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We Are in a Battle for People's Minds

We Are in a Battle for People's Minds

DoD News Briefing: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Friday, November 9, 2001. Interview with Associated Press Radio, Voice of America, National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Corp. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Q: Do you want to make a statement first?

Wolfowitz: I guess I would say I think it can't be emphasized enough that we are really just at the beginning of what the president and everyone else has made clear is going to be a long campaign against not just al Qaeda in Afghanistan and not just al Qaeda but against a whole network of global terrorism which showed its ugly face on September 11th.

And if someone had, from this department, had gone up to the Congress in June and testified that we needed billions of dollars in order to sustain operations, military operations in Central Asia, and oh by the way in addition we needed billions of dollars because at the same time we would have to devote some 50 percent of our airborne surveillance assets to maintaining continuous combat air patrols over the United States, we would have been accused of manufacturing threats in order to justify our expenditures, and yet those are exactly the things we're doing today. I think it's a demonstration of how difficult it is to foresee the future in this business and how important it is to be prepared and have a wide range of capabilities.

Q: Would you like to also address the coming of Ramadan and the continual problem with the Muslim world seeing this as a war against them, and particularly, no matter how many times Secretary Rumsfeld says this is a war against terrorism not Muslims, that particularly as the holiday approaches they see this as a war against their religion.

Wolfowitz: I think there are certainly problems because there are people including Osama bin Laden himself quite prominently who are trying to manipulate this and say this is a war of Islam against the rest of the world. In fact he seemed to define it as Islam against the United Nations. He can't seem to find anyone who's not his enemy. And there are certain people with whom that has appeal, and we have to work very hard to combat that view.

One of the difficulties we have, and it's classic in wars against totalitarian regimes, is that for a certain amount of time they control some of the news coming out of places they control. So I think when we achieve our objectives in Afghanistan and people are able to see clearly what the record of the Taliban regime is, I imagine it's going to look a lot like Europe after the Nazis or Eastern Europe after the Soviet Union. When people are free to talk I think the story's going to come out our way and very clearly.

I was Ambassador to Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other country in the world, and I know there is some confusion in Indonesia, and there obviously will be when we are involved in a bombing campaign in any country in the world, but there's no confusion about the attitudes of Indonesians towards terrorism and towards the kind of horror that we saw on September 11th.

So I think in the long run we're going to win that battle.

As far as Ramadan goes, it is a particularly holy time of the year for Muslims, but if we had a chance to capture bin Laden or some of his senior operatives it wouldn't matter to me whether it was Christmas or Hanukkah or Ramadan, we have to do it. At the same time, because we are in a battle for people's minds as well, we're going to -- we are conscious of that. I think a very important example is the extreme care we go to avoid hitting mosques. We know that the Taliban and al Qaeda take advantage of that, just as other people in earlier wars have taken advantage of that. But that's one of those things it's important enough for us to avoid hitting religious sites to let them have that advantage.

Q: Let me follow up on the Ramadan. It is coming up now and there had been some discussion that perhaps General Franks might concentrate if there is continual military action in the north, as opposed to in the south where there's greater concern about Pakistani Muslims. What is going to be happening for Ramadan?

Wolfowitz: We're not going to write a blueprint for Ramadan. We know that Ramadan is a special time. I think it's a time to concentrate even more than we do anyway, which is a lot, on things like humanitarian operations. But let's also remember that the people are suffering up north because of Taliban oppression, because of Taliban cutting off humanitarian assistance, that those people suffering and dying are Muslims, and I don't think stopping the war and leaving them under Taliban oppression for an extra month is doing any favor to Muslims anywhere.

Q: Is that what the secretary was getting at yesterday? Because all along since the beginning of the bombing campaign we've heard him and the chairman refer to a measured approach. We're following our own time line. Suddenly yesterday the secretary said, warned against prolonging the campaign. That's the first time I'd ever heard him use that word.

Is there some sudden urgency that we're trying to deal with now in Afghanistan?

Wolfowitz: I don't think so. Wasn't it the secretary who said, when he was questioned about months versus years he said that gives me 23 months?

Look, we're going to do this at the pace that makes sense for us, for achieving our strategic objectives in Afghanistan, and for achieving our strategic objectives beyond Afghanistan. And I think patience is one of the watchwords here. We will do what we need to do, we'll do whatever we need to do at the time we need to do it, but I think the focus of our strategy now clearly is on enlisting as many Afghans as possible on our side to do their work and in the process help us achieve our objectives. And the more we can get to that result the better off we'll be in the long term.

