Can I jump to that evening? You get back, the first meeting where all the
secretaries are back together with the president in the White House. We
understand [that] you, particularly, focused on the need to look at the key
coalition members -- obviously Pakistan being one of the first ones. Could you
just give us a sense of the urgency and that feeling that you were after
It took me roughly eight hours to fly back from Lima to Washington, D.C., most
of the time without any communications with my office or anybody in Washington,
a couple of broken conversations with Deputy Secretary of State
Armitage. But I had all that time to think about what had happened and what
it was going to mean.
By then, I also knew about the Pentagon, of course, and the fourth plane that
had crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. So clearly America was under
assault, serious assault. Was it by a state? Was it by a terrorist
organization? How should we respond? My job now is secretary of state. I'm not
the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff anymore, but my mind is thinking
militarily, but diplomatically: What does this mean? What do I have to do to
get the world behind us in this? What opportunities might exist in this time of
terrible tragedy and crisis?
Got to Washington; immediately went to the White House. Waited for the
president to give his talk to the nation. Then he joined us all in the secure
conference room that we had. We began to talk about the implications of this
and how to move forward. By then, I'd already started to receive expressions of
support from around the world, and I knew that this tragedy was so great that
everybody would want to be a part of the response.
I suggested to the president and my other colleagues that this was an
opportunity to begin pulling together a worldwide coalition. The Security
Council had already started to convene on this. NATO was getting ready to
invoke Article 5 almost immediately, first time in its history. I'd just come
back from the Organization of American States with their support. So it was
clear that we could start pulling a coalition together.
As you looked at where this probably came from -- Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and
Afghanistan -- it immediately meant that Pakistan was going to play a key role,
as well as Afghanistan.
Let's jump forward to the weekend, the big session of major decision making,
or at least setting out the [roles]. Could you just very briefly take me
through the nature of the coalition, and how that perhaps differed from
previous coalitions that you've been intimately involved with?
By the time the meeting took place on Saturday morning at Camp David where we
assembled to look at military options and exactly what we were going to do as
we moved forward, the extent of this problem had all begun to sink in. We had
the Pakistanis on our side now. We had heard from the OIC, the Organization of
the Islamic Conference. We've heard from the OAS, the NATO people, the Security
Council, the General Assembly. Everybody wanted to be a part of this coalition.
It was a political coalition in the first instance, but that could lend itself
to a military coalition.
It was not clear what the military challenge was yet. Our principal purpose for
assembling at Camp David that morning was to make a determination as to how
would we respond militarily, as well as politically. I was able to present a
solid [phalanx] of diplomatic support; whatever military action the president
would decide upon.
This coalition would be kind of [fluid]. There were obvious people at the
top who would be probably involved militarily. But right now, there were people
who might not even want to admit that they were, in fact, in the
Yes. There were some who, right off the bat, we knew we could count on for
solid political support, and if the situation required it and we asked for it,
we'd get their military support as well. The United Kingdom certainly was among
that list of nations. Others would bide their time. They'd wait to see what the
United States was planning to do before they would [commit to] anything other
than diplomatic support.
So we knew it would be a fluid coalition. It would have three pieces to it, as
[Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc] Grossman said, or it might
be a floating coalition. Or as Don Rumsfeld said on a number of occasion, it
might be a coalition of coalitions that are constantly shifting and, shifting
and changing as the needs shifted and changed. So we were ready for all that.
There were other people who said, "Look, everybody [will] be with you right
away. Oh yes, we're with you; we're in this to the death," until the death
started to approach. And then the coalition would start to break up and people
would find reasons not to be with you.
Well, it turns out that it is now many months later, and that coalition has
held together rather well as we sit here and speak in June 2002. I am quite
confident it will hold together for as long as this campaign of terrorism is
waged -- and I think it will be waged for a long time.
The reason for that is people have come to realize that this isn't just an
American problem; it's a problem for all civilized nations. All of us are
affected. More and more people realize that terrorism has struck so many of us
over the years -- the United Kingdom, Spain, Indonesia, you name it. We have
all been exposed to terrorism. It is a curse on the face of civilization and
humanity. That's why this coalition will stay together, because it will require
international response -- not just militarily, but financially, economically,
going after financial flows, intelligence exchanges; all of that. Everybody can
play a role in this coalition.
You didn't mention Iraq in that short list, but I believe, at Camp David,
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz raised the possibility of including Iraq in your
list of targets. That was something that, I believe, you argued against quite
forcefully, at least at that point?
There was an obvious choice to be made. We could go after the known
perpetrators -- or suspected, at that point, but we were pretty sure who they
were -- even though we didn't have all the goods on them yet. There was little
doubt in our mind who they were, where they were residing -- in Afghanistan --
and that they were being supported by the Taliban. And until recently, because
the Pakistanis supported the Taliban, to some extent the Pakistanis had some
responsibility in this as well. They had already decided, "Enough of that,
we're moving on to a new strategic direction, working with the United States."
So the options ultimately came down to: Do we go right after the perpetrators?
The world will understand that; the world will see that there is a direct
cause-and-effect relationship here with the Al Qaeda organization, Osama bin
Laden. Iraq, however dangerous a regime this is and still is, there was an
argument that said, "Let's not deal with Iraq right now. Let's go after the
target that everybody will understand." It was argued out. ...
