Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
October 9, 2001
MR. BOUCHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If I can, I would like to
take a second at the top just to talk about the overall humanitarian effort
that is under way. I think, as you all know, there have been three years of
drought, civil conflict and famine that have left the people of Afghanistan
in a very severe humanitarian crisis. The United States is continuing shipments
of food, despite some interruptions, with two airdrops that have totaled nearly
75,000 humanitarian daily rations that have been dropped into various places
in Afghanistan. These airdrops will continue as necessary.
Furthermore, though, I would point to substantial quantities of food that are
still reaching Afghanistan by land. Three convoys of World Food Program trucks
carrying 1,000 tons of wheat left from Pakistan and Turkmenistan on Sunday.
Two of those convoys have arrived in the northwest and in Kabul; the third is
expected to arrive in Herat by the end of the week. Today, trucks loaded with
100 tons of wheat left from Iran headed toward Herat. In addition, there are
convoys that are loaded and ready to move throughout the region, and those convoys
will resume trucking of food as soon as conditions allow.
The World Food Program currently has 9,000 tons of wheat in Afghanistan and
50,000 tons of wheat in the region. And, in addition, there is 165,000 tons
of wheat from the United States that is currently on ships that are heading
towards the region. So that broader humanitarian effort is continuing and will
continue because it is important to us to continue to support the people of
Afghanistan, even as we carry out military action against al-Qaida organization
and the people that support them.
QUESTION: Richard, there were some reports this morning that some of this food
aid had been stopped, they had stopped the convoys. You're saying that those
are -- are those incorrect?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know exactly what reports you are referring to. I think
the convoys have left Iran on its way into Afghanistan, wherever they can bring
them in. I am not sure there are any convoys leaving from Pakistan at this moment
to get in.
QUESTION: Obviously, the military people involved in this have been told to
avoid any damage to --
MR. BOUCHER: I am sure that will be part of the effort. But I would point back
to what the President has said, these are very carefully targeted and carried
out military actions, and I don't think we would expect any problems with the
QUESTION: So you are not expecting any targeting of roads or transportation
infrastructure that these trucks might be using? I mean, they're already pretty
MR. BOUCHER: I am afraid I would have nothing to say about targeting whatsoever.
QUESTION: How about the safety of these convoys, not just from attacks from
above, but from, you know, horrible road conditions, which could get worse if
MR. BOUCHER: The people that are involved in putting together these convoys
on the ground and in the region are, I am sure, very aware of the difficult
road conditions, the impassable passes, and all the other difficulties that
are attendant to getting food into Afghanistan. It is a difficult job. But we
are planning for it and trying to do it in many ways, and we are indeed having
some success in getting food convoys in.
QUESTION: Richard, these air drops that you've being doing have been widely
criticized by all the aid organizations, and they're dropping just a tiny fraction
of the amount that's needed -- that's 30 tons a day -- out of the 1,500 tons
that are needed in Afghanistan.
Do you intend to continue with these? And what do you say to reports that some
of this food has in fact landed on mined areas, and endangering the lives of
people who might go out and seek it?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure I can respond to the exact location where the food
was dropped. You would have to get that from the Pentagon. But as far as the
issue of continuation and the issue of the broader effort, that is why I came
down and just explained to you that we are going to continue the airdrops as
necessary. It is one way, among many ways, of trying to get some food in. Airdrops
are done to sort of specifically focused places, it is a small but focused part
of the overall effort. But the overall effort is important and it continues,
and as I said, there are a thousand tons of wheat that have gone in over from
Pakistan and Turkmenistan on Sunday. There's another 100 tons leaving from Iran
today, and there's more -- much more food available in the region, and we will
continue to look for every possible way of getting it in.
QUESTION: And the deminers who were killed in your bombing raid, have you spoken
to the United Nations about this? Have you made an apology? And what are you
doing to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, given the importance
of avoiding civilian casualties?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure at this point that we actually know the facts of the
matter, and I think the Pentagon is looking at that to see --
QUESTION: Is there any doubt about the fact that these people --
MR. BOUCHER: Do you want me to answer the first question, or do you want to
go on to the second?
QUESTION: Carry on.