It's not a matter of a reluctance or unwillingness to use American forces. I think the Secretary has said we have all options on the table. But the point is, as other people have learned in the past, Afghanistan is not a country that's particularly friendly to foreigners and we don't want to become the next bunch of foreigners that have problems after they've achieved some initial success.

So the key to achieving our objectives here is enlisting Afghans north and south and everywhere in what I think is their fight against the Taliban, their fight against a foreign terrorist presence.

Q: If I could jump onto that, one of the only means that we know about to get that, to win over sort of Afghan minds has involved radio broadcasts from the Commando Solo flights and leaflet drops.

Is there any sense you have of the effectiveness that that is having in achieving that goal?

Wolfowitz: We're not very free to take public opinion polls in Afghanistan, as you know, so it's hard to measure those things.

I think we're pretty confident that we're the only ones doing the broadcasting now, that we've been able to take them off the air. That is a good thing.

I would say it's just too early to tell. But one has to recognize also that the best information campaign in the world is also going to be influenced by facts on the ground. I think as the opponents of Taliban begin to make more progress you will begin to see more people beginning to get off the fence and move over to the side that we want them to be on. That's another reason why this takes time and takes some patience.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I pick up on the Ramadan issue? We know that you and your colleagues have said there's no question of a pause in the terrorist campaign and I understand that. We understand you can't say what you're going to do in advance. But are you nevertheless open to some sort of gesture? We noticed for example that you did not bomb on the first Friday of the campaign. Is it still possible, bearing in mind enormous sensitivity in the Muslim world, that something might be possible, can you give us a hint that you might be --

Wolfowitz: I think we've made it clear we're going to be sensitive to the fact that Ramadan is the holiest month on the Muslim calendar and we will have that in mind. We're not going to write a blueprint for the Taliban or al Qaeda or the people that we're after to say oh, now you not only know that mosques are safe but these other sanctuaries are sanctuaries you can operate in. But we will be sensitive.

Q: So you don't rule out some sort of gesture.

Wolfowitz: We haven't ruled anything out.

Q: One way to -- As you said earlier, one thing you can do in Ramadan is concentrate on humanitarian operations. How important is it to the U.S. military campaign that Mazar-e Sharif be liberated and soon?

Wolfowitz: Look, it will be very valuable when Mazar can be liberated and the land bridge from Uzbekistan can be opened. And it's important for many reasons and humanitarian assistance is one of the reasons.

If you look at a map of where people are suffering and starving in Afghanistan it is exactly those areas that are not under Taliban control. In other words, the Taliban lets food go to the areas they control and they stop food from going to places that they don't, and they are the cause of the huge humanitarian disaster. This was true before October 7th and it's even more true now.

So the more we can open up access for humanitarian assistance from outside areas of Taliban control the sooner we can end what is a real humanitarian problem. And there is some urgency to it because of the onset of winter. But again, we'll have to adjust our humanitarian operations to the pace of what takes place on the ground, and we will continue dropping food from the air as long as that's the best means of getting it there.

Q: You mentioned the importance of enlisting Afghans in the U.S. cause. Should they not move quickly enough in order to establish the conditions for humanitarian operations in the north, for example, do you have to then look at the reality that maybe you can't depend on them to carry out your campaign?

Wolfowitz: If you're pushing for a timetable, I'm not --

Q: (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: We don't have a timetable. We really assess the situation literally on a daily basis. And you can only form judgments about what's taking place on a weekly or monthly basis. This is a situation that shifts and goes up and down, back and forth, it's in the nature of this kind of warfare. I think any judgments that one's going to make you have to make after following things over a period of time.

We're not on a fixed timetable here. I think other than, as we've observed already, winter is a difficult time from a humanitarian point of view, and if the situation on the ground doesn't move favorably then there are other things we can do including increasing the level of air drops. We've already been able to increase that partly thanks to having more people on the ground with Northern Alliance forces so that we know where to drop food and supplies.

Q: But even if you're not on a fixed timetable, you certainly have a campaign plan.

Wolfowitz: Not in the sense that we had a campaign plan for the liberation of Kuwait where you could pretty much map it out from start to finish and it pretty much went according to plan. It went a little faster than planned, but it was the plan.

