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Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense: DoD News Briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Saturday, December 1, 2001 - 5:30 p.m. EST. Interview with CNN "Novak, Hunt and Shields.

Mr. Novak: I'm Robert Novak. Al Hunt and I are in the Pentagon briefing room to question a key leader in America's military war against terrorism.

Mr. Hunt: He is Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.

Afghan leaders have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, to try to form a multi-ethnic, broad-based government for Afghanistan. President Bush came close to declaring victory in the Afghan phase of the war:

President Bush (from videotape): Afghanistan is the first overseas front in this war against terror. And I am pleased to report the military is performing really well. In a short period of time, most of the country now is in the hands of our allies and friends.

Mr. Hunt: But Taliban forces near Kandahar staged a counterattack against opposition tribesmen, and U.S. warplanes responded with a bombing assault.

In 1962, Don Rumsfeld was elected to Congress as a Republican from a Chicago suburban district at the age of 30. Six years later he joined the Nixon administration as anti-poverty director and a member of the Cabinet. He later was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff and then secretary of Defense. He returned to the Pentagon this year after an absence from full-time government service of 24 years, during which he was an industrialist and business executive.

Mr. Secretary, you warn we could be in for a difficult fight in southern Afghanistan. Could you give us any sense as to how long it will take us to succeed?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I can't. The situation is so difficult, and I would say that it is not just in southern Afghanistan, but throughout the country. It is -- it looks as though it is reasonably settled in the northern and western portions. And it's pretty clear it's still unsettled in the Kandahar and Jalalabad area. On the other hand, there are pockets of resistance up north and in the west. A good many of these people who surrendered and turned in their arms, and then left, and a number of other of the Taliban ended up just fading into the villages and the mountains. And they're still there. They're still armed. So I don't think that simply because there are no pitched battles going on at the present time that it's over. I think that it's still a dangerous place to be. We have seen any number of journalists killed. It's entirely possible there are going to be more Americans killed. And I think the superficially placid scene one sees up in the north and the west is probably not the real situation. I think there's a good deal of turmoil underneath.

Mr. Hunt: Well, to follow up on that, it did seem a few days ago that the Taliban forces were near collapse, and there have been more counterattacks and some of the things that you just enumerated. Is it your sense that -- is it your fear that they could have the capacity for a sustained counter -- series of counterattacks?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I wouldn't characterize them as major counterattacks. I think that in a few locations, like Kandahar, where there are still are sizable numbers of Taliban and al Qaeda and foreign troops, that can happen. But I think for the most part in the rest of the country there are small pockets. And what they would be -- more likely would be in the nature of criminal activity and people being killed by surprise terrorist acts, that type of thing.

Mr. Hunt: The Northern Alliance is emerging as a dominant force -- at least as of today. They represent only a fraction of Afghans. They took Kabul, over our objections to timing at least, and there seems to be a sense that they pretty much do as they please, that's in saying we're winning the war. Was it U.S. military power or was it the Northern Alliance that won the war, and should they be more responsive to our wishes?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, it was a cooperative effort. There's no question but that you could not do what they have done if you weren't on the ground. They were on the ground. It is also clear that they were not able to do what they done until we brought in very capable air power, after embedding special forces units teams into the various tribal groups and factions of the Northern Alliance. The combination of that proved to be what was successful. And I don't know that assigning credit or -- it really makes any sense anyway. The reality is they are there, they are on the ground, they are occupying the space, and we are helping them. We are helping them with food and ammunition, and with money and with resupplies of various types, plus air power when necessary.

Mr. Novak: Mr. Secretary, the Taliban, who has surrendered and then tried to break out of the prison in the north, it turns out, according to reports, that 300 to 600 were killed -- 100 percent casualty rate, 100 percent death rate -- and they were killed by Northern Alliance, by U.S. forces and by U.S. aircraft. Do you have some regrets about the extent of that slaughter, or do you think it was necessary?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, I think that the word "slaughter" is premature and possibly wrong. Second, no, I have no regrets, because I don't know the facts. You are quite right, there have been some very powerful reports -- "powerful," I shouldn't use that word. They've been --

Mr. Novak: Strong.

