of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw
October 30, 2001
BROKAW: Mr. Secretary, here at home there's a new terrorist alert, the stock
market is way down today. Americans are not very confident about what's going
on either here at home or in the war. Isn't there an urgent need for some kind
of conspicuous military victory in Afghanistan?
RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. We have a plan. It's in place. It's working. And it
seems to me that the idea of some urgent need for a quick, visible victory is
really not the way the world works. It takes a certain amount of time to get
yourself in place, so that you can create the conditions for victory. We had
to then pull out the air defenses, so that we could function over the country
of Afghanistan. We then had to get capabilities on the ground, so that we could
improve the targeting.
Since there are so few really good targets in a country like Afghanistan, you
have to go after the enemy troops and their caves. And their army personnel
vehicles and their tanks. And what few aircraft they have. And so we've been
And we've been making good progress and I feel good about it. We have not had
major ground forces on the ground and as a result, it's the opposition forces,
the Afghans themselves that have to make the decision as to when they're going
to move forward.
BROKAW: But those opposition forces are saying that the Taliban in the north
is stronger than it was, than before the bombing began. So how can the plan
be working, [if] the Taliban have increased their forces in the north?
RUMSFELD: Well, first I've never heard that. And second there is no "forces
in the north." There are lots of elements in the north. And I can't believe
it's true because we see the battle damage report, and I think it's probably
BROKAW: But isn't it quite clear to you at this point that this war will not
be won in Afghanistan until you get troops on the ground and that will involve
substantial numbers of American troops?
RUMSFELD: We have made a practice, I think with good reason, to not discuss
about what we might do in the future. Obviously, we've not ruled out the possibility
of large numbers of ground troops. But we've not made any movement to put in
large numbers of ground troops thus far.
It is I think a question as to whether or not the opposition forces, the Northern
Alliance, the tribes in the south are going to pursue the Taliban and the al
Qaeda, with the necessary energy and success that one would like. That's an
open question. I think it's far too soon to say.
I've forgotten when this started but it was what? Several weeks ago. Twenty-one
days, 22 days ago. To hear your question and the urgency and "Don't you
need quick success?", my goodness gracious, go back to World War II, it
was month after month after month and nothing happened except losses and harm
and damage and Americans being killed.
And now in 21 days people with questions like that are suggesting that there
should be some magic. There is no magic! We said there's no silver bullet, we
know there's no silver bullet! It is hard, dirty work. And people are going
to get killed and we're going to work hard at it and we're going to win.
BROKAW: The difference between World War II and now is that every mini-second
there's information coming out of the war-zone.
BROKAW: People are reacting to it. Not just in this country, but in the coalition
that you put together, but especially in the Islamic world as well. And as they
hear about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, they rise up against the United
States and the Taliban hand seems to be strengthened by people who are eager
to go there and join their forces.
RUMSFELD: There are people going both ways. There are some people coming in
to join their forces, there are an awful lot of people leaving also who have
decided that the al Qaeda, foreign invaders of Afghanistan, are people that
should not be there and [are] bringing great damage to them.
The more the Taliban uses the mosques for headquarters and for command and control
and for ammunition storage and move their triple AAA batteries into the residential
districts near schools and hospitals, the people of Afghanistan don't like that.
And they're going to be moving away from the Taliban and away from al Qaeda.
I think that you're right. This is a - first of all, it's a totally different
kind of a war than Korea or even Desert Storm or Kosovo. Second, it is happening
at a time when there is 24 hour news. And that does create a sense of urgency
on the part of the news people.
It's not clear to me that that has yet infected the American people. I think
that the American people have a pretty good center of gravity. And that they
can absorb all of that news, and sift it and balance it and come away with a
balance that is important for all of us. I wouldn't underestimate the American
BROKAW: Two of the most prominent conservative voices in Washington D.C., William
Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, are in the Washington Post today saying the
war is not going well, it's a flawed plan that you have underway. That there
has been no real progress so far. Isn't that the beginning of an unraveling
of the political coalition here at home, if these conservatives are saying that
as publicly as they are?
RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know. I think not. My impression is that we do have
a good plan in place, that it's working, that we're making progress. I understand
people's appetite and desire for instant success and instant gratification.
