December 17, 2001
| KWAME HOLMAN: A weekend
trip took Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld halfway around the world and
part of the way back. After stops in three Central Asian republics, Rumsfeld
flew to an air base near Kabul. First, he met with interim Prime Minister
Hamid Karzai, who takes office Saturday. Then he spoke to U.S. Troops from
the Army's Tenth Mountain Division.
DONALD RUMSFELD: The job we've got is to get after the rest of the al-Qaida leadership and the al-Qaida fighters and to get the Taliban leadership, and to stop them from committing terrorist acts in this country or any place across the globe.
KWAME HOLMAN: After greeting the troops, Rumsfeld departed for Brussels, Belgium, to meet with NATO defense ministers and separately with their Russian counterpart. En route, he was asked about Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement yesterday that, "We have destroyed al-Qaida in Afghanistan."
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, the first rule of war is that the President decides when something conclusive has been achieved. But the fact of the matter is, as Secretary Powell knows as well, there are still any number of al-Qaida loose in that country. That is why we are there. That is why we are chasing them. That is why we are bombing them. That is why we are working with Afghan forces to root them out of tunnels and caves. It is true that they're running and hiding and not dominating the country of Afghanistan as they had previously. It is also true that the Taliban is no longer a legitimate government of Afghanistan, if it ever was.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Secretary was asked about today's reports that Osama bin Laden escaped from the mountains near Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. Pentagon officials this afternoon said the intelligence trail on bin Laden has grown cold in the last few days.
DONALD RUMSFELD: That presumes he was there.
REPORTER: Yes it does.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Since we did not know with precision and we don't know if he's there now, it would be difficult to answer the question.
REPORTER: Are you saying you don't know where he is?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I'm saying that it is a question mark as to his exact location. There are people who continue to speculate that he may be in that area or may have been in that area, or that he may be somewhere else. My feeling is that until we catch him-- which we will-- we won't know precisely where he was when we catch him. There's a long mountain range between Kabul and Afghanistan, a portion of it is called Tora Bora. There is still fighting going on there. There are still people scrambling in the mountains looking for people. There are people going into tunnels, acquiring various types of materials and information.
KWAME HOLMAN: Beyond bin Laden, the secretary was asked if other senior al-Qaida or Taliban leaders-- such as Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar-- have slipped away.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We're still trying to sort out who we have and who we don't have and who's been killed. And it is not an easy process and we're aggressively trying to put some discipline into that process of listening to people that are of note and tracking down where they are, whether we have them, whether they're in prison someplace, whether they've escaped.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld appeared again late today in Brussels, after a two-hour meeting with Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov. Despite Washington's announcement last week that it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic missile treaty-- a move opposed by Russia-- Rumsfeld said relations with Moscow on the Afghan war and other issues remain strong.
DONALD RUMSFELD: One way to characterize what has happened in the US-Russia relationship is the way President Bush did, that we're moving from mutual assured destruction to mutual assured cooperation.
KWAME HOLMAN: For his part, Ivanov called US-Russian cooperation against terrorism unprecedented.