Secretary Rumsfeld: -- very strong. Whether they are accurate or not is a very open question. Second, put yourself in their shoes. You had thousands of people in a prison, a compound. A relatively small number of Northern Alliance forces, armed to try to contain them, a very small number of Americans -- just a handful -- less than a handful. And it turns out that some of the prisoners had not been well searched. They had hand grenades, they had weapons, and they started killing the Northern Alliance guards. They shot them, got their weapons, and then began breaking out. A number of them escaped. So the idea that there was 100 percent is wrong. Second, some of them are still alive. And, third, a lot of them are dead. And when there is a prison uprising, and the people are about to get out -- these are not good people -- these are people who have been repressing that country for a long time. They are people who have killed a lot of people, and they were in there because they belonged in there. And as they started to escape, they were killed. Had they surrendered and thrown down their arms, they would not have been killed. I wasn't there. I don't know the facts. But the short answer is I don't regret anything that I now know.

Mr. Novak: Do you feel, Mr. Secretary, there is a problem, however, when apparently most of the prisoners, all of the prisoners are in the hands of the Northern Alliance, which I don't believe signed the Geneva Convention, and they're not the nicest guys in the world, does that both you at all?

Secretary Rumsfeld: The -- I guess we have to take the world like we find it. And the way we find it is that a group of people killed thousands of Americans on September 11th. They are threatening today to kill many more Americans, in this country and elsewhere. The only way we can defend ourselves against those attacks, the ones that are being threatened today, is to go after the terrorists where they are. That is our job. It turns out that in Afghanistan there are people who have fought each other for years. They were before we came, and they may after we're gone. Some of them were against the Taliban. We worked with them to defeat the Taliban, and try to defeat them, and we are still working on that, to see if we can't capture or kill the al Qaeda, who are threatening terrorist acts around the globe, and to see that Afghanistan is no longer a state harboring terrorists.

The fact that they don't happen to subscribe to some convention that we do, or that other countries do, is a fact. It is also a fact that we have to stop those terrorists from killing more Americans. And I don't feel even the slightest problem in working with the Northern Alliance to achieve that end.

Mr. Hunt: Mr. Secretary, most experts say it was a disaster now, 1989, when the United States left Afghanistan after the Russians were thwarted. Doesn't that suggest that in the first place the United States has to lead a major nation-building effort there, if you will? And do you agree with the Brits that there ought to be probably an international force, predominantly Muslim force, but that there ought to be at least a small logistical and communications force led by the United States?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Well, I think nation-building does not have a brilliant record across the globe. It's a very hard thing to do. It's a hard thing for the people in a country to make a nation work well, and there's a lot that are not doing it well around the world. And it's even harder for foreigners, strangers, to go into a country and think that they know what the template, what the model ought to be for that country.

Now, we do have a responsibility, and we care about what happens in Afghanistan after we leave. And we will leave. We covet no land. We don't want to take over that country, as some others have tried to do in past years. When we leave, we want to make sure we do what's right from a humanitarian standpoint. We want to do what we think is right by helping them develop a broadly-based government. But in the last analysis the people that live in an area are going to have to make it work.

With respect to a peacekeeping force, first of all you have to have peace before you can keep it, and there is not peace in that country. It is a dangerous place. Second, the people on the ground are the ones that you would want to provide the peacekeeping first. If they are able to do it -- that is to say if the Northern Alliance or the tribes in the south are able to create a secure environment that is sufficient so that the humanitarian aid can come in, and the aid workers can get there, and they can provide the kinds of assistance to the terribly suffering Afghan people -- it's just a tragedy what's happened. They've had three years of drought and many years of war. And it's a sad situation. We need to help provide that stability. But the best way to do it is if the forces on the ground do it.