I think it's unlikely here. The task, you can't defend against terrorists. You
have to go after them, where they are.
They don't have armies, navies and air forces that you can go out and tackle.
What -- they live in caves, they live in shadows, they're in the tunnels underneath
mountains. And the idea that you can magically stop them from being terrorists
and have it done quickly, I think is unrealistic.
And I think the American people understand that. They've seen enough photographs
of Afghanistan to know that there are not a lot of real high value targets.
And they get a sense that this is going to take time, it's going to take putting
pressure on, it's going to take squeezing bank accounts.
We've now arrested hundreds of people across the globe, many, many countries
have participated, we're gathering that intelligence information. We're putting
the heat on these folks and it's going to make life a great deal more difficult.
And that is the task and that is what we're doing.
BROKAW: If you say we have to go after them where they are, and they have moved
into mosques and schools and hospitals, does that mean we go after them in those
places as well?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think what'll happen is that the Afghan people will be so
disaffected from the Taliban, for putting them at risk, as they know is happening,
that they will turn on these folks. And there's no question but that there are
plenty of opposition forces in the north and tribes in the south that are against
the Taliban. And there are people who have been a part of the Taliban who are
tired of having al Qaeda bring this kind of carnage and damage to their country.
There's enormous numbers of Afghan people starving because of the Taliban.
BROKAW: Are you disappointed in the Northern Alliance in that it's not acting
more aggressively right now?
RUMSFELD: No, I didn't have any, a particular level of expectation... I understand
what's going on there. These are tough people. They've been fighting for years
and years and years. And they're survivors. And they're going to have to make
a judgement in their mind as to which way they think this is going to go.
And when they're willing to put themselves at risk... to make progress and move
towards some of those cities, like Kabul, and Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.
And I think that if we keep providing the kinds of assistance, the supplies
and ammunition and food, and we keep doing the job we're doing of taking care
of the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that they face and eliminate their armored
personnel carriers and their tanks and their troops, that at some point they'll
decide that it's time to go. And they'll move and they'll move on those cities
and I think it'll happen.
BROKAW: Military analysts that I've talked to say that we really won't be successful
there until we, the United States, puts in a division-size force, seize an airport,
make that the base of operations, somewhere in Afghanistan, probably in the
south would be the first place to do that.
RUMSFELD: Of course, there's military experts that are on every side of these
issues. And you cite one, but there's -- for every one you cite like that, there
are some who have another opinion. That is a perfectly legitimate position that
you've outlined. It is certainly something that people consider and discuss
and has happened in other venues.
BROKAW: Are you happy with the propaganda war that is being waged by the United
States in the Islamic world? We seem to be losing that on a daily basis.
RUMSFELD: Well, no I'm not. There's -- one would always wish that it would be
better. That the truth would get out. We have a pattern of telling the truth
and we do. The Taliban will stand before the world and lie and then watch it
-- the same pictures are repeatedly shown over and over again to the world,
suggesting that the United States has done some terrible damage to a school
or a hospital or something like that.
What can one do about that? Well, I don't know. All I know is we can keep trying
harder to get the truth out. We can do the kinds of things we've been doing
in appearing on television in stations in the Middle East. But eventually, the
truth does get out. I mean, the United States of America threw Iraq out of Kuwait,
a Muslim country. We helped with Kosovo, a Muslim country. We helped Bosnia,
Muslim country. We provided humanitarian assistance in Somalia, a Muslim country.
We were the biggest food donor in Afghanistan before September 11 at $170 million,
and now have a humanitarian program going for $320 million in Afghanistan. This
is not against a religion, it is not against a race, it is not against a country.
It is against terrorists. And we have every reason to be against terrorists.
BROKAW: But don't you need more help from our so-called Arab allies in getting
that message out? From Mubarak in Egypt, from the ruling family in Saudi Arabia
for example? From the emirates in the Persian Gulf?
RUMSFELD: We've gotten a lot of help. The moderate Arab states in that region
have been enormously helpful in lots of different ways, with intelligence, with
support. I've seen any number of statements by religious leaders in each of
the countries that you've mentioned, that have come out and pointed out that
Osama bin Laden has hijacked their religion and we've got to take it back.
There's nothing in that religion about killing innocent women and children.
