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08 March 2002

Rumsfeld Says Afghan Battle Intensity Has Lessened

(Enemy forces are well supplied, well disciplined, he says) (2580)
The intensity of the eight-day-old Operation Anaconda in the eastern
mountains of Afghanistan has lessened somewhat, but the battle is not
over and it is difficult to pinpoint when that might be, says U.S.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"These things are not predictable, really. There are still any number
of al-Qaida and probably Taliban located in those caves and tunnels
and in very well entrenched positions," Rumsfeld said March 8 in a CNN
interview.
Fighting in Paktia province between al-Qaida and Taliban forces and
the U.S.-led coalition erupted March 1 and had steadily intensified as
the coalition forces closed in on enemy positions.
Rumsfeld said that while he does not believe the enemy are receiving
reinforcements or fresh supplies, they have a very large cache of
supplies, small arms and light weapons, and ammunition inside a series
of caves and tunnels.
"They're well supplied and well disciplined," he said. "We'd be happy
to have them surrender. But we haven't seen anyone coming in and
surrendering. We've seen them try to sneak out, and we're stopping
them."
Rumsfeld also said the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden
continues. "We're ultimately going to find him. Wherever he is, he is
not happy," he said.
Following is a transcript of the Rumsfeld interview:
(begin transcript) 
U.S. Department of Defense
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld 
Washington, DC
March 8
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with CNN Live Today
(Interview with Wolf Blitzer, CNN Live Today) 
Question: And I am here at the Defense Department, at the Pentagon,
with the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. And I want to get right
to the issue of the day -- Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan.
Is it all but over?
Rumsfeld: No. These things are not predictable, really. There are
still any number of al-Qaida and probably Taliban located in those
caves and tunnels and in very well entrenched positions, dug in.
They've got a lot of ammunition. The weather's terrible today. And so
the level, the intensity of the battle has calmed down. To the extent
people try to get in or out of that area where they're contained,
we're dealing with them. And we're still continuing to bomb, and
there's some ground fire coming out from the al-Qaida, but it's
relatively modest at the moment.
Q: The weather is a significant factor, because you really can't go in
and provide the kind of close air support for those U.S. ground forces
in bad weather.
Rumsfeld: That's exactly right. We can still drop so-called GPS
weapons, smart weapons, precision weapons. But in terms of actually
flushing people out and then using things like the AC-130 with 105
howitzers and 40 millimeters, and you can't do that.
Q: Give our viewers a sense of the scope of this battle. How many
al-Qaida and related fighters are there, do you believe, and how U.S.
and coalition fighters are fighting them?
Rumsfeld: Well, it's not clear to me I want to tell the world how many
people have doing it. But we do have a large number of Americans, you
know, many hundreds. And we do have a good number of Afghans, and we
have four or five other countries engaged in this. And they are well
arranged around the entire area. They spent weeks beforehand gathering
intelligence and observing. It's very difficult to know exactly how
many al-Qaida or Taliban are in there because of the fact that they do
have tunnels and caves. And that makes it very difficult to estimate
it.
Q: And you say they're getting reinforcements. They're getting
supplies, obviously. But are other fighters coming in to the area?
Rumsfeld: I don't believe they are getting reinforcements or supplies.
They do have a very large cache of supplies and weapons and ammunition
inside those caves and tunnels. So they're not without ammunition or
food or water. They're well supplied and well disciplined. These are
very well trained fighters. These are hard dead-enders. These are
hardline types.
Q: Now when you say dead-enders, tell our viewers what you mean by
that.
Rumsfeld: Well, I mean we'd be happy to have them surrender. But we
haven't seen anyone coming in and surrendering. We've seen them try to
sneak out, and we're stopping them. And we've seen some people trying
to sneak in, small numbers, ones, twos, threes; nothing like tens, or
twenties, or thirties. These are very small numbers. And, of course,
it's very rough terrain, extremely cold. It's up between eight and
eleven thousand feet where most of these battles are taking place.
[Clips of Engagement] 
Just trying to breathe up there, for people who were acclimated to
that altitude, is not easy.