MR. BOUCHER: The Pentagon is still looking at the situation and is trying to
ascertain exactly what happened. I don't have any way of doubting the UN. I
don't have any way of confirming what the UN has said. Obviously, we work very
carefully with these people. We believe in their mission, the humanitarian demining
mission has been one that has been very important to us over the years. And
so I don't have any particular reason to doubt their work. But at the same --
QUESTION: Is it your job to be in contact with them?
MR. BOUCHER: Do you want me to answer the first question now? At the same time,
I would say that until we know what happened, we are not in too much of a position
to have any detailed discussions with the United Nations. Certainly, our people
are in touch with the UN. I would go back to what I said before, this is a very
carefully targeted military campaign. Every possible effort is made to avoid
civilian casualties. Certainly, any civilian casualties would be regrettable.
But we don't know exactly what happened in this circumstance, and we will continue
to make every possible effort to avoid civilian casualties.
Once again, this is not a campaign against Afghan people. It is not a campaign
against Muslims or Arabs or anyone else, other than the groups that carry out
terrorism and the people that harbor them.
QUESTION: Richard, you seem to be --
MR. BOUCHER: Jonathan, let's maybe go on to others.
QUESTION: You say you want to avoid civilian casualties. But we already have
possibly 25 killed in one day. What's the level that you can tolerate? I mean,
if this goes on for months and the casualty toll rises to thousands, and if
you let loose the Northern Alliance on the Taliban and they go into villages,
as they have done in the past, and massacre people, what will your position
MR. BOUCHER: Jonathan, anything involving military action you have to ask at
the Pentagon, including the facts of what happened here. And before you start
making broad assertions about this, that or the other going on day after day
after day, I would suggest you go over there and understand what the military
operations are. They will answer the questions about the military operations
at the Pentagon.
I do say that everything we do is carefully targeted, carefully organized to
try to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible.
QUESTION: Perhaps I can put it this way. What are you saying to the world leaders
who told you at the beginning that they didn't want to see any civilian casualties?
MR. BOUCHER: We are saying exactly what we have said to you, that these are
carefully targeted military operations designed to get at the al-Qaida network
and the people that harbor them. They take every possible precaution to avoid
civilian casualties to the maximum extent that it is possible.
QUESTION: In Sudan, UN workers are also pulling out, I believe, because there
is bombing going on by the government again. Is there any message that the US
would like to send Sudan if it is going to be engaged in this coalition with
the United States? You've asked them to stop the bombing many, many, many, times.
What are you saying now?
MR. BOUCHER: We are saying very clearly what we said before. First of all, the
Sudanese Government is responsible for the bombing attacks that occurred. There
were three bombings that occurred on Friday, Saturday and Monday against World
Food Program operations in southern Sudan. Our position on this has been well
known. Part of our search for a just peace in Sudan includes the profound concern
that we have expressed before over the senseless bombing of civilian targets,
the practice of slavery, denial of humanitarian access, religious discrimination
and the need for a just peace, as I said, to the civil war in Sudan.
So all these subjects remain important, remain on our agenda, and we continue
to raise them with the Government of Sudan.
QUESTION: Doesn't this bear out some of the concerns of critics of allowing
countries like Sudan into the coalition, that they are simply not suitable partners?
MR. BOUCHER: I think, first of all, if you had -- you would have to ask the
question almost of the Sudanese, to say would you have bombed these people if
we hadn't had a global coalition or a war against terrorism going on. We have
seen them do that before; we have seen them carry out these kinds of attacks
on defenseless civilian aid workers before. So I am not sure you can actually
say that they did this because there is a global coalition going on.
At the same time, we do appreciate the efforts that people are making, and the
fact that Sudan has taken steps against terrorism. The fact that there are fewer
terrorists out on the street running around is a good thing. And if Sudan helps
us do that, we're glad they do it. But it doesn't relieve them of their responsibility
to do other things, to take care of some of these terrible problems we have
QUESTION: Richard, can I follow up on Sudan? When you were negotiating, or maybe
discussing, consulting with the Sudanese about their intelligence cooperation
with the United States, did you ever at any point link the humanitarian concerns,
particularly the bombing of these kinds of facilities in those kinds of discussions?
If you're going to help us here militarily, intelligence-wise, we also really
need to see something along these other lines.
