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interview: richard armitage
The evening of Sept. 11, and the following morning, you had emergency meetings. Was the president very clear that you were going to Afghanistan?

The president set the stage very early on. We had a good indication that it looked like things pointed to Osama bin Laden. It wasn't 100 percent, but as the president said the next day or the day after, the noose was tightening. He made it very clear that we would respond, and respond robustly to this. We hadn't determined the nature of our response. He gave us -- the different secretaries, secretary of state, et cetera -- word to go forth and to form a mighty coalition. We started the next morning.

The most important part of that diplomatic jigsaw was presumably Pakistan. Can you remember the moment when Pakistan was mentioned?

I don't remember it in that meeting. But we knew that [General Mahmood], the director of intelligence for Pakistan, was here as a guest of, as we say around here, "another agency of government," and we knew Pakistan was key.

I spoke to Secretary Powell and said I'd like to call this fellow in. I called him in at noon on Sept. 12. He was a visitor to the CIA, of course. I called him in and had a very short and, I think, hard-hitting conversation with him.

Armitage is the U.S. deputy secretary of state. He tells FRONTLINE, "After Sept. 11, President Bush gave us -- the different secretaries, secretary of state, et cetera -- word to go forth and to form a mighty coalition. We started the next morning." In this interview he describes the critical importance of Pakistan and Russia to the international coalition against terrorism. This interview was conducted on April 19, 2002.

Can we go into that conversation?

He was immediately willing to cooperate. I explained to him that what I was going to be asking him, [what] we were formulating, and [that] it would, at a minimum, cause deep introspection for Pakistan. This would not be something that was negotiable; it was a black or white situation. The president had said, "You're with us or against us." The president was speaking out forcefully, not only against those who conducted operations of terror, but those who supported terrorism or allowed terrorists to exist, and to think carefully.

He pushed back a bit, saying that he wanted to talk about the history of U.S.- Pakistan relations. I interjected that I knew very well the history of Pakistan, General, but we're talking about the future, and for you and for us history starts today. That was the end of the meeting.

You leave the meeting and get down to specifics with Secretary Powell. How did this proceed?

We sat down with Secretary Powell and Christina Rocca, who's the assistant secretary [for South Asian affairs], and determined what sort of things would one want from Pakistan. We hit on certain major, major items around the gambit, from cooperation at sealing their border and stopping Al Qaeda and Taliban from escaping the border, down through the seventh point being that, should [we] be unsuccessful in getting the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, and should we decide that both the Taliban and bin Laden were engaged in this, that Pakistan would help us destroy -- and those were the words -- bin Laden.

It was not a letter. It was a seven-point "non-paper," as we say in the business.

The next day is another meeting, where you present the list again?

Yes. It was a very brief 15- or 20-minute meeting, where I presented him with the list, read it to him, and told him that this was not a negotiable list; it was all or nothing. He said that he knew how the president thought, and the president would accept these points and was with us.

I interjected that I knew very well the history of Pakistan, but we're talking about the future, and for you and for us history starts today.

I said, "With all respect, that's not good enough. The president of Pakistan, President Musharraf, must agree to these, and my secretary will be calling a couple of hours." The secretary called 1:30 or so Eastern time that day, about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes after we'd finished the meeting. President Musharraf agreed to all the conditions, without exception. ...

On the Monday after a weekend of Camp David meetings, there's a decision-making meeting. Talk us through the central issue of a narrow campaign versus a broader campaign.

Well, I can only tell you through others. I was not with the president at that meeting. Secretary Powell was. When he came back, [he] debriefed us.

It wasn't so much a debate; it was a discussion of the extensive nature of the Al Qaeda network. From the Department of State's point of view -- way back in April 2001, [we] made a very clear announcement to the inter-agency community that we could not have a policy in East Asia unless we dealt firmly with Al Qaeda, because they were so much involved all around the area.

Of course, the intelligence committees knew a great deal more than that. Al Qaeda were involved in more than just the South Asia areas -- indeed, as we found, globally, in 60 nations. So the decision to go after terrorists whenever and wherever, starting with Afghanistan, was a relatively easy one to reach, as far as Secretary Powell briefed me.

The next day you called Gen. Mahmood [who had just returned from a visit to Afghanistan].

