of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defense Geoffrey Hoon
October 30, 2001
1:35 P.M. EST
RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.
Minister Hoon is visiting the United States. He has been here a number of times.
Indeed, we've met a number of times in the months since I've been serving in
this post. And as always, we're delighted to have this representative of such
a wonderful friend and ally of so many decades.
We've been visiting about a host of issues, not the least of which is the effort
against terrorism and terrorist networks, but also some other subjects of interest
to the United States and to NATO.
HOON: Let me say how much I welcome this opportunity to set out yet again the
United Kingdom's support for the United States leadership of the world's campaign
against international terrorism. We all saw in the moving memorial service in
New York on Sunday echoed in the United Kingdom in Westminster Cathedral, as
a reminder, if anyone needed, of why such a campaign is so necessary.
Our two countries have long enjoyed uniquely closely ties. The appalling tragedies
of the 11th of September and our response to that has brought us still closer.
The United Kingdom has been involved in that campaign right from the start,
primarily through the agreement to use the base at Diego Garcia and in supporting
American strike aircraft by providing air-to-air refueling tankers and reconnaissance
aircraft. And we've also launched cruise missiles against terrorist camps.
On Friday we announced that one of Britain's aircraft carriers, re-equipped
to carry helicopters, will join these forces, together with an assault ship,
two escorts, Royal Marines, Naval Auxiliary vessels and maritime reconnaissance
and transport aircraft. Overall, we will assign something like 4,200 of our
forces to Operation Veritas, the United Kingdom's military contribution to Operation
Enduring Freedom. It is a clear demonstration of our commitment to stand by
our closet ally for as long as it takes. We're prepared for that long haul.
RUMSFELD: Be happy to respond to questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, you said yesterday, and again today, that Muslim sensitivities
over Ramadan must be addressed. And, Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday that
history is replete with examples of Muslims fighting each other during Ramadan.
Will your two countries continue the air campaign, bombing campaign, during
HOON: What I actually said was that we must take those sensitivities into account,
and we will take them into account; but that it does not make sense to indicate
up-front what might be our military intentions during that period. And that
still remains my position.
RUMSFELD: And I said the same thing. I said that we, clearly, are interested
in the views and opinions and sensitivities, and that each country has their
own circumstance and their own neighborhood they live in, and we're respectful
QUESTION: Would it make military sense to halt the bombing during Ramadan?
HOON: It wouldn't make military sense to announce up-front what our intentions
were during that period. And it certainly wouldn't make military sense to afford
the Taliban regime, which has been under very considerable pressure in recent
times, the opportunity of regrouping, reorganizing, during a predictable period
of time. That is not a sensible way to run a military operation.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I need to take my one question today and ask you to
address some of the sentiments expressed in some of the editorial pages across
the country, particularly in the Washington Post today, where William Kristol
says you're pursuing the wrong strategy; Charles Krauthammer says, "without
enough might." Kristol says, for instance, that the administration's plan
is shaped by three self-imposed constraints: no ground troops in Afghanistan,
no confrontation with Iraq, no alarm at home. Krauthammer writing that the war
is not going well, and it is time to say why. It's being fought with half-measures.
He criticizes you for holding back on bombing frontline troops, et cetera.
Are these editorial writers, pundits, delusional, or are you in denial, as he
suggests? (Laughter.) Could you both address that question?
RUMSFELD: Well, first -- I'll be happy to respond. First of all, they're not
editorial writers, I don't believe. I think technically they're op-ed pieces,
opinion writers, and they're not necessarily connected with the newspaper editorial
office as much as they are their own views, and we have a lot of those in America.
And I would just be dumbfounded if I found that everyone agreed with everything
that we did. We expect that there will be differences of views.
I must say that I find those differences of views often helpful and interesting
and informative and educational. So I do read them.
Second, we have been devoting a -- considerably more than 50 percent of our
air effort to opposition forces, and any suggestion that we've been not addressing
the frontline troops that are opposing the opposition forces -- that is to say
the Taliban and al Qaeda forces -- would be a misunderstanding of what we're
doing. We are very aggressively doing that. I would think -- for today, for
example, I think the intention was to have something like 80 percent of our
effort is addressed to the frontline troops.
Last, we do have a very modest number of ground troops in the country, and they
are there for liaison purposes and have been doing an excellent job of assisting
with the coordination for resupplies of various type, as well as targeting.