MR. BOUCHER: I think what I would say is we have pursued all these things together
when we talk to the Government of Sudan. We are not going to say we won't accept
your information on terrorism unless you stop bombing civilians. We will accept
their information on terrorism. We will accept their cooperation against terrorism,
because that's an important aspect of our policy, and it is something we want
At the same time, in our discussions with the Sudanese recently, we have talked
about not only cooperation against terrorism, but also all the other things
that need to be done. A week or 10 days ago, our Assistant Secretary for Africa
had a meeting with the Sudanese Foreign Minister. He went through all these
topics. Senator Danforth is coming into the --
QUESTION: Is that the one in England?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, in London. Senator Danforth, I think, will be in the Department
this week consulting with the Department in advance of a trip that he expects
to make in November to work on these many other issues and on the peace process,
or on the need for peace in Sudan. I'm not sure I can talk about the peace process
QUESTION: So just one last one on Sudan. There is nothing in your conversations
about terrorism -- you believe that there's nothing in your conversations about
terrorism and the Sudanese that would have given them some kind of indication
that it is -- if you're with us on this, you can go ahead and do whatever you
MR. BOUCHER: That's right; in fact, quite the opposite. I think in all our discussions
we have made quite clear that these other issues remain important to us.
QUESTION: Is the United States Government pleased with the response in the Arab
and Muslim world to the bombing?
MR. BOUCHER: I think generally we would say we have found a very positive response
in the Arab world, in the Muslim world, from governments. I think you have seen
many of the statements that governments have made supporting the coalition against
terrorism, supporting the need to go after terrorism. The Secretary made 20-some
phone calls over the weekend, many of them to Arab and Muslim leaders. And in
these phone calls, he found very strong support.
We do realize there are some demonstrations going on. This is not unexpected.
But I would say that they have been somewhat limited in scope, and that we have
felt that there is not only government support in most of these countries, but
that we also have a degree of popular support as well.
QUESTION: One of the influential Pakistani Islamic clerics -- I'm not sure if
it was this morning or yesterday -- declared that all Muslims should declare
a jihad against the United States. Is this something that you'd like the Government
of Pakistan to crack down on these kinds of statements? What do you -- do you
have any reaction to this --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know who this was or what the circumstances were, and I
would leave that one to the Pakistani Government for the moment.
QUESTION: Well, maybe you can go on about the demonstrations. It is clear that
for some reason, in some quarters, your message that this is not a war against
Islam or a war against Arab countries is not getting through. Are you going
to -- well, first of all, are you going to try and change that at all, or do
you consider these people basically to be a lost cause, and that no matter what
you say, they're never going to understand what your position is?
MR. BOUCHER: I suppose there are some entrenched mindsets, you might say, and
some people who have taken positions over the years that tend to blame everything
on the United States and consider the United States anti-Muslim. That was true
when we were helping the Muslims of Kuwait defend themselves; that was true
when we were helping the Bosnian Muslims defend themselves; that's been true
in many other cases where the United States has intervened to help Muslims.
But that being said, I wouldn't write off anybody as a hopeless cause. I think
it is very important to us that we do get the message out. We are trying to
do that in a variety of ways, in terms of broadcasting, in terms of having more
and more contacts with the media that broadcasts into that part of the world.
And we certainly do want to make clear that this is not anti-Muslim, it's not
anti-Arab, it is not against the Afghan people. The great humanitarian efforts
that we have made over the years and that we are making now I think demonstrate
quite clearly that we are trying to do everything we can to help and protect
the Afghan people in this crisis.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate just a little bit about the broadcasts? And are
you talking about the Secretary and then today -- or yesterday, Tony Blair on
al Jazeera and VOA? Or what --
MR. BOUCHER: To some extent, things like that. The Secretary has done a dozen
or so interviews with media outlets that reach the Arab world. He has done wire
services, he has been on al Jazeera, he has had things on al Hayat. Various
ones of us have gone on the Voice of America because we value the Voice of America,
and its broadcasting into Afghanistan, and particularly the Pashtu and Dari
Services. We have appeared on those shows over the last few days to try to make
clear that we were continuing our effort and our assistance -- our humanitarian
QUESTION: So do you mean you?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, I did VOA -- I can't remember when it was -- Sunday.
QUESTION: You spoke in Pashtu and Dari?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I didn't. It was translated for me, thank you. (Laughter.)
I didn't suddenly acquire a facility that I didn't have last week.
QUESTION: You say the Arab reaction has been very positive.
