of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer
October 28, 2001
12:00 P.M. EDT
BLITZER: Today marks the beginning of week four of the U.S.-led military strikes
against targets in Afghanistan, but even before military action began, the Bush
administration warned that the war against terrorism would be a long one.
Earlier today, I spoke with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about what
the military campaign has accomplished so far, and what may be ahead.
Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. Let's get right to the issue at hand.
Did the U.S. military underestimate the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda
RUMSFELD: Not at all. This is going roughly the way we have said publicly that
it would go. We said it would be long, we said it would be difficult; we said
it would be different and, indeed, it is. There is no question but that part
of what's going on is seen, part of it is not seen. It is not simply military,
it's also economic and financial, and law enforcement. And we feel it's going
very much the way we predicted.
BLITZER: Some people are suggesting, as you know, that there was this underestimating
of the enemy, of the U.S. enemy in this particular case, and in part they base
it on an October 16th Pentagon briefing. I want you to listen to what the briefer,
Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold said on that, listen to this.
Lt. Gen. Newbold: I think the campaign has aided materially, I really do. I
think, as I say, the combat power of the Taliban has been eviscerated, and it
will progressively over time.
BLITZER: Now, when he says the combat power of the Taliban has been eviscerated,
that sounds like it's all over.
RUMSFELD: Yes, it isn't all over. Indeed, they still have some jet fighters,
they still have some helicopters, they still have some SAMs [Surface-to Air
Missiles], they still have some Stinger missiles on the ground. They still have
a lot of very seasoned tough people. Anyone who has ever watched the history
of that country, or the effort that the Soviet Union made to conquer the country
has to know that these people who have spent many, many years fighting, and
they live in caves, and they are perfectly capable of fighting a very tough
BLITZER: How long is this going to go on, in your opinion?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think the very first day, I said, this isn't days or weeks
or months, this is a very long process. And the task is to root out terrorists,
it's to stop the terrorist networks, and that is a difficult thing to do. It's
not an easy thing to do. And it's going to take time and patience. And I must
say, I hear some impatience from the people who are, of course, have to produce
news every 15 minutes, but not from the American people. I think the American
people understand the fact that it's going to be long and hard.
BLITZER: The war against terrorism will be long and hard, but what about doing
away with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan?
RUMSFELD: Well, they're there, and we are after them. And we've been doing it
very systematically. The first phase of the war was to take out their air defenses,
which has been done. They still have some aircraft hidden, and they still have
some surface-to-air missiles of relatively short range that are there. But we've
done a pretty good job of being able to now function over that country from
The next phase is to assist the opposition forces. We have been doing that in
the north and the south. There's been a good deal of activity up around Mazar-e
Sharif, and in north of Kabul, as well as down near Kandahar. So, I think that
the phases -- I think it was General Franks or I at the very beginning who said
the task is to set conditions so that we can conduct a sustained operation,
recognizing that they have miles and miles and miles of tunnels and caves that
they can hide in, and that makes it a very difficult task. It's like looking
for a needle in a haystack to find some senior people in those organizations.
BLITZER: Can those 5,000-pound bunker busting bombs, those precision-guided
bombs, get into those caves and destroy those caves?
RUMSFELD: There's no question that we have been systematically working on the
caves, and on the tunnels, and on their openings, and we've had some success.
Now, the problem is there are a great many of them, so it's going to take some
time to deal with them and make them less habitable.
BLITZER: I don't know if you saw the comments this week. I interviewed Congressman
Steve Buyer of Indiana. He says if those 5,000-pound bombs can't do the job
he would want you to consider using tactical nuclear weapons. Not the strategic
nuclear bombs, but the smaller tactical nuclear weapons to destroy those facilities.
What do you think about that?
RUMSFELD: I think the 5,000-pound bombs are going to be able to do the job.
BLITZER: So, you're ruling out any consideration...
RUMSFELD: I don't rule out anything, but my answer very simply is, we are not
having a problem in dealing with those tunnels in terms of the ordinance. The
problem is that there are so many of them, and locating them, it just takes
time. And we're systematically working on the problem, just as we are working
on the Taliban and the al-Qaeda military, finding concentrations of those people.
They're well burrowed in, and the task is to get the opposition forces moving
in a way and helping with targeting so that as they force and put pressure on
the al-Qaeda, and on the Taliban that we're able to then target them successfully,
and that has increasingly been the case.
BLITZER: As you know, during the Gulf War, the U.S. deliberately refused to
rule out a nuclear strike, if you will. If it were determined that Saddam Hussein
were using weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical, biological, or himself
nuclear, what is the U.S. position right now?
RUMSFELD: The United States has historically refused to rule out the use of
weapons like that.
BLITZER: Nuclear weapons, and that's the case right now.