This is a plan that looks to develop opportunities as those opportunities develop, looks at how you can exploit those opportunities, then obviously has in mind that if opportunities don't develop then you may have to do other things to force them open.

But the objective in Afghanistan remains from the beginning, the primary objective is to get rid of al Qaeda, to end Afghanistan as a sanctuary for terrorist operations. That means clearly ending the Taliban regime. But within that even on the political side there's enormous latitude as to what is a final acceptable outcome, and that's important.

The Russians had a plan for Afghanistan which was to impose the communist regime on the country. We don't have that kind of plan or that kind of objective. We just want to end Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations. It's very different.

Q: Mr. Secretary, may I pick up on the campaign plan, and the interesting thing you said was that you assess this on a daily basis, that there are more and more rumblings of people who are criticizing it as being too timid and they don't actually see a plan, and to have it sound like there isn't really a plan would add fuel to that criticism.

How would you answer those critics?

Wolfowitz: Let's be clear what the plan is and it isn't. It's not a plan, as I said, in the sense of the liberation of Kuwait where we actually had time-phased objectives for the air campaign, what we would do in the first week and the second week, and there wasn't much we had to look for in the way of the Iraqi reaction. It pretty much went according to plan.

The plan here is one that rests on developing opposition inside Afghanistan to the Taliban and assisting that opposition to achieve its objectives which in turn will help us achieve our objectives. That is the plan. And it is a plan that, to repeat it, it looks for opportunities, it looks for creating opportunities, it looks for exploiting opportunities, and that means you have to on a daily basis assess where those are, where the level of effort should be increased, where maybe it should be shifted. That's what I mean. It's a strategy rather than a blueprint.

Q: And what would you say to those who are saying well, where's the progress? We don't see much -- how would you assess how things are going according to the --

Wolfowitz: I think the only way you can assess something like this is when it's over. And there really is -- a lot becomes clear when you finally achieve your objectives and we aren't there yet. We know that.

The -- sorry, I lost my train of thought.

Q: On how things are going, how you're assessing the situation of how it's going according to the daily changing plan.

Q: You can only assess it when it's over.

Wolfowitz: You can only assess it when it's over, but I think what we see is a steady progress in terms of the kinds of things we're trying to do. Steady progress in terms of particularly getting Americans in with Northern Alliance forces so that we can make our air campaign and our air drops more effective in linking up with them.

And it's in the nature of this kind of warfare, it's in the nature of how Afghans fight that you're not going to get clear results in a short period of time. But I think eventually, and I do believe this, we will see eventually a very clear turn in the battle here.

Q: Mr. Secretary, one of the questions I've been meaning to ask you since the beginning, since 9/11, is that you frequently have been portrayed in reports as being the "hawk" in the administration who wants to pursue this campaign almost immediately beyond the borders of Afghanistan and particularly to target Iraq. Would you set the record straight on these presentations?

Wolfowitz: Look, I don't get into -- let me put it this way.

We've had, I think we've had some very, very good and very robust discussions about what is the best strategy here, what are the best tactics. I've known for a couple of years that this is a president who really relishes, cultivates, debate and argument among his advisors, and we've had some very robust debates.

He's also a president who is very clear about his willingness to make decisions. At some point -- there is no way you can do everything all at once. We're talking about a very broad campaign over a significant period of time and there has to be strategic priorities, and only one person can set them. We've seen, I will say the spectacle in the past, unfortunately, in this government and other governments where governments seem to be pursuing two contradictory policies at once and that's a guarantee that you have no policy at all.

So I think what we have here is a very strong team with a terrific leader and as the president said, this is a broad campaign. It starts in Afghanistan but it doesn't end in Afghanistan. And the goal really is to free the United States and to free the civilized world from this terrible menace of global terrorism.

Q: Mr. Secretary, we ask you about progress and you can't give any concrete signs of progress. You said there's no firm fixed plan such as there was in the war in the Gulf. Other people, particularly in the region, are really worried that this is a directionless war, this is one that it's just an expression of American anger, perhaps, in response to what happened on September the 11th. How do you answer that?

Wolfowitz: Well that is, if I can say, that is ridiculous. If you want a direction, the direction is very clear. The direction is to encourage the Northern Alliance to recapture northern Afghanistan from Taliban impression; the direction is to encourage opposition in the Pushtun south against the Taliban to get rid of the Taliban regime, and to have a regime in Afghanistan that reflects the will of the Afghan people, not the will of the United States, but puts an end to Afghanistan as a sanctuary for terrorism. That is the direction.