Q: Well, you say they're dead-enders. That means they're ready to
fight to the death.
Rumsfeld: Well, we won't know that till they're dead. But thus far
we've not seen them surrender.
Q: Does that mean that the U.S. rules of engagement in dealing with
these so-called dead-enders has to change, because if someone wants to
surrender, you don't know if that person is wired with a bomb ready to
commit suicide and kill a lot of U.S. troops in the process?
Rumsfeld: Well, we've had that happen, as you know, although they've
not killed large numbers of U.S. troops in the process. But we have
had people come out with grenades and various types of explosives
taped to their bodies, not in this operation, but previously. And our
folks are trained to deal with that. If people want to surrender, we
have ways of letting them surrender without putting our people at risk
that they're going to be blown up.
Q: There's some speculation from local Afghan commanders that Osama
bin Laden and his number two, Ayman al-Zawahari, may -- may be part of
these fighters.
Rumsfeld: You can find some speculation from Afghans, Americans,
coalition partners, neighboring countries about where those folks are
on any given day. And my attitude is I'm not going to not chase those
speculations.
Q: You still don't have a clue where Osama bin Laden is? 
Rumsfeld: I didn't say that. 
Q: You do have a clue? 
Rumsfeld: No, I didn't say that either. I'm not going to talk about
whether we have good intelligence or bad intelligence on that subject.
We're looking for him. We're ultimately going to find him. Wherever he
is, he is not happy. He is not able to effectively run his safe haven
in Afghanistan. And our goal was to take the Taliban government out
and to make sure that Afghanistan was not a sanctuary for terrorists
and for the training of terrorists. And it is not today.
And so at least that much of our initial goal has been accomplished
very successfully.
Q: Were you surprised by the degree of resistance that these al-Qaida
fighters had? In other words, was there an underestimation of the
battle?
Rumsfeld: No. I mean, if you think of these, these are the people who
took plastic knives and box cutters and flew airplanes filled with
themselves as well as American citizens into the World Trade Center
and this building you're sitting in. Why would one be surprised that
they're determined, well-trained, clever, capable of using modern
technology that they never could have developed, but is made available
to the world today to kill people. No, I'm not surprised that they're
determined and well trained. We've read their terrorist training
manuals.
Q: But in part, they're dead-enders. They're ready to fight to the
death because they're not Afghans. They're Arabs; they're Chechens;
they're Pakistanis; they're others presumably with no place else left
to go.
Rumsfeld: Oh, they've got places they could go. And they've had plenty
of opportunity to leave. What it tells you is that they didn't leave;
they stayed there and are trying to take back that country and to try
to throw out the interim government, and to try to again turn it into
a terrorist training camp and a sanctuary. We are trying to see that
Afghanistan is not a haven and sanctuary. But we're also working with
other countries to see that they aren't, because these terrorists do
not have armies, navies and air forces. They don't have countries.
They have to find some country that will foster and encourage and
finance and harbor and provide sanctuary for them. And we can't let
that happen, or else we'll find that they're not only doing what
they've done, but they will be -- there's an enormous appetite. We
have plenty of evidence that they want chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons. We know that. And if we are relaxed and say, oh,
well, things are okay now; nothing's happened; we haven't had a
terrorist attack for the last six months, therefore we don't have to
worry about it. That's nonsense. If those folks get a hold of weapons
of mass destruction, we're talking to be talking not about thousands
of people, but tens of thousands of people.
Q: How realistic is that prospect that they could get hold of those
kinds of weapons of mass destruction?
Rumsfeld: Well, we know they're intelligent; we know they're well
financed; we know there are thousands of them. We know that they've
got activities in 40, 50 or 60 countries. And we know that there are a
number of nations that are on the terrorist list that also have
weapons of mass destruction and have weaponized chemical and
biological weapons and are working very aggressively toward nuclear
weapons.
Now, it does not take a leap of imagination to understand that, with
the desire they've demonstrated -- and we have all kinds of
intelligence evidence to that effect, that the al-Qaida terrorists
want weapons of mass destruction, and the people they've dealt with
over the years having those kinds of weapons. It doesn't take a genius
to recognize that that is a very serious threat.