Mr. Novak: Mr. Secretary, we're out of time -- we have to take a break. But I want to get one question in. You have said that when it comes to Osama bin Laden dead or alive, if you had your druthers you'd prefer dead. What orders do our special forces have if they encounter Osama bin Laden? Shoot on sight, or try to capture him?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Our forces always have the rules of engagement that are written. They understand them. And certainly if a person surrenders we take them prisoner. We don't shoot people that are surrendering. If people choose to surrender or try to flee, they have an obligation to try to stop them.

Mr. Novak: We are going to have to take a break. And when we come back we'll ask Secretary Rumsfeld about what's next after Afghanistan in the war against terrorism.


Mr. Hunt: Mr. Secretary, in this week's New Yorker, Sy Hersch reports that Iran is making a major push and having some success in developing atomic power. You've been very forthright in describing Iraq as an evil threat to the United States. But you have been more kindly towards Iran. Do you consider Iran basically an adversary or an ally right now in this war on terrorism?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness, Iran is certainly not an ally. That's a word that's reserved for a relationship that's notably different than ours with Iran. Iran is a state, like Iraq, and North Korea and Cuba and Syria and Libya that's on the terrorist list. So they don't get there by accident -- they earn that.

Mr. Novak: Is Iran the same order of threat as Saddam Hussein in Iraq right now?

Secretary Rumsfeld: It's a very different situation. I think that there's no question but that Iran is very actively developing nuclear weapons. That is a fact. How many years it will take for them to actually have a nuclear weapon, I don't know. I think it's unclear to me. I do know that they have the delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction, and they obviously have been attentive to chemical and biological weapons as well. So this is a country that is on the terrorist list, that has weapons of mass destruction, is trying to get a nuclear capability.

It is also a country unlike Iraq. I would characterize Iraq as a dictator in a repressive system that is unlikely to be altered from within -- absent an assassination or something like that, and who knows what would follow that? Iran is slightly different. Iran is a situation where there are clearly some pressures from young people. There are pressures from women in that country. Iran had a different history than Iraq. I don't know -- if nothing else happened, and one looked at those two countries, I would say the likelihood of Iraq reforming itself is zero. The likelihood or the possibility -- the remote possibility of Iran reforming itself is considerably above zero.

Mr. Novak: Mr. Secretary, on the question of Iraq, the chairman of the Defense Department Policy Board, Richard Perle -- of course that's not a full-time job, that's an advisory job.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Right.

Mr. Novak: He has been very blunt in saying that he thinks regardless of whether there is any link between Iraq and the events of September 11th, now is the time to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Do you agree with that?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Look, Richard Perle is Richard Perle. He is very bright, very talented -- served in government with distinction. And you are quite correct he is chairman of the Defense Policy Board. He however is not a government official. He does not speak for the president, he does not speak for me. And my way to respond to that is that those are decisions that are made by the country, by the president of the United States, and he has made no announcements with respect to Iraq.

Mr. Novak: Let me try to get your view on that in one respect. If it were possible to make a deal where inspectors were permitted into Iraq in return for some lifting of sanctions, do you think that would be in the interest of the United States?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I need to know much more of the texture of that kind of arrangement. The fact of the matter is that we had inspectors -- the U.N. had inspectors in Iraq for a long period. We couldn't find beans. And it's there. And we know it's there. And it was defectors who came out and told us where it was that helped us to find it. He has biological activity going on in mobile vans. They are moving around. It is almost impossible to find what they are doing. We know of certain knowledge, that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons. We know he had a much more advanced nuclear program than anyone dreamt when the Israelis went in and took it out many years ago. We learned that in Desert Storm. I think that they are a threat. They have already gone after their neighbor Kuwait. They have threatened northern Saudi Arabia. They -- he is a person who has described the moderate Arab regimes in the region as illegitimate. I think left alone he is a danger in the region, which is why we have Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch with our coalition partners, to keep him contained.

Mr. Hunt: Mr. Secretary, we are running out of time, but let me just ask you -- the country with the greatest number of weapons of mass destruction of course is Russia.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Yes.