And it is true, we do not have anything like the ground forces we had in World
War II or in Korea or in the Gulf War, but nor have we ruled that out. So I
think it's helpful for people to write articles like that and have views and
You want to -- (inaudible). I was about to --
QUESTION: If you'd just respond to the general criticism, though, that the strategy
is wrong and that it's being fought with half- measures under political constraints.
HOON: Well, I see no sign of that at all, and the United Kingdom obviously has
been willing to play its part. I indicated the level of support that we were
able to offer militarily, and certainly we have not ruled out further military
interventions as and when appropriate.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?
QUESTION: You mentioned a moment ago that 80 percent of today's bombing effort
was directed at frontline positions.
RUMSFELD: Planned to be.
QUESTION: Planned to be. Are there indications you're seeing in the last few
days that the opposition forces are in fact approaching the moment when they
can and will make a move in that direction?
RUMSFELD: You never know until they do it. They --
QUESTION: Are they making preparations for it?
RUMSFELD: There certainly are preparations that have been being made. When --
and those people are independent operators, and when they decide to move forward
is really within their control. We are doing what we can to see that they have
the kind of ammunition they need and the food supplies they need, and we're
doing what we can to assist with targeting some of the forces that oppose them.
But in the last analysis, they are their own forces and they'll make those judgments
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, President Musharraf is saying today that he sees clear
splits in the Taliban. You have been shying away from making those kinds of
statements. Is there -- are there more cracks in their front than have been
readily apparent, and why is he saying it and you aren't?
RUMSFELD: Well, he lives in the neighborhood. And they know an awful lot of
those folks. And they've known them over a period of time. And they've had diplomatic
relations with them. And if I were to go with someone's view, I'd probably be
inclined to go with his.
Our problem is that we hear a lot of scraps of information. How you take them
and then validate them is -- and connect them is a very difficult thing to do.
And therefore I am kind of a conservative guy, and I'm slow to make assumptions
that are rosy. I -- all I can say is, we hear rumors to that effect. I have
not seen personally anything that I could validate that would suggest a major
shift in one direction or another, although he is -- certainly we see the anecdotal
information that he undoubtedly sees, but he may very well know more than we
HOON: One of those scraps of information which I found interesting is the fact
that there are indications in certain parts of those areas controlled by the
Taliban that the local Afghan population is beginning to make its own displeasure
at the regime felt, at that --
QUESTION: How so?
HOON: Well, they're beginning to make it clear that they do not like the idea
of the Taliban continuing to control their country in the way that they have
done. And I think that's very encouraging.
QUESTION: Much of the local anecdotal stuff that many of us are picking up is
almost the opposite, that because of the bombing the local population is afraid
to resist the Taliban and are going in the other direction. So you don't --
HOON: That's why it's necessary to treat these scraps of information as what
they are. But I am fairly persuaded this particular scrap of information is
one that we can rely on.
RUMSFELD: One thing we have seen more than one or two scraps of information
about, and that is the fact that Afghan people are quite concerned that the
al Qaeda and Taliban are, in fact, using mosques as ammunition storage and meeting
places and command and control, that they're placing their anti-aircraft batteries
in close proximity's to residential areas. And they feel, Afghan people feel,
that they are being put at unnecessary risk because of the collocation, which
clearly is for the very reason that they know we avoid targeting residential
and civilian areas.
QUESTION: This is the first time that you've acknowledged publicly the presence
of U.S. ground troops on the ground. I wonder if you could elaborate just a
bit more. Are they just in the north? Are there some in the south? Do these
liaison activities also involve training rebel forces? Strictly liaison for
humanitarian aid and targeting purposes, or --
RUMSFELD: I don't think it's the first time I've acknowledged that. I think
yesterday a young woman down here said something about "this, this, and
this, and I said "All the above."
QUESTION: You said any of these -- any of these?
RUMSFELD: Did I?
(Cross talk, laughter.)
RUMSFELD: Son of a gun!
(Cross talk, laughter.)
RUMSFELD: Well, we do. We do have some military people on the ground. They --
they're in the north, and we've had others on the ground who have come in and
out on the south. But the ones that are there are doing exactly what I said;
they are military -- uniformed military personnel who are assisting with re-supply,
assisting with communications liaison, assisting with targeting and providing
the kind of very specific information which is helpful to the air effort. And
because they are there now, the effort has improved in its effectiveness over
what had been the case previously.
