulos: One of the things you said yesterday is that you wanted more time to evaluate the intelligence you picked up on the mission. What more have you learned?

Myers: Again, I can't -- I don't know that we have taken that intelligence to the analysts that really have to look at it yet. So we're in the process of doing that, so I can't tell you at this point.

Stephanopoulos: There are some reports that you have made some progress in pinpointing the location of Osama bin Laden. In fact, a report in "Newsweek" this morning says that intelligence sources say it's been narrowed down to a 20-mile by 20- mile sector in Afghanistan.

Myers: Well, as we look for the al Qaeda leadership, and for that matter the Taliban leadership, and their command-and-control facilities, we find them essentially in larger areas than that. We have not been able to pinpoint exactly where all these command-and-control facilities are. We continue to look. I would be delighted if we could find it in a 20 by 20-mile square. But I'm not going to comment on that. That gets into sensitive intelligence matters. We do continue to use all means that we have at our disposal, plus the means of other governmental agencies to try to locate the command and control and the leadership.

Stephanopoulos: If U.S. forces encounter Osama bin Laden, are they supposed to kill him on sight or try to capture him first?

Myers: Well, U.S. forces operate under the international laws of conflict. And, obviously, one of the targets there is the command and control and the leadership. But as you know, the U.S. armed forces are also humane. So we're -- it depends on the circumstances. [Clears throat] Excuse me, George. If it's a defensive situation, then, you know, bullets will fly. But if we can capture somebody, then we'll do that.

Stephanopoulos: Do you think Osama bin Laden will survive this war?

Myers: I don't know for sure. I do know that, you know, we've been at this military business now for just over two weeks. The military is only a small piece of the overall effort. And the goal right now is to try to bring down al Qaeda and to try to bring down the Taliban who support them.

Stephanopoulos: What's left of the Taliban and al Qaeda after two weeks?

Myers: In terms of the Taliban, we have taken down the air defenses, so we pretty much have free reign of the country. That is not to say they still don't have manned portable surface-to-air missiles. They don't have anti-aircraft guns. But we basically can range freely over Afghanistan. We've hit a lot of their military facilities, their tanks, their artillery, their vehicle support facilities and some troop concentrations. And al Qaeda, we've hit a lot of their training camps, so they won't be doing any training in the near future in Afghanistan. So we're trying to posture ourselves to continue to squeeze out al-Qaeda and to diminish the Taliban's influence.

Stephanopoulos: Are you feeling any time pressures? Winter is approaching. Also, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Will that affect your planning in any way?

Myers: As the president said, this is going to be a very, very long campaign. And I think, the one thing that we all must bear in mind is that we're going to have to have patience if we're going to be successful in this campaign. So, no, we're not feeling pressure. We're trying to do the right thing. We're doing it in a very measured way. It may take till next spring. It may take till next summer. It may take longer than that in Afghanistan.

Stephanopoulos: How about beyond Afghanistan and widening out the battlefield? There are some reports you have started to prepare targets in Iraq. Is that true?

Myers: This is a global war on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. So Afghanistan is only one small piece. So of course we're thinking very broadly. I would say since World War II we haven't thought this broadly about a campaign. And it's not just a military piece, it's the rest of the instruments of national power that the United States and our friends and allies will bring to this problem. So we're -- the military piece is just one part of it. Other things are going on all the time -- the financial piece, the justice piece, the law enforcement piece, and so on.

Stephanopoulos: But let me show you -- some people are worried about the scope of that war. And let me show you something from a retired colonel, Richard Dunn, the former head of the Army think tank. He said, "You can go and kill every one of their terrorists and hang bin Laden in front of the White House, and you still haven't solved the problem. You've probably created hundreds of new terrorists. So you can win tactically and lose strategically." How do you respond to that?

Myers: Well, I think the first thing we have to do -- and I'm going to try to stay in my lane, which is the military lane, I think we can have an impact on the ability of al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations to train. I think we can have an impact on their ability to obtain weapons of mass destruction. And if there's any doubt since September 11 the terrorists crossed the threshold of the use of weapons of mass destruction. And I think we can have an impact on all those things I just mentioned. And George, I think we can bring down the threat to not only ourselves, but other freedom-loving peoples.

Stephanopoulos: But how do we know when this war is won? Vice President Cheney says it might not end in our lifetime.

Myers: I think that may be correct. I think this is going to be a long, hard-fought conflict. And it will be global in scale. And it won't be, as I mentioned earlier, it won't be just military. It's going to be all the instruments of our national power, with our friends and allies. And the fact that it could last several years or many years, or maybe our lifetimes, would not surprise me.

Stephanopoulos: You know, we saw the first U.S. casualties on Friday night and there's also the possibility of prisoners of war, and some people have said that what could happen, knowing the Taliban, is that they would take the prisoners of war and force them to broadcast statements, anti-American statements. And I want to show you something from George Wilson. He's a respected military analyst and he says the Pentagon should liberalize the Code of Conduct so that service people who are broken don't feel guilty for the rest of their lives for giving the enemy more than their name, rank, serial number and date of birth. Do you agree?

Myers: I think we've taken a hard look at the Code of Conduct in the past, and I think we've given instruction to our armed forces that would not put him in that situation. But you bring up a very good point. This is a dangerous war. Those two individuals who gave their lives the other evening -- it was obviously very tragic. But the armed forces of the United States and the armed forces of our friends and allies, I think, are prepared to do that for this very important battle. We have no options here. This is a war we must win if we want to maintain our freedom.

Stephanopoulos: General, it's also been a difficult start for your new mission. Did you ever imagine your first three weeks would be like this?

Myers: No, I never imagined it. But I tell you, when you raise your right hand and you take the oath of office and you swear to defend and support the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, it's pretty clear that -- I mean, surprised, yes. But not totally surprised. This is what we do. And this is what the American people expect of their armed forces. And we're prepared to do that.

Stephanopoulos: General Myers, thank you very much.

Myers: Thank you, George.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).