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It's Far Too Soon to Say

It's Far Too Soon to Say

DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Tuesday, October 30, 2001. Interview with Tom Brokaw, NBC. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Brokaw: Mr. Secretary, here at home there's a new terrorist alert, the stock market is way down today. Americans are not very confident about what's going on either here at home or in the war. Isn't there an urgent need for some kind of conspicuous military victory in Afghanistan?

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. We have a plan. It's in place. It's working. And it seems to me that the idea of some urgent need for a quick, visible victory is really not the way the world works. It takes a certain amount of time to get yourself in place, so that you can create the conditions for victory. We had to then pull out the air defenses, so that we could function over the country of Afghanistan. We then had to get capabilities on the ground, so that we could improve the targeting.

Since there are so few really good targets in a country like Afghanistan, you have to go after the enemy troops and their caves. And their army personnel vehicles and their tanks. And what few aircraft they have. And so we've been doing that.

And we've been making good progress and I feel good about it. We have not had major ground forces on the ground and as a result, it's the opposition forces, the Afghans themselves that have to make the decision as to when they're going to move forward.

Brokaw: But those opposition forces are saying that the Taliban in the north is stronger than it was, than before the bombing began. So how can the plan be working, [if] the Taliban have increased their forces in the north?

Rumsfeld: Well, first I've never heard that. And second there is no "forces in the north." There are lots of elements in the north. And I can't believe it's true because we see the battle damage report, and I think it's probably just misinformation.

Brokaw: But isn't it quite clear to you at this point that this war will not be won in Afghanistan until you get troops on the ground and that will involve substantial numbers of American troops?

Rumsfeld: We have made a practice, I think with good reason, to not discuss about what we might do in the future. Obviously, we've not ruled out the possibility of large numbers of ground troops. But we've not made any movement to put in large numbers of ground troops thus far.

It is I think a question as to whether or not the opposition forces, the Northern Alliance, the tribes in the south are going to pursue the Taliban and the al Qaeda, with the necessary energy and success that one would like. That's an open question. I think it's far too soon to say.

I've forgotten when this started but it was what? Several weeks ago. Twenty-one days, 22 days ago. To hear your question and the urgency and "Don't you need quick success?", my goodness gracious, go back to World War II, it was month after month after month and nothing happened except losses and harm and damage and Americans being killed.

And now in 21 days people with questions like that are suggesting that there should be some magic. There is no magic! We said there's no silver bullet, we know there's no silver bullet! It is hard, dirty work. And people are going to get killed and we're going to work hard at it and we're going to win.

Brokaw: The difference between World War II and now is that every mini-second there's information coming out of the war-zone.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Brokaw: People are reacting to it. Not just in this country, but in the coalition that you put together, but especially in the Islamic world as well. And as they hear about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, they rise up against the United States and the Taliban hand seems to be strengthened by people who are eager to go there and join their forces.

Rumsfeld: There are people going both ways. There are some people coming in to join their forces, there are an awful lot of people leaving also who have decided that the al Qaeda, foreign invaders of Afghanistan, are people that should not be there and [are] bringing great damage to them.

The more the Taliban uses the mosques for headquarters and for command and control and for ammunition storage and move their triple AAA batteries into the residential districts near schools and hospitals, the people of Afghanistan don't like that. And they're going to be moving away from the Taliban and away from al Qaeda.

I think that you're right. This is a - first of all, it's a totally different kind of a war than Korea or even Desert Storm or Kosovo. Second, it is happening at a time when there is 24 hour news. And that does create a sense of urgency on the part of the news people.

It's not clear to me that that has yet infected the American people. I think that the American people have a pretty good center of gravity. And that they can absorb all of that news, and sift it and balance it and come away with a balance that is important for all of us. I wouldn't underestimate the American people.

Brokaw: Two of the most prominent conservative voices in Washington D.C., William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, are in the Washington Post today saying the war is not going well, it's a flawed plan that you have underway. That there has been no real progress so far. Isn't that the beginning of an unraveling of the political coalition here at home, if these conservatives are saying that as publicly as they are?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know. I think not. My impression is that we do have a good plan in place, that it's working, that we're making progress. I understand people's appetite and desire for instant success and instant gratification. I think it's unlikely here. The task, you can't defend against terrorists. You have to go after them, where they are.

