December 13, 2001
| JIM LEHRER: Fighters
loyal to Osama bin Laden ignored a surrender deadline today in eastern
Afghanistan. It set the stage for new attacks on their positions in the
mountainous area known as Tora Bora. Kwame Holman has our report.
KWAME HOLMAN: American planes bombed and strafed al-Qaida hideouts all day and into the evening. Eastern Alliance tribal fighters trooped into the mountains for a new assault on the al-Qaida positions in caves and tunnels. The action followed two failed attempts at getting the al-Qaida and Taliban to surrender. A local alliance commander blamed the United States for the failure to convince foreign-born Arab fighters of al-Qaida to come out of their hiding places. He said: "The Americans broke the link with us and the Arabs. They were ready to surrender, but because of us bombing, they do not trust anymore. America has made a mistake." The claim by the anti-Taliban commander and a report in this morning's Washington Post brought a sharp reaction at today's Pentagon briefing, conducted by Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Post quoted a source who said the U.S. was pursuing "a war of extermination."
DONALD RUMSFELD: Wow. That is inflammatory language, isn't it? Who said it?
REPORTER: They quoted another military official as saying that.
DONALD RUMSFELD: In what country?
REPORTER: The USA. And, General, they also mentioned...
DONALD RUMSFELD: Say it again? (Laughter)
REPORTER: -- a war of extermination.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Make a full sentence for me. (Laughter)
REPORTER: You were asked about earlier reports that the United States was not interested in having a surrender, that would have... This report was suggesting that the United States was more interested in killing al-Qaida fighters than in seeing them surrender. And buried inside...
DONALD RUMSFELD: But where does the word "extermination" come in?
REPORTER: Buried inside the story, it talks about U.S. Military officials seem more intent on waging a war of extermination. And they quoted another retired military official as saying that.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I'll bet he is. (Laughter)
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: -- likely to be more so in the future.
REPORTER: But he also pointed to U.S. military people as using words such as, "eliminate," which General Myers said earlier, "Eliminate the al-Qaida." And I just wanted to get his...
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: "Network," I said, you know, and that's somewhat different than extermination. Extermination seems to apply to termites, but this is not what we're talking about here. So this is not a war of extermination. I think that's very loose use of the English language and imprecise.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Yeah, that's an unfortunate characterization. And I must say, I don't think that that type of phraseology is useful or accurate. The first choice clearly is surrender. It ends it faster, it's less expensive, and we can encourage people to surrender. Now, there's a lot of misinformation floating around about somebody says this to somebody, that, "Gee, they'll surrender if we'll let them turn themselves in to the United Nations, or if you'll let us keep our weapons, or if you'll let us go back and become governor of Kandahar or something." I mean, this is not a drill where we're making deals. This is a...the purpose of this activity, the reason we're doing this is to defend the United States of America and our friends and allies.
KWAME HOLMAN: Back in the Tora Bora Mountains, some Alliance warriors stopped trudging long enough for prayers. Trucks loaded with ammunition struggled up the dirt roads. Their radios blurted exhortations from their chieftains to advance and not turn back. Another leader said the besieged al-Qaida would only be allowed to surrender now if they brought out Osama bin Laden and his close cadre with them. bin Laden's whereabouts remain unknown. There have been reports he escaped days ago through rugged mountain passes into neighboring Pakistan, another topic Rumsfeld was pressed about.
REPORTER: Are you confident that Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Charlie. How can one be confident until they have him? We think he's in Afghanistan. We are chasing him. He is hiding. He does not want us to know where he is. We think he's there. We don't know if he's there. We're trying to find him, and when we find him, we will announce it.
REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, you said that, and you have said that you see different reports about his whereabouts all the time. Have you seen a specific report that you consider to be credible that he's still in the Tora Bora region?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I have seen reports that people believe are from reasonably reliable sources that, in one case, suggest he's still in Afghanistan, in another case suggest he's out of Afghanistan.
REPORTER: Did the United States in any way veto or nix some sort of surrender arrangement that was in progress yesterday?
DONALD RUMSFELD: To my knowledge, the United States did not nix or stop or put the kibosh on anything. I do not even know if anything was really offered. I have read the same reports you have where somebody opined that if we had done this and if we had let them keep their weapons and if we had let them turn themselves in to the Red Cross or somebody, that then everything would be fine and it would all end. Now, that's nonsense. We're not there for that. We're there to stop those people. And if they want to surrender, they can do it in one second, and they know it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Afghan prime minister-designate Karzai arrived in the capital, Kabul, to urge disparate tribal leaders to acknowledge and participate in a new government that assumes power December 22.