Q: Is there a link between these al-Qaida terrorists who still may be
at large and the government of President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad?
Rumsfeld: I'm not going to get into intelligence information about
where those links are. We know the countries that are on the terrorist
list, and that's one of them.
Q: Vice President Cheney's heading to the region, to the Middle East,
as you know, in the coming days. A lot of speculation that he wants to
talk about Iraq. But can the U.S. effectively launch a strike, a
regime change, if you will, of Saddam Hussein's government as long as
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be worsening, deteriorating?
Don't you, in other words, have to calm that down before you try to
take on Iraq?
Rumsfeld: My whole adult lifetime, there have been problems between
Israel and the Arabs and the Palestinians in that region. It is
something that has gone on decade after decade after decade. In the
intervening period, we've had a number of wars. And I don't know that
that is the determinant.
Q: Because you will need, if you go after Iraq, moderate Arab support
from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, other countries that border Iraq.
Rumsfeld: I'm not going to get into the subject of Iraq and what the
President might or might not decide. He gave a speech not too long ago
indicating his concern about Iraq and his concern about North Korea
and his concern about Iran. He's given a number of indications of his
concern about terrorists and states that harbor and provide sanctuary
to terrorists. But it's not for me to begin speculating along that
line.
Q: You look back on these past six months, Monday will be six months
since the September 11th attacks.
Rumsfeld: Uh-huh. 
Q: That's been your biggest frustration? 
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that I've had a frustration, to be
perfectly honest. I've been awfully proud of the men and women in
uniform. Your heart breaks when they die. You have to get up every
morning and know that there's no road map as to exactly how this ought
to be done, because we've never faced this kind of a problem. We've
generally been able to go against countries that have armies, navies
and air forces, and we know how to do that. That's what this
department's organized, trained and equipped to do, as you well know
having worked here. So what we're dealing with now is something that
requires bringing to bear all of the elements of national power -- our
economic power, our ability to close off bank accounts, our ability to
get cooperation from other countries to arrest people and gather
intelligence, to share intelligence; covert activities, as well as
overt activities. And it requires a very close linkage among the
departments of our government. It requires a close linkage between us
and dozens and dozens of countries around that have just done a
wonderful job. And they've suffered deaths as well.
So it is a very complex set of problems. And as I say, there's no road
map that you get up and say, oh, this is what you do next. And,
therefore, it's taken a great deal of thought. And we're working hard
at it.
Q: I just came from the construction site where they're rebuilding
that part of the Pentagon that was blown apart on September 11th. They
say -- they tell me that it -- the construction manager -- should be
ready to go by September 11th of this year. Over the next six months,
though, where do you believe this war on terrorism -- six months from
now, where will it be?
Rumsfeld: Well, we have to finish up the job in Afghanistan, and that
means rooting out the pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban wherever they
are in that country, and working with the interim government to see
that they can create a reasonably stable security environment so that
their people will return from refugee camps and that humanitarian
workers can get in there and provide the kind of food and medical
assistance that's needed.
One example. The Jordanians have provided a hospital in Mazar where
they've treated some 12,000 patients -- men, women and children --
already. I mean there's just some wonderful things happening in that
country.
Beyond that, we have to see that those folks and other global
terrorists don't have safe haven in other countries. And therefore, we
have to continue the law enforcement effort. We have to continue the
freezing of bank accounts. And we have to go after these global
terrorists, wherever they are, in countries that harbor them. We would
be simply driving them out of Afghanistan so they can go to country
"X" and begin to do exactly the same thing, to train and to send
terrorists around to kill innocent men, women and children in this
building and in New York City, or goodness knows where next. It would
be a mindless thing to do. That just moves the problem from here to
there.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we have to leave it right there. Thanks so much for
joining us.
Rumsfeld: Thank you. 
Q: Appreciate it very much. 
Rumsfeld: Good. 
(end transcript)
      



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