QUESTION: May I follow up on Tom's question? And also to the British secretary,
Mr. Secretary Hoon, what would you see as the circumstances now for moving beyond
the modest number of people you have on the ground now to a more robust number?
Under what circumstances might that happen for both U.S. and British troops?
RUMSFELD: Well, from our -- I think we've already each answered that already;
that we don't talk about things that might happen prospectively or the kinds
of circumstances that might bring that about, but other than to say we -- I
-- the United States of America has certainly not ruled out the use of ground
QUESTION: And Britain --
HOON: Nor have we.
QUESTION: Mr. Hoon, your top officer, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, said a few
days ago that ground troops might have to operate in Afghanistan for weeks at
a time. Would you agree with that?
HOON: Well, again, I'm not going to give you any indications as to precisely
what plans there are. What I think is important --
QUESTION: Well, he seems to have.
HOON: Well, what I think is important is that we keep the Taliban regime guessing.
We do not want to indicate to them what our precise intentions are, save that
we will continue to keep them under very significant military pressure, and
therefore, there will be operations that continue to do that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that the ground forces in the north --
the Northern Alliance -- are independent operators outside of your control,
yet they seem to be asking for greater interaction, greater coordination between
air and ground.
And you've got these liaison officers. So is this an area you're trying to improve
to get it to the point where in fact they are working in coordination with the
RUMSFELD: Well, we've been trying to improve it since the very beginning, and
it's taken some time, because of weather and various other things, to get the
kinds of help on the ground that can provide the specificity needed for good
targeting from the air.
The U.S. forces on the ground are not currently with each of the various opposition
elements in the country. They're with a limited number of the opposition elements,
and therefore, it -- what you're going to hear is uneven as to how effective
the work from the air is. It's going to be more effective in the instances where
we do have people working with those forces.
QUESTION: Are you able to say to them, "We'd like you to move on X date"
and get their assurance that they can do that?
RUMSFELD: No --
QUESTION: Or does it not work that way?
RUMSFELD: No, no, no, it doesn't work that way. What we are basically involved
in is providing assistance and supplies and food and ammunition and liaison
with the air in a way that the targeting can be more precise.
These people have been fighting in that country for ages. You're not going to
send a few people in and tell them they should turn right, turn left, go slow,
or go fast. They know their own minds, and they're going to move when they think
it makes sense. And they've survived over the years, and it will remain to be
seen if and when they actually decide to go forward. But there is no question
but that we are providing significant assistance from the air for the forces
where we have people on the ground.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, the secretary said that the United States has troops
on the ground. Does Britain have troops on the ground in Afghanistan now, in
any numbers at all?
HOON: Not at the present time.
QUESTION: To answer to the criticism that -- just to follow up on this question
about the criticism that you're prosecuting this campaign somehow halfheartedly,
you mentioned that the performance is uneven because of the limited number of
U.S. troops on the ground. What would you say to critics who say, "Why
not ratchet that up by putting more people on the ground, spotting more targets,
intensifying the bombing campaign, in order to put more pressure on the Taliban?"
RUMSFELD: Well, were anyone to make that suggestion, it would reflect a lack
of understanding or knowledge as to the effort we've been putting into it. It
is not easily done. We have worked very hard on it. We are working very hard
on it today. And we will continue to work very hard on it, because we're very
serious about what it is we're doing.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, along the lines of questions about the success of the
effort thus far, there's a poll today that shows that the belief that it's --
RUMSFELD: This is beginning to be a pattern over on this side of the room.
RUMSFELD: The next question's over here. (Laughter.) We're kind of (late ?)
QUESTION: A poll that shows -- New York Times poll that shows that people who
believe that the war is going to be successful -- there's a bit of a slippage
in the number of people who believe that. Is that something that concerns you?
HOON: I have seen some polls in the United Kingdom very recently that show that
84 percent of the population are entirely happy with the bombing campaign, they
are determined to see a successful outcome. We share very deeply the hurt that
the United States suffered on the 11th of September, and we want to see that
campaign reach a very successful conclusion.
QUESTION: And Secretary Rumsfeld, are you concerned that there's starting to
be a slippage a little bit in the --
RUMSFELD: Not at all. I think that this is a long, hard effort. It is not going
to be quick. I have a lot of confidence in the American people that they are
going to stay the course.
