State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
Daily Briefing
State Department
Washington, D.C.
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 convoys.

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 bad --

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 they're hit?

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 be then?

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 had there.

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 to do.

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 yet.

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 want?

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 assistance.

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?


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 thus far?

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.