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about what some critics are saying, you're playing
into the hands of the Taliban by allowing this pounding, some of the errant
weapons that go astray killing civilians to coalesce support for the Taliban
RUMSFELD: Well, we get all kinds of scraps of information, intelligence, we
get it from people on the ground, and we get it from people who are leaving
the country, we get it from various other sources, and our information is that
that's not the case. That there are all kinds of-you can find information across
the spectrum, intelligence information, but one of the things that we're increasingly
seeing and hearing is the fact that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda are systematically
using mosques, and schools, and hospitals for command and control centers, for
ammunition s storage. They're playing artillery and tanks and armored vehicles
in close proximity to hospitals and schools in residential areas. And the people
who live in those residential areas, and the people who are in those hospitals
and schools don't like it. They are increasingly dissatisfied with the Taliban
for putting them at risk. And, as you know from your experience covering the
Pentagon, the United States of America is very careful about collateral damage.
We have weapons that are undoubtedly more accurate and more precise than probably
any country on earth, and we are careful about what we do. Notwithstanding that
there are going to be people who are going to be killed, but the weapons, the
ordinance that's being fired, is not only being fired from the air by the United
States and coalition forces, it is also being fired from the ground by the Taliban
and the al-Qaeda. And that ordinance has to come down, and it hits people, and
it kills people. And so to show a dead person and contend that it necessarily
is the United States is just plain false.
BLITZER: So this strategy that they have, as you describe it, put their weapons,
their military within civilian areas, will that deter the U.S. from going after
RUMSFELD: Well, it complicates our problem. We clearly are being sensitive about
collateral damage, and recognizing that it can cause a problem with the feeling
about what's taking place. We have to be more careful. And that means you can
use only limited types of ordinance, or limited types of platforms, aircraft.
In the event that it is in close proximity to residential areas, and even then,
of course, weapons are not perfect. Our weaponry, probably the best is probably
85-90 percent reliable. It's a heck of a lot better than automobiles and bicycles,
but nothing is perfect. So there are going to be instances where-there was a
case where we hit a warehouse that the Red Cross has some things stored in.
Fortunately, no one was killed. But I think this happened in the last day or
BLITZER: You probably saw the comments that President Musharraf of Pakistan
said on Saturday, and I'll put it up on the screen, he said military action
must be brought to an end as soon as possible, unable to achieve its military
goals in a certain time, we need to switch to a political strategy. It sounds
like he's being impatient with the U.S. military strategy.
RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that he has a very difficult problem.
He's doing, in my view, an excellent job in dealing with a complicated situation.
He says it should end as soon as possible. Of course it should; nobody wants
to go on longer than is necessary. We would all like it to end as soon as possible.
The problem you're facing is that thousands of Americans and, indeed, people
from another 50 or 60 countries were killed in the United States on September
11th. Many thousands more are at risk today from terrorist networks. It's our
job to go out and root out those terrorist networks. The problem in the world
is not the United States of America; the problem is terrorists. And the president,
properly, said we're going to go after them, and we are. And we're going to
find them and root them out, and stop them from engaging in those terrorist
The situation for Pakistan is something that we're respectful of, and interested
in, and anxious to have him be successful in managing. He's been very, very
helpful to us.
BLITZER: As you know he'd also like you to pause for the Muslim holy month of
Ramadan, which starts November 17th.
RUMSFELD: Of course, the fact is that there have been-the Northern Alliance
and the Taliban fought through Ramadan year after year, there was a Middle East
war during Ramadan. There is nothing in that religion that suggests that conflicts
have to stop during Ramadan.
BLITZER: So the U.S....
RUMSFELD: You can be certain that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda will continue
right on with their repressive ways, and attempting to take advantage just as
they do today by putting ammunition storage in mosques.
BLITZER: So the U.S. will not pause or change in any way because of Ramadan?
RUMSFELD: The United States does not announce what we plan to do in advance.
BLITZER: Okay. What about reports that you want to see the Northern Alliance,
the anti-Taliban forces in the North, take Mazar-e Sharif in the northern part
of the country, but not move on Kabul, out of concern that the Pakistanis would
not be happy about that?
RUMSFELD: That's not true. The military effort by the United States was designed
in the first phase to go in and try to take out the air defense radars, and
to create an environment where we could provide humanitarian assistance, and
where we could provide effective air-ground support for the opposition forces,
both in the North and the South, including the Northern Alliance, and including
the forces arrayed against Kabul. We are now doing that. We are doing it with
respect to Mazar-e Sharif, we're doing it with respect to Kabul, we're also
doing it with respect to Kandahar. And we have been very energetic in assisting
the Northern Alliance forces that are arrayed against Kabul, as well as Mazar-e
Sharif, and indeed down in the Kandahar area.
BLITZER: What's stopping you from letting those Northern Alliance forces go
into Kabul right now?
RUMSFELD: I think there's a misunderstanding. The Northern Alliance forces are
not stopped. They have not been stopped. They are not currently stopped. And
they will not be stopped in the future.
BLITZER: But, are you doing enough to help them?