As I recall, I called him and welcomed him back to Islamabad. I asked him if he had any luck with Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, in persuading Omar that the best interests of the Taliban lay in giving up bin Laden.

Gen. Mahmood thought he had made an impression on Omar, and he said that he had. Gen. Mahmood put it roughly in the following terms: It's the well-being of 26 million Afghan citizens against one foreign visitor, bin Laden. This is what you're forfeiting if you don't do what the Americans want. As I recall, Gen. Mahmood thought he'd made some headway. As it turned out, he had not.

Can you talk me through the reasons you went to Russia [on Sept. 19-20]?

We had already established an Afghan working group. It was in the preceding administration. Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Trubnikov and I had already had one meeting. We thought it necessary to immediately engage the Russians. He accepted a visit to Moscow.

I brought the leading counterterrorist person in our intelligence committee, a brigadier general, later a major general in the U.S. Army, who'd been an attaché -- a fluent Russian speaker, to talk about the military aspects. We wanted to impress upon the Russians that we were deadly serious about the prosecution of the war against Al Qaeda. We wanted their help, and we wanted the benefits of their experience of their activities in Afghanistan.

I will leave you to talk to Mr. Trubnikov to get his view of it. But our view is that these talks were very successful, because we were both transparent with our Russian friends on this issue. We were very determined. I received a call later that afternoon after our talks from Minister Trubnikov, who told me that he briefed President Putin on the matter, and that we would be fine on this. He led me to believe that we would have good cooperation. ...

In that meeting, were there any concerns expressed by the Russians about a possibly permanent U.S. military presence in Central Asia?

Not so much at that time, because I don't think any of us realized how intrusive we would be in Central Asia. ...

We had information from our own embassies in each of the Central Asia states, that at roughly the same time that I was in Moscow trying to enlist the cooperation of the Russian Federation that Mr. [Vladimir] Rushailo [the chief of Russia's security council] was driving through Central Asia, cautioning the Central Asian states against cooperation with the United States. Of course subsequently, a few days later, President Putin put the discussion to rest when he more or less said that he was with the Americans on this issue. ...

In a subsequent meeting with Minister Trubnikov, we were very transparent about our needs in Central Asia. I'll let the Russians speak about whether they believed us or not. But I think they realized that we're going to be around in the neighborhood for a long time, and that's our intention. But we don't intend to establish permanent military bases. ...

[Can you tell us about] a deputies' meeting where you talked about the need to engage with a post-conflict scenario?

We were still not quite at the stage where we understood whether we'd be dealing with a Taliban-led Afghanistan or a Taliban-less Afghanistan. It was looking more and more as each day went on that the Taliban would not be throwing out Al Qaeda, and hence evading prosecution.

You'll have to remember that there were several American and foreign hostages in effect in Kabul, and that complicated our planning. But within two and a half weeks, three weeks into the deputies' meetings, it became very clear that we were talking about a Taliban-less Afghanistan. That was understood and accepted. The majority of the people in the meeting realized that the Department of State would have to take the lead in coming up with a formulation on how to approach the future of Afghanistan, because the Department of Defense was so heavily involved in the military activities.

The Pakistanis were keen to break relations with the Taliban?

One of the requirements that we had put before the Pakistanis was, should it become necessary, we would expect them to break relations with the Taliban. As time went on, they were more and more anxious to do so. We wanted them to maintain a hold and a contact with the Taliban -- if only a tenuous one -- because we needed to have every avenue open to resolve the fate of the hostages, whether we did it unilaterally, by military action or the Taliban decided to give them up. We needed a communication, a voice.

When the Pakistanis made it clear that they wanted to break relations, that it would help their international reputation, I made it clear to them that we would hope that they would keep the relationship, and that we'd make it up to them internationally. That is, we'd make it very clear in the international arena that they were doing this at our request in order to accomplish a humanitarian gesture. They acceded to our wish.

Just after the strikes had begun, there was news on Oct. 8 that Gen. Mahmood has retired. What was the response in the State Department?

He was quite congenial when we met with him. He was, however, very tied to an old regime, with in fact ten years' worth of identification with the Taliban, with the southern Pashtuns in Afghanistan. So his departure seemed to us a further signal that their General Musharraf was trying to make it clear, in word and deed, that the last 10 years of Pakistan policy regarding Afghanistan had been somewhat of a waste, and he was going in a new direction.