They don't have armies, navies and air forces that you can go out and tackle. What -- they live in caves, they live in shadows, they're in the tunnels underneath mountains. And the idea that you can magically stop them from being terrorists and have it done quickly, I think is unrealistic.

And I think the American people understand that. They've seen enough photographs of Afghanistan to know that there are not a lot of real high value targets. And they get a sense that this is going to take time, it's going to take putting pressure on, it's going to take squeezing bank accounts.

We've now arrested hundreds of people across the globe, many, many countries have participated, we're gathering that intelligence information. We're putting the heat on these folks and it's going to make life a great deal more difficult. And that is the task and that is what we're doing.

Brokaw: If you say we have to go after them where they are, and they have moved into mosques and schools and hospitals, does that mean we go after them in those places as well?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think what'll happen is that the Afghan people will be so disaffected from the Taliban, for putting them at risk, as they know is happening, that they will turn on these folks. And there's no question but that there are plenty of opposition forces in the north and tribes in the south that are against the Taliban. And there are people who have been a part of the Taliban who are tired of having al Qaeda bring this kind of carnage and damage to their country. There's enormous numbers of Afghan people starving because of the Taliban.

Brokaw: Are you disappointed in the Northern Alliance in that it's not acting more aggressively right now?

Rumsfeld: No, I didn't have any, a particular level of expectation... I understand what's going on there. These are tough people. They've been fighting for years and years and years. And they're survivors. And they're going to have to make a judgement in their mind as to which way they think this is going to go.

And when they're willing to put themselves at risk... to make progress and move towards some of those cities, like Kabul, and Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.

And I think that if we keep providing the kinds of assistance, the supplies and ammunition and food, and we keep doing the job we're doing of taking care of the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that they face and eliminate their armored personnel carriers and their tanks and their troops, that at some point they'll decide that it's time to go. And they'll move and they'll move on those cities and I think it'll happen.

Brokaw: Military analysts that I've talked to say that we really won't be successful there until we, the United States, puts in a division-size force, seize an airport, make that the base of operations, somewhere in Afghanistan, probably in the south would be the first place to do that.

Rumsfeld: Of course, there's military experts that are on every side of these issues. And you cite one, but there's -- for every one you cite like that, there are some who have another opinion. That is a perfectly legitimate position that you've outlined. It is certainly something that people consider and discuss and has happened in other venues.

Brokaw: Are you happy with the propaganda war that is being waged by the United States in the Islamic world? We seem to be losing that on a daily basis.

Rumsfeld: Well, no I'm not. There's -- one would always wish that it would be better. That the truth would get out. We have a pattern of telling the truth and we do. The Taliban will stand before the world and lie and then watch it -- the same pictures are repeatedly shown over and over again to the world, suggesting that the United States has done some terrible damage to a school or a hospital or something like that.

What can one do about that? Well, I don't know. All I know is we can keep trying harder to get the truth out. We can do the kinds of things we've been doing in appearing on television in stations in the Middle East. But eventually, the truth does get out. I mean, the United States of America threw Iraq out of Kuwait, a Muslim country. We helped with Kosovo, a Muslim country. We helped Bosnia, Muslim country. We provided humanitarian assistance in Somalia, a Muslim country.

We were the biggest food donor in Afghanistan before September 11 at $170 million, and now have a humanitarian program going for $320 million in Afghanistan. This is not against a religion, it is not against a race, it is not against a country. It is against terrorists. And we have every reason to be against terrorists.

Brokaw: But don't you need more help from our so-called Arab allies in getting that message out? From Mubarak in Egypt, from the ruling family in Saudi Arabia for example? From the emirates in the Persian Gulf?

Rumsfeld: We've gotten a lot of help. The moderate Arab states in that region have been enormously helpful in lots of different ways, with intelligence, with support. I've seen any number of statements by religious leaders in each of the countries that you've mentioned, that have come out and pointed out that Osama bin Laden has hijacked their religion and we've got to take it back.

