Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Interview with Charles Gibson on ABC Good Morning America
The Pentagon
Arlington, Virginia
October 2, 2001
7:02 A.M. EDT

Mr. Secretary, how would you describe military action against the Taliban? Is imminent too strong?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't get into the timing of operations at all. I think that the important thing about it is that we have a situation in Afghanistan where they have been harboring and facilitating worldwide terrorist activity by al Qaeda organization, among others, and it's clear, as President Bush has said, that the only way to deal with that kind of a problem is to -- is to liquidate or root out those terrorist networks.

GIBSON: Because the British prime minister today is saying that an attack is imminent. That it would be proportionate, that it would be targeted, but that it is imminent. Is he going too far?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, prime ministers say what they say. What I have to do is to recognize that lives are at stake and the important thing is that we go about our business without discussing either details of operations or timing of operations.

I think the important thing to recognize, however, is that the United States and those that are involved in and concerned about the problem with international terrorism are certainly not against the Afghan people. We're the biggest food aid deliverer in Afghanistan, $170 million already this year, and I have great feeling for the Afghan people.

The problem is not the Afghan people. The problem is the al Qaeda organization and the Taliban that have been closely linked and supporting, and they are creating enormous damage in the world, and they have to be stopped.

GIBSON: Is he wrong when he uses the word imminent?

RUMSFELD: Look, the -- you know, time will tell.

GIBSON: You're not saying he's wrong.

RUMSFELD: Time will tell. I -- I think that what we do need to keep in mind is that the United States and a coalition including the United Kingdom went in and spent a lot of treasure in moving the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. We have worked with Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia. We've provided humanitarian assistance in Somalia, and we will -- are and will be providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, and to the extent that the United States and other nations are involved in actively rooting out these terrorists, it's for the sole purpose of self-defense and seeing that the terrorist networks are disintegrated across the globe.

GIBSON: Understanding, then, that you don't want to talk about operational details, let me ask a little bit about scope, because you've just been very careful, twice, to say that we have no beef with the Afghani people. So when we talk about scope, are we talking about something very limited, aimed against the Taliban, or is there a possibility that it could be larger in scope and that we might have to occupy conceivably some portion of Afghani territory?

RUMSFELD: Well, anyone who looks at the photographs of the Afghan people, who -- and the way they've been treated by not just the Taliban, which has been a vicious regime, in my view, but also by weather and drought for three years -- has to feel a great deal of compassion for them. And, needless to say, the United States and others who are involved with this want to do everything humanly possible to see that whatever we do with respect to al Qaeda and the Taliban is respectful of the difficulties that the Afghan people have gone through as a result of the Taliban.

GIBSON: Is it inevitable that we would have to take action against the Taliban? There are some who are saying that the government there in Afghanistan may simply collapse under its own weight, that they are having to take desperate measures now simply to maintain control.

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that there are Afghans who oppose Taliban, and they're in the north as well as some of the tribes in the south. The Northern Alliance does in the north and the tribes in the south. There are also factions within the Taliban that disagree with Omar and the Taliban leadership with respect to its coddling and assisting of the al Qaeda terrorist group.

So there are factions within factions, and certainly it's our interest to see that the factions that are in favor of the Afghan people and who are against international terrorism are the ones that prevail.

GIBSON: But I'm asking, do you think there's a situation inside Afghanistan that might obviate the need for action against the Taliban?

RUMSFELD: I think it would be unwise to cross your fingers and hope that something that pleasant would occur.

GIBSON: The Saudi Arabian ambassador said yesterday that we should limit any military action to action against Afghanistan and bin Laden in particular, and yet everyone in the administration has pointed out that al Qaeda is an organization that is in many countries. Military action elsewhere likely? Highly possible?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think when you're dealing with multiple terrorist networks beyond, even beyond al Qaeda, that one has to anticipate that it's a worldwide, broadly based effort that will involve the full range of U.S. capabilities -- financial, economic, political, diplomatic, as well as military.

GIBSON: A couple of other questions to ask -- reports that the administration was preparing to support a Palestinian state prior to September 11. Can you confirm that?

RUMSFELD: I think I'll leave that to the president and my friend Colin Powell.

GIBSON: Also, intelligence reports that a call was intercepted between bin Laden and his stepmother a couple of days before the attack, indicating that something big would happen in a couple of days. Can you confirm that?

RUMSFELD: I don't discuss intelligence matters.

GIBSON: Mr. Secretary, good to talk to you as always.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

GIBSON: Thank you very much.