December 21, 2001
| KWAME HOLMAN: It was
a reporter's question at today's Pentagon briefing that drew from Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the official word U.S. Troops are actively hunting
Osama bin Laden in the caves of eastern Afghanistan.
REPORTER: Are U.S. Troops now in the region, helping Afghan forces search those caves and tunnels, and are, as has been reported, hundreds more, perhaps, on the way to thoroughly search that region?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Yes, and yes.
REPORTER: Could you tell us how many...
DONALD RUMSFELD: Hundreds more.
REPORTER: ...Are going to be sent?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Let me say yes, and whatever is needed will be sent. And it won't be just U.S. -- it'll be coalition forces. So what you have is a bunch of caves. They're being triaged and put in priority order. Then the Afghan forces and coalition forces are going into those caves and looking for information and evidence and people and weapons, and determining, trying to determine, what we can do to deal with terrorists all across the globe. And I must say that there have been... there has been information that has been gathered in Afghanistan that has directly resulted in the arrest of people across the world, in... other side of the globe, and undoubtedly have prevented other terrorist activities. So it's a very worthwhile thing to be doing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Peter Pace said U.S. warplanes bombed a convoy moving near the town of Khost, about ten miles from the Tora Bora area. It was the first American air strike in the region in three days.
GEN. PETER PACE: We had some intelligence indicators that were cross- referenced and were determined by central command that, in fact, what we had was a convoy of vehicles, about ten to 12, that contained leadership. Those targets were attacked by AC-130 gun ships and by fighter aircraft from the carriers and the compound from which they left. The command-and-control compound from which they left was also struck.
DONALD RUMSFELD: We are continuing without pause, but it's in a somewhat different phase, and one does not bomb unless there is something to bomb. That is to say that you have an identified target that you feel would be worthwhile to attack, and it is not appropriate to be bombing in Tora Bora when in fact you have people crawling around in caves and tunnels. That would be highly inappropriate.
KWAME HOLMAN: But as high- security preparations for tomorrow's swearing-in ceremony of the new government got under way in the capital, Kabul, today a new report about the convoy emerged. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic press claimed the convoy was not al-Qaida, but a group of tribal elders heading to the inauguration. Secretary Rumsfeld was asked about the U.S. relationship with the new government.
DONALD RUMSFELD: I can assure you that we have all kinds of assurances at the present time that they share our desire to deal with the al-Qaida and the Taliban leadership, and the only thing that will have changed is that you've now got the interim government and the coalition forces with the same goal, but it will require interaction between the two of them because they will be a government, for the first time, in place of the Taliban.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile today, the first contingent of the multinational force intended to help the interim government take power moved into Kabul from the Bagram air base, and a team m of New York City firefighters and police officers visited ruins in the Afghan capital.
SPOKESMAN: Thanks for sticking up for us, fellas.
KWAME HOLMAN: They met with American troops at Bagram air base, and buried a piece of the World Trade Center in honor of their comrades who died in the September 11 attacks.
JOSEPH HIGGINS, NY Firefighter: This is full circle. Be have just left ground zero in New York and traveled for a few days to come to ground zero here in Afghanistan. And we're very proud to be here. We want the Afghan people to know that we support them. We want them to be free. We want them to live the way we live.
KWAME HOLMAN: The New Yorkers greeted Afghan orphans, and helped distribute gifts and the latest shipment of humanitarian aid.