No tears?

Well, there were no tears. This was business. It was like the first meeting with Mahmood -- wasn't personal; it was business.

In the early weeks of the war, it's not clear whether the concentration of the military campaign will be on the north or the south. Can you remember discussing the dubious history of the Northern Alliance, in terms of Kabul?

This was a constant refrain. We had actually realized that we were going to be working in the north first, so that was not a question. It wasn't a question of working in the north or the south first. We needed to work in the north. We were familiar with the Northern Alliance. The Russian Federation had contacts with the Northern Alliance. And others also, by the way, had contacts with the Northern Alliance. So we needed to use troops where they existed, and troops who were used to being in combat. So the combination of our CIA and Special Forces units joined them, and we moved on.

But there was a fear, because of recent history when the Northern Alliance swept through Kabul, that they may repeat history and engage in activities that would not be helpful. We were quite worried about this; so was the international community.

As it turned out, for a number of reasons, one, I think the rapidity with which military success came, and second, because of a real awareness that to repeat history would be folly, the Northern Alliance behaved themselves quite well when they got to Kabul. ...

There's a Special Forces raid on a Taliban stronghold near Kandahar. Six days later Abdul Haq, [a Pashtun leader from the south of Afghanistan] was killed. Were those two events instrumental in even more of a focus on union with the Northern Alliance?

The assassination or the murder of Abdul Haq was unfortunate, but it didn't move things. We were not cooperating in a major way with him. He advertised to everyone in the northwest frontier province that he was heading back across the border. There was no operational security, and sorry as I am for his death, in a very real way, there was no operation security surrounding his activities. I think it unfortunately brought about his demise.

The raid on Kandahar was an attempt to have a rather spectacular success. It was fine, it was well done and well carried out, but unfortunately we didn't catch the people we wanted. But I think it showed that we could act where we wanted, when we wanted, with impunity.

But we were already engaged in moving forward with the Northern Alliance. Once our Special Forces soldiers were able to marry up with our CIA operatives in the field, then it was a foregone conclusion that the combination would be able to bring precise fire on enemy positions and allow the Northern Alliance to move steadily forward. ...

Things really started to accelerate around Nov. 9, when Mazar-e-Sharif was abandoned by the Taliban. Talk me through that 24-hour period when Mazar fell.

There was a feeling that Mazar may be a good testing ground of ... a sense of how much the Taliban were going to fight us, and Al Qaeda. What we saw were both, well, two things: the Taliban wasn't fighting very well, and Al Qaeda would fight. But Mazar fell rapidly, and we realized that from Mazar on down to Kabul as you know is pretty much a steady, almost a plain, flat plain, and one can rush down with impunity.

So we saw that things had shifted rather dramatically, both in terms of morale for the enemy, and in terms of strategic position for the Northern Alliance, [who] had a clear shot to Kabul without having suffered any grievous losses on the way. ...

I think it's quite clear to most now that, through diplomatic contacts, through our intelligence contacts and through our military contacts, we used every avenue to make it clear to the leaders of the Northern Alliance that a repeat of history would not be in their best interest. And for whatever reason, they certainly listened. ...

Is there a sense after the fall of Kandahar and the agreement in Bonn [to form an interim government for Afghanistan] that if this wasn't the beginning of the end, it was the end of the beginning?

I can remember any number of deputies' discussions and discussions with my colleagues off-line and with Secretary Powell and the president, where we made clear that there's a history in Afghanistan. For instance, the British were very successful when they first went, if for the first year, and the Soviet Union was actually quite successful in their first year of the invasion.

We had been stunningly successful, the coalition. But we must not take our eye off the ball, and had to realize that we were into this for two, three, four -- [an] extended period of time if we were going to be successful. The other two [countries] had failed because they had only concentrated on the military aspects, not on the economic and social and humanitarian.

We had tried to simultaneously have a military operation and a humanitarian operation. We added a political and an economic component as we got out of Bonn, and that was complimented of course by the January conference in Tokyo for reconstruction of Afghanistan -- both for the practical reason of getting cash to try to resolve the problems of Afghanistan, and as a way to signal to the international community [that we] wouldn't cut and run, having accomplished a short-term objective in Afghanistan of getting Al Qaeda and Taliban out. ...

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