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't quite characterize it that strongly. I said --
QUESTION: Well, you used the words "very positive."
MR. BOUCHER: I did? Okay, very positive for the governments, and I think supportive
as well in the populations.
QUESTION: Can you cite some examples of the very positive reaction? Which governments
have responded that way? It seems to me most of them have qualified their support.
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have seen very strong solidarity with the objective.
We have seen very strong statements that terrorism is not consistent with Islam.
We have seen those various kinds of statements throughout the region. I think
we do understand and share concerns about civilian casualties, and we have seen
those elements in their statements as well. But that's not surprising. I think
we ourselves have made quite clear we are taking every possible step to avoid
civilian casualties, and therefore don't see any particular criticism in other
people pointing out the need to do that.
QUESTION: Actually, can I follow on that?
MR. BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: You have also said that you have seen not only government support,
but a degree of public support. What examples do you have of that?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say our reading of the media in the region. There are some
obviously that are opposed, and there are many that have supported.
QUESTION: But where has there been support?
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't bring my press clips with me today. I will get something
for you later. But I think that you yourselves can look at media reaction around
the region. I think we do believe that these governments are making decisions
very mindful of their political situations. Some have taken a leadership role,
like President Musharraf in Pakistan, and others, and they have been quite forceful
in their statements and they certainly believe they have a great degree of popular
support in doing that.
QUESTION: Surely you are aware, Richard, that the largest newspaper in Egypt
has been extremely critical of these --
MR. BOUCHER: We have seen critical and we have seen positive. I think generally
we would say there is a degree of support out there for what we are doing and
certainly a great degree of support for the governments who have aligned themselves
with this coalition against terrorism.
QUESTION: On a similar topic, what do you make of al Jazeera's running of an
unfiltered Usama bin Laden statement essentially after you have already expressed
concerns to the Qatari Government about their coverage of the war on terrorism
MR. BOUCHER: I don't make anything of it. I am not going to comment on it.
QUESTION: What did the Secretary think of bin Laden's statement?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not sure he watched it, frankly.
QUESTION: Oh, come on. He must have watched it.
MR. BOUCHER: No, we don't have any particular reaction to the statement that
we saw. We were asked about it on Sunday.
QUESTION: There were demonstrations in Gaza right after it was aired on al Jazeera.
Clearly it had an impact in some ways on this question that we are talking about
now, which is the reaction on the street. I mean, can you -- do you think that
there was any kind of connection there?
MR. BOUCHER: I am not going to start using this podium to talk about press commentary
and outlets that we don't have any role or control over.
QUESTION: This is an important point. Just last week, the US Embassy in Doha
made representations to the Qatari Government about al Jazeera. Now the Secretary
is using it as an outlet for his propaganda. What exactly is your position on
this? I mean, are you -- are you -- will you give a commitment not to try to
interfere in al Jazeera's operations again or what?
MR. BOUCHER: Just last week, as you know, the Secretary met with the Amir of
Qatar and expressed some concern about some of the inflammatory rhetoric that
was coming out on al Jazeera and pointed it out to the Amir, as the party who
is most responsible for their operations. We would certainly like to see them
tone down the rhetoric.
But that doesn't put us in a position of control in any way. We don't sit on
their board. And it would be for others to discuss their programming and for
others to discuss how they would like to see that programming go.
I think we do recognize the importance of al Jazeera in speaking to the Muslim
world and we have tried to make American views available to them, because they
are an important media outlet, and to the extent we can we like to make ourselves
available to explain our views over their broadcasts.
QUESTION: -- about inflammatory rhetoric continue?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I am not going to try to give a daily commentary on the
programming of al Jazeera. I am just going to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Without going into the actual contents of bin Laden's message, is
this government concerned about reports that al Jazeera held this pre-taped
recording of bin Laden until after US strikes against Afghanistan?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, you are asking me to sort of give an ongoing commentary
of their methods of operation and their broadcasts. All I can tell you, we have
been concerned about the rhetoric that we have heard, but we have also tried
to make ourselves available to make sure that they understood our views as well.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that al Jazeera is being used by al-Qaida and Usama
bin Laden as a tool?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, you are asking me the same question over and over and over.
In a general sense, yes, we have expressed our concerns about some of the inflammatory
rhetoric that has come up. But I am not going to do a daily commentary on the
al Jazeera programming schedule.