RUMSFELD: Well, my goodness. I've just explained what we're doing. We're dropping
thousands of pieces of ordinance to assist them in addressing the Taliban forces
that are arrayed against them, both there and over at Mazar-e Sharif, and down
in Kandahar. The thing you're reading in the paper that the United States for
some reason is restraining these people is just factually not true. We're providing
food, we're providing ammunition to the extent we can, we're encouraging them,
we're providing air-ground support. We're taking targeting information from
the ground to increasingly greater effect. And it's having the effect of damaging
the Taliban and damaging the al-Qaeda military capabilities opposite those forces.
BLITZER: As you know, Abdul Haq, the guerilla leader, Afghan guerilla leader
was executed in Afghanistan this past week. Was he on a U.S. mission in Afghanistan?
RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge. He of course was an Afghan who had been involved
previously, who had been living out of the country, had decided to come back
to the country and get re-engaged, which he was en route to do, and clearly
was killed, captured and killed by the Taliban.
BLITZER: Some reports suggesting he was working with the CIA, trying to foment
opposition to the Taliban.
RUMSFELD: Well, there are all kinds of people working with agencies of the United
States government trying to create opposition to the Taliban, and that's happening
all across the country. There's no question but that we're engaged in those
kinds of activities.
BLITZER: Has the U.S. government now signed off of this new policy of targeted
killings, as it's called, going after suspected terrorists and executing them,
killing them, assassinating them, whatever words you want to use?
RUMSFELD: Well, I'm not a lawyer, but I can tell you this, that it is not possible
to defend against terrorists at every single location in the world, against
every conceivable type of technique, and at any given moment of the day or night.
The only way to deal with the terrorists that has all the advantage of offense
is to take the battle to them, and find them, and root them out. And that is
self-defense. And there is no question but that any nation on Earth has the
right of self-defense. And we do. And what we are doing is going after those
people, and those organizations, and those capabilities wherever we're going
to find them in the world, and stop them from killing Americans.
BLITZER: Even if it means assassinating them on the spot?
RUMSFELD: I wouldn't even think the word was appropriate. I don't know, I'd
have to get a dictionary and know what the difference between what I'm saying
and you're saying is. But, if the question is, do we have a right to defend
ourselves by going after people who murder thousands of Americans in a preemptive
way, to defend ourselves, you bet your life we do, and we're doing it.
BLITZER: What about Mohammed Atta's two meetings that he had with a senior Iraqi
intelligence official in Prague, before the September 11th attack. Mohammed
Atta, the suspected ringleader of the September 11th terrorist attack. Does
that suggest to you that Iraq was involved somehow in that September 11th attack?
RUMSFELD: I guess I'm kind of old fashioned, I like to talk about things I know
something about. And what we do know about Iraq is that Iraq has been a nation
that has been a nation that has been engaged in terrorist acts. We know they
have been a nation that has harbored terrorists, and facilitated and financed,
and fostered those kinds of activities. We know they have occupied their neighbor
Kuwait, and we have thrown them out. We know they have imposed great damage
on their Shiah population in the South, and on the Kurds in the North. We know
they have used weapons of mass destruction against their own people, as well
as against some of their neighbors. That regime is a bad regime, it is a regime
that is a dangerous regime. What the meaning was in this particular instance
is something that I think we'll have to unfold, and learn more about.
BLITZER: So you don't see that necessarily as a smoking gun linking Iraq to
RUMSFELD: As I say, I like to talk about things I know something about. And
that's something that's in a state of evolution in terms of understanding what
actually took place.
BLITZER: I know our time is running out, but a quick question on Saudi Arabia.
The criticism is they're not sharing information, they're not freezing assets
that the United States has frozen of groups associated with al-Qaeda, they're
not allowing the U.S. to launch strikes from Saudi soil. The criticism of Saudi
Arabia is that they're a fair weather friend.
RUMSFELD: I don't know where this is coming from. I met with the Saudis when
I was over there very recently. My impression is that they've been very cooperative,
they've provided enormous assistance in a variety of different ways. They have
over the years; it's been a good relationship between the United States and
Saudi Arabia. Of late I've read a series of article to that effect. But, my
attitude is that they've been very helpful, they are being helpful today, they
have a complicated problem. Most of the countries in the region do. They have
to measure what they say. Some countries are more helpful publicly, and others
are more helpful privately. My attitude about it is, we want help from all of
them, and we want them to do it in a way that's comfortable for them. To the
extent we start saying, everyone has to help on this, or everyone has to help
publicly but not privately, we hurt ourselves, we hurt our goal, our target
of trying to end these terrorist networks. So I'm very respectful of the situation
that Saudi Arabia has, and I, and I know others in our government are very appreciative
for all that they're doing to help.
BLITZER: The anthrax letters that have been mailed here in the United States.
Do you suspect that that's the work of domestic American groups, terrorists
here in the United States, or international terrorists?
RUMSFELD: I'm without a view at the moment. There are a lot of very fine law
enforcement people who are pursuing that, as well as public health officials.
And in my view they're pursuing it as aggressively as is humanly possible. And
speculation on my part, or frankly on the part of others, it seems to me is
not terribly useful.