There's nothing in that religion about killing innocent women and children. A great number of the people who were killed in the World Trade Center, there were some hundred -- something like 50 or 60 countries, and over a 100 of them, they were Muslim. I mean, this is not a religious war on the part of bin Laden. He's doing everything that violates that religion.

Brokaw: On October 16 in this building, General Newbold gave a briefing [transcript:] and said the combat power of the Taliban had been eviscerated. Plainly, it has not been eviscerated. But are you saying today that we'll continue the bombing plan that we have in place, that there won't be any great alteration of that and that we are on track to do what you think is necessary?

Rumsfeld: He wishes he had not said that. I would not have said that. He may very well have been referring to a specific location for a specific purpose. It has now been repeated over and over and over again. There's no question but that the Taliban and the al Qaeda still have substantial forces and they are arrayed against the opposition forces on the ground.

I feel we have a good plan. I feel that we need to have a steadiness of purpose about it, and proceed with it. And we will be able to test it as we go along, and my guess is that before this is over we'll find we've done a darn good job.

Brokaw: You've been defense secretary before, but you were also a political animal in this town, both a member of Congress, White House chief of staff, you've served in all those capacities, so you know the pulse of the people. You believe that if we are in this kind of a situation six months from now, waiting for spring to come, that you'll continue to have the support? Not just of the American people, but of the political coalition that you have put in place? And that you will not have an uprising in the Islamic world?

Rumsfeld: Well, first with respect to the coalition. There isn't a coalition. There are multiple coalitions. Countries are helping us in different ways. Ways that fit their circumstance, their neighborhood, their sensitivity, and we understand that. We don't expect every country that's helping us to help in every single way.

Nor do we expect every country that's helping to be public about it. Some prefer to be private about it. And as far as I'm concerned, my goal is to get the maximum amount of help for our country, so that we can go after the terrorists and stop them from killing thousands and thousands of Americans. If that means some people do it one way and another person does it another way, that's fine with me.

The American people I've said, I think that they have a very good gyroscope, an inner gyro, and I think they can take all of the buffeting from the television and buffeting from the press and oh isn't this horrible and hand-wringing here and hand-wringing there. And they sift it all out and they make a judgement.

And I think they know several things. I think they know that this is a very serious problem. That we as a country have to recognize that terrorists exist across the globe. That they increasingly will have access to weapons of mass destruction, that it is a very serious matter. That the United States government is approaching it as a very serious matter. And that we are doing a host of things, some of which are visible, some of which are not visible.

And as the idea that there's going to be some dramatic thing that you can do to make it all better is just a false confidence. We're going to have to stop those bank accounts, we're going to have to arrest people, we're going to have to gather intelligence.

We're going to have to root people out where they are, and I think the American people understand the importance of the task and understand the reality, the truth of what I just said. That there isn't a big navy we can go sink. There isn't a big army we can defeat. There is not a big air force we can shoot down. We've got to do it the hard way. And they'll see that.

Brokaw: Are you saying that because we now have a group of people on the land in the north and we have better eyes and ears, that we can count on, that our bombing runs will be more successful against the front line troops of the Taliban in the coming days?

Rumsfeld: They have been more successful. We have many more targets now. We -- I think today we're up to something like 80 percent of all of our sorties are focused on the forces -- the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that are directly opposite Northern Alliance forces. And the only way that could be done is if the people on the ground were providing much better target information.

Brokaw: You also said in your joint appearance with the British defense secretary [transcript:] that you would not rule out the presence of American troops.

Rumsfeld: Well, we have small numbers of American troops there now, of course. I think they were referring to larger, substantial numbers. And needless to say, we will not rule that out. That is something that we have to be considered.

Brokaw: But why can't you say to the American people, we're prepared to win this war, that means we're going to have to put in a lot of American troops?

Rumsfeld: Well, because what we've decided to say to the American people is the truth, that is that we have a plan in place, it so far is working pretty well. And we feel good about it and it has been there 21 days -- and 21 days is not 21 years. And we've said from the beginning that this is going to take years, not weeks or months. That it is not something that's quick and easy, and can be completed in a 30 minute television program.

Brokaw: Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.


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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).