The threat to the United States is substantial. Let there be no doubt. We lost
thousands of people already, and the threats to additional thousands of people
are clear. And what we are doing is pursuing this effort according to the plan
that was laid out very early on. It is going according to plan, and there's
no doubt in my mind that when we finish, we'll still have good support.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have a question to you on the anthrax vaccination
program. Congressman Shays says the previous administration squandered the vaccine
by giving it out so widely. What is your reaction to that? And a couple of weeks
ago you said you were going to try to give BioPort one more chance. What did
you have in mind?
RUMSFELD: I would rather have you talk to Pete Aldridge about what we have in
mind. It involved, as I think I indicated at the time, some complex negotiations
and discussions about how they might find a way forward that would be useful
and constructive from the standpoint of the Department of Defense. I have not
gotten a report back with respect to how that might have evolved, those discussions.
Would I agree with the congressman's statement? I was not here during the prior
administration, and it wouldn't be wise for me to opine on that.
QUESTION: Could you define "modest", when you say the number of troops
you need, define what you mean by "modest", just ballpark. And secondly,
could you tell us what the -- what kind of success you're having in attacking
the caves and the tunnels? There was a report that we were focusing on the entrances
to some of these hideouts. Can you give us a status report?
RUMSFELD: "Modest" means "small" as opposed to "large".
(Laughter.) And --
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) And the --
QUESTION: So about a hundred?
RUMSFELD: -- as far as the -- no. "Modest", I said. And as far as
the tunnels and caves to, there are an enormous number in that country.
And they have been well developed. They are long, they are large -- I'm sure
you've seen photographs of them. And they've been making effective use of those
caves and tunnels for a long time. Are we making progress on them? Sure. We
keep finding them, and we keep working them over. But does that -- what does
that mean? Does it mean that we are 10 percent or 20 or 30 or 40? One can't
answer that kind of a question because you don't know how many they are until
you find them. And we keep finding new ones all the time.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a question from a French perspective. I don't know
if you think that there is any particular level of experience or expertise that
British forces bring to this campaign that you might otherwise not have? Or
is it just the value of having another friend alongside you?
RUMSFELD: Is this to me?
Well, there's no question but that it is an enormous advantage to have our friend
and ally aboard on this exercise and engaged both in the planning and the discussions
about it, but also physically involved, as the minister said, in several different
ways. They do have considerable expertise in a number of areas, as you know
well, and they bring a great deal of experience and talent and skill and training
to this effort. And we're delighted and grateful.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?
RUMSFELD: We'll make this the last one.
How's that sound to you?
HOON: Sounds good to me.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said that --
RUMSFELD: So we'll each answer it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You said that the air strikes are deliberately designed not to hit
residential centers, but you also say that the Taliban is hiding weapons, stockpiling
weapons in residential areas. Have you ruled out the possibility of dropping
leaflets days in advance of an airstrike to get residents out and saying, "This
could become a military target"? Is that something -- without discussing
future operations, could you see that possibly coming to fruition?
RUMSFELD: We drop leaflets. The likelihood of dropping those kinds of leaflets,
of course, would tell the innocent people that they should stay out of mosques,
but it would also tell the other people they should stay out of mosques. It
is not quite clear to me how we would advantage ourselves.
QUESTION: What can you do, then, about that?
RUMSFELD: In any conflict, there are constraints, and there are constraints
because weapons have only so much precision. There are constraints because there
are some things you simply don't want to do, and you make a conscious decision
not to do them. And it is a calibration. And what you have to do is you have
to continue to work the problem.
They cannot do battle from inside mosques.
Therefore if they're going to eventually prevail, which is their intention,
they're going to have to come outside and quit hiding in caves and hiding in
mosques and hiding in residential areas. I could say cowering in caves and cowering
in mosques and residential areas.
QUESTION: You mean, just wait them out?
RUMSFELD: And when they do, obviously, you have an opportunity.
HOON: What I would add to that is to say that an enormous effort is made on
both sides of the Atlantic to avoid any risk to civilian casualties. Now, there's
always going to be some risk. But great efforts are made in the targeting and
in the execution of that targeting to minimize those risks. And that's something
that we have done right through this campaign and something that will continue.