Mr. Hunt: The Nunn-Lugar program seeks to pay off the Russians, to try to dismantle those weapons and some of those rogue scientists, to pay off those rogue scientists. Why does the administration cut funding, both in the Defense Department and the Energy Department, for Nunn-Lugar programs this year?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Goodness, I'd have to go check into that. I'm not an expert on the subject. I do know that it's hundreds of millions of dollars that we spend -- we have spent. I would presume that the proper response to that question is after a program has been in place for a period one does an evaluation of it, and takes a look and says, Is it accomplishing the goals or isn't it? Are they fulfilling their side of the agreement or aren't they? And if you are in fact providing hundreds of millions of dollars -- and money is fungible -- where is the money that they are not providing going? Is it going for other things that are equally nasty? And I just don't know the answer. And I do know that the United States taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars -- and we still are, and they still will in the current budget.

Mr. Novak: We are going to have to take another break. And when we come back, we'll have the big question for Don Rumsfeld.


Mr. Novak: The big question for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Sir, during the 2000 campaign, President Bush and Vice President Cheney made it very clear that the Defense Department, the Army, was in terrible shape -- it needed a rehauling. Suddenly when the war starts it's described as the greatest fighting force in the world. Surely you didn't rehabilitate it that quickly, in nine months, did you?

Secretary Rumsfeld: No. Of course it depends on what your baseline is. There's no question we have the finest military on the face of the Earth. We did this year, and we had it last year.

Mr. Novak: So you're exaggerating in the campaign a little bit?

Secretary Rumsfeld: Not at all. Not at all. The United States military had a procurement holiday for -- they called it a procurement holiday in the last administration -- for the better part of eight years. And it overshot its mark. It went too far. And we are way behind on repairing infrastructure. We are way behind on procurement. There is no question but that we have not invested what we should have in research and development. We may still be the finest military on the face of the earth, and there is no question but that we are. But the question is: Are you declining or are you level or are you improving? And we need to improve. The stability that this country provides for the world and for the world economy is so important to the well-being of people all across the globe, including the United States of America, that we need to be willing to invest in it.

Mr. Hunt: Mr. Secretary, we have about 15 seconds left. The New York Times has reported that the Pakistanis have flown surreptitiously into Afghanistan and taken out Pakistani soldiers who were allies of the Taliban against what is supposed to be our policy. Can you tell us definitively whether that is true or whether that is untrue?

Secretary Rumsfeld: I think I can. We have AWACS plans and various other means of seeing what's going on, and we have no evidence that that's true. That does not mean it's not, but we have no evidence that it is.

Mr. Hunt: Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much for being with us today. Robert Novak and I will be back with a comment or two in just a moment.


Mr. Hunt: Bob, Secretary Rumsfeld is very measured. I think he was trying to tell Americans that this war is not over yet -- we may have been lulled into a sense of a quick-hit victory, and that there may be more than a few skirmishes and some casualties in the months ahead, weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Novak: And he also made clear that the -- whether the U.S. goes into an attack on Iraq is up to George W. Bush, not Don Rumsfeld. But I don't think there was much joy in Baghdad from his statements. He indicated they're a threat to the region, and he didn't think a deal to get inspectors back in there to look for weapons was going to do any good.

Mr. Hunt: No, I agree. You know, on September 10th, Donald Rumsfeld was under more than a little bit of criticism. He has become the media star of this war. When you are parodied in a positive way on "Saturday Night Live," you have arrived.

Mr. Novak: I have known Don Rumsfeld for almost 40 years, when he was a young congressman. He has always been a very interesting guy. The trouble with him in the first part of the Bush administration was he was under cover -- he wasn't talking to anybody, he wasn't going on the air. Now he's on television on his briefings all the time. He does good. That's a lesson for politicians: hiding is dangerous; going public, if you're good, is good for you.

I'm Robert Novak.

Mr. Hunt: And I'm Al Hunt. Coming up at noon on "Late Edition with Blitzer," the latest on the war in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Novak: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.


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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).