Now how fast Northern Alliance is progressing towards those goals, how fast opposition is developing in the south is something that is difficult to read on a daily basis and difficult to predict. I think we're making progress.

We always have options to accelerate that progress and we always look at ways to do it. I would say one measure of progress has been clearly an improvement in our ability to deliver support to the Northern Alliance. Is that reflected on the battlefield? Yes, I think it is. But could it be -- can you have reverses on the battlefield in the North tomorrow? Of course you can. It's a fluid situation. But the direction of what we're trying to achieve is absolutely clear and no one should say that this is just somehow purposeless bombing to satisfy some American urge for revenge. It is very purposeful and the purpose is very clearly to root out the al Qaeda in Afghanistan and to Afghanistan as a sanctuary for terrorism.

Q: We were being told by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about cavalry charges by the Northern Alliance. At what stage do you conclude that they're not strong enough to achieve the objectives you set them and you need a really serious American presence on the ground?

Wolfowitz: We haven't ruled out any options but I think they're making progress and one of the things you can also do is to give them the kind of supplies and equipment that move them beyond the very difficult state they were in when we first made contact with them. That process is underway even as we speak.

Q: There's a lot of criticism coming up now that you seem to have been too slow in pursuing your objectives, too slow getting the special forces on the ground, too slow to target Taliban front lines. How do you respond to that?

Wolfowitz: You know, we are just barely, we aren't even two months since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and we are just barely one month since the start of this campaign.

Two months after the invasion of Kuwait, which was a much easier problem to tackle, we were just beginning to review General Schwarzkopf's first plans for the liberation of Kuwait. October 7th, less than a month after the attack on the World Trade Center, we were engaged in a major military campaign halfway around the world in places which, as I said at the beginning, you would have laughed at us if we said we had to prepare to fight in Afghanistan and base forces in Uzbekistan.

It's really quite remarkable, I think. It's testimony to our rather amazing American capability, and I think it's testimony to terrific work on the part of General Franks and all the people under his command that they are doing this, and they are doing this flying sorties out of places where it's a ten hour round trip to deliver bombs on target and they keep this up day after day after day.

I think it is quite a feat and I think people would be impressed by it.

Q: Just about Iraq, you spoke of a deadly combination of support for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction the other day. Is that a hint that you think the anthrax might have come from Iraq?

Wolfowitz: No. It's just saying that terrorists who have weapons of mass destruction are a particularly dangerous form of terrorism and we see a suggestion that that's out there.

Q: You have several times in this interview described U.S. strategy in Afghanistan as one of supporting the opposition, both in the North and the South. And yet General Pace just a couple of days ago said, for example, that U.S. advisors on the ground do not second guess rebel commanders, do not offer advice unless they're invited to offer advice.

Given the importance of this war, how can the United States depend on someone else to fight it for us?

Wolfowitz: Look, I think if you go back through history some of the most successful campaigns we've fought are ones where we've had good allies helping us and people fighting for their objectives when their objectives were our objectives. That is what you want to achieve.

It doesn't mean, by the way, that we don't have some fairly specific advice probably bordering on instructions in certain occasions. But at the same time it's a basic principle of good command I think to delegate responsibility down to as low a level as possible because it's at that level that people really have a feel for the battlefield and some commander, some general sitting in Tampa, Florida, is not likely to understand the nature of the campaign from Mazar-e Sharif as well as an Afghan commander who'd been fighting over that terrain for years.

So I think that's what General Pace meant, but we have some, we certainly have strategic advice that we can pass on. We certainly have specific knowledge of how they best make use of the capabilities that we have to offer them. And quite frankly, we also have very specific guidance to them that we think if they don't want to repeat some of the disastrous mistakes they have made in the past that they had better be very careful about how they treat civilian populations when they do liberate territories.

Q: Isn't there a difference between supporting an Army and depending on them?

Wolfowitz: Yes, there clearly is a difference, and at the end of the day we're not going to depend critically on anyone. We will do what we need to do. We will do what it takes.

The United States has never been attacked in the way that we were on September 11th, and people who have underestimated us in the past have learned what the United States is capable of doing. We have the resources, we have the will, and we'll take care of the problem. But it is much, much better for us and for everybody else if we can find a way to do it where our objectives are in common with the objectives of other people rather than having to impose everything by our will.

Thank you all.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary

Wolfowitz: 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).