A great number of the people who were killed in the World Trade Center, there
were some hundred -- something like 50 or 60 countries, and over a 100 of them,
they were Muslim. I mean, this is not a religious war on the part of bin Laden.
He's doing everything that violates that religion.
BROKAW: On October 16 in this building, General Newbold gave a briefing [ transcript
] and said the combat power of the Taliban had been eviscerated. Plainly, it
has not been eviscerated. But are you saying today that we'll continue the bombing
plan that we have in place, that there won't be any great alteration of that
and that we are on track to do what you think is necessary?
RUMSFELD: He wishes he had not said that. I would not have said that. He may
very well have been referring to a specific location for a specific purpose.
It has now been repeated over and over and over again. There's no question but
that the Taliban and the al Qaeda still have substantial forces and they are
arrayed against the opposition forces on the ground.
I feel we have a good plan. I feel that we need to have a steadiness of purpose
about it, and proceed with it. And we will be able to test it as we go along,
and my guess is that before this is over we'll find we've done a darn good job.
BROKAW: You've been defense secretary before, but you were also a political
animal in this town, both a member of Congress, White House chief of staff,
you've served in all those capacities, so you know the pulse of the people.
You believe that if we are in this kind of a situation six months from now,
waiting for spring to come, that you'll continue to have the support? Not just
of the American people, but of the political coalition that you have put in
place? And that you will not have an uprising in the Islamic world?
RUMSFELD: Well, first with respect to the coalition. There isn't a coalition.
There are multiple coalitions. Countries are helping us in different ways. Ways
that fit their circumstance, their neighborhood, their sensitivity, and we understand
that. We don't expect every country that's helping us to help in every single
Nor do we expect every country that's helping to be public about it. Some prefer
to be private about it. And as far as I'm concerned, my goal is to get the maximum
amount of help for our country, so that we can go after the terrorists and stop
them from killing thousands and thousands of Americans. If that means some people
do it one way and another person does it another way, that's fine with me.
The American people I've said, I think that they have a very good gyroscope,
an inner gyro, and I think they can take all of the buffeting from the television
and buffeting from the press and oh isn't this horrible and hand-wringing here
and hand-wringing there. And they sift it all out and they make a judgement.
And I think they know several things. I think they know that this is a very
serious problem. That we as a country have to recognize that terrorists exist
across the globe. That they increasingly will have access to weapons of mass
destruction, that it is a very serious matter. That the United States government
is approaching it as a very serious matter. And that we are doing a host of
things, some of which are visible, some of which are not visible.
And as the idea that there's going to be some dramatic thing that you can do
to make it all better is just a false confidence. We're going to have to stop
those bank accounts, we're going to have to arrest people, we're going to have
to gather intelligence.
We're going to have to root people out where they are, and I think the American
people understand the importance of the task and understand the reality, the
truth of what I just said. That there isn't a big navy we can go sink. There
isn't a big army we can defeat. There is not a big air force we can shoot down.
We've got to do it the hard way. And they'll see that.
BROKAW: Are you saying that because we now have a group of people on the land
in the north and we have better eyes and ears, that we can count on, that our
bombing runs will be more successful against the front line troops of the Taliban
in the coming days?
RUMSFELD: They have been more successful. We have many more targets now. We
-- I think today we're up to something like 80 percent of all of our sorties
are focused on the forces -- the Taliban and al Qaeda forces that are directly
opposite Northern Alliance forces. And the only way that could be done is if
the people on the ground were providing much better target information.
BROKAW: You also said in your joint appearance with the British defense secretary
[ transcript ] that you would not rule out the presence of American troops.
RUMSFELD: Well, we have small numbers of American troops there now, of course.
I think they were referring to larger, substantial numbers. And needless to
say, we will not rule that out. That is something that we have to be considered.
BROKAW: But why can't you say to the American people, we're prepared to win
this war, that means we're going to have to put in a lot of American troops?
RUMSFELD: Well, because what we've decided to say to the American people is
the truth, that is that we have a plan in place, it so far is working pretty
well. And we feel good about it and it has been there 21 days -- and 21 days
is not 21 years. And we've said from the beginning that this is going to take
years, not weeks or months. That it is not something that's quick and easy,
and can be completed in a 30 minute television program.