We're in a log cabin. The first several hours of the day were spent just
reviewing the situation, with each of us making presentations and a free
flowing discussion. The president listened carefully, took it all in. All of us
My good friend Paul Wolfowitz made the case for Iraq. I made the case for going
after the perpetrators, Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network in
Afghanistan. There was a free-flowing discussion. It wasn't just that morning.
It had been discussed before we got there. ...
Then it was lunchtime. We broke for lunch and then the president said, "Let's
all take a couple of hours off to take a nap, to work out, to catch up with
other business. Let us come back together about four o'clock, and I'll ask for
your recommendations at that time." So we all went away. I went back to my
room. My wife was there and she was relaxing.
Then at four o'clock we reassembled. The president, not even inviting any
further sort of discussion, he said, "What do you recommend?" I went first and
recommended the focus on Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Then the secretary of
defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, spoke, not Paul Wolfowitz, and he reviewed the situation
as he saw it. [He] didn't come down hard on one recommendation or the other,
but understood the possibilities of both options.
Paul really debated it earlier in the morning when we were having the
discussions, as opposed to making the recommendation. Paul put a case forward
that ultimately Iraq would have to be dealt with, and this was as good a time
as any to consider it. He didn't argue against going after Al Qaeda and the
Taliban. The Taliban wasn't yet a problem; it was to be the problem later. But
he thought that we should give serious consideration to doing the Iraq option,
and we all listened.
Secretary Rumsfeld, of course, listened as well, and it had been a discussion
we'd been having for several days. When the actual recommendations were given,
I gave mine. Mr. Rumsfeld sort of described both without strongly supporting
After listening to it all, hearing the arguments back and forth and listening
to the vice president, the director of Central Intelligence and others, the
president made the decision that everybody will understand us going after the
perpetrators. Iraq will be there. Other regimes that mean us no good -- that
mean the world no good -- will be there when this is over, and we can look at
those as problems later on. ...
He didn't make the decision right then, as you well know. He went off. I think
he had decided in his own mind at that point, but he went off to think about
it. Very, very wise. Take your time; he had time. He very wisely went off,
reflected on it, thought about it some on Sunday.
Then on Monday he came down, called us into the Cabinet Room in the White
House, gave us his decision and started barking instructions. ...
On Sept. 19, Deputy Secretary Armitage was in Moscow meeting with [Russian
First Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav] Trubnikov. At the last moment, he gets
Trubnikov to call President Putin. He calls you. What do you say?
... The problem we were worrying about at that point was: If the Russians have
always been sensitive to what's going on in Central Asia, how would they react
to a sudden American presence on their flank? Rich discussed with Mr. Trubnikov
and others, and the Russians understood we would have to do this. We knew we
had to be sensitive to the Russians' concerns about our presence.
I understood you spoke to two of the Central Asian presidents. They were
rather different both in their standing vis-a-vis Moscow and what you required
from them. Could you give me a sense of that difference and what you said to
Well, all of those countries have their own unique character. With respect,
Uzbekistan was the one of greatest interest to us in the first instance,
because it was a direct line of supply down into the area of the Northern
Alliance, and we also had a humanitarian problem that we were dealing with. So
we needed quick access to the bases in Uzbekistan.
The Uzbeks, in turn, were saying to us, "Now, wait a minute. You're going to
come and then you're going to be gone, and we'll have to suffer whatever
consequences come from your departure." They were interested in us having a
more permanent relationship with them. So we were able to persuade them that,
no, we would come and we're not looking for permanent bases, but we are looking
for permanent friendships and permanent opportunities to cooperate with one
another, and that's what we'll give you. After a period of discussion, they
said yes to our first set of requests. Then there was a second and a third and
a fourth set of requests. Each one required reassurance once again, and there
was a little bit more of a commitment and a little bit more support to their
efforts. But they came along.
With respect to the other countries, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, it was
essentially the same thing. But the need wasn't as great with them for their
assets as it was for Uzbekistan.
Your trip to Islamabad was in the middle of October. President Musharraf was
obviously concerned about what would happen to the political track and would
the Northern Alliance take over. We understand he urged you to move the
political track along. Could you characterize that for us?
... The point we made to President Musharraf then -- and we held to for some
time until events sort of got ahead of us -- was that the Northern Alliance was
really the only coherent functioning military organization that we could
partner with and use as we undertook our military operations, and that they had
to be used. But we also understood that there was a history with the Northern
Alliance, the difficulty of going into Kabul and doing some things that we
would not like to see.
So I tried to assure President Musharraf we conveyed to the Northern Alliance
that we were going work with them; we were going to use them; we were going to
help them to be successful. But at the same time, they had to understand -- and
I made this point to President Musharraf -- that when this was all over, we're
interested in a multi-ethnic Afghanistan, where all sides should be
represented, and there would be no single dominant group or organization. And
that's what we did.
We took a Fourth World force -- the Northern Alliance -- riding horses,
walking, living off the land, and we married them up with a First World air
force and First World young Army and Air Force personnel on the ground to
connect this First World air force to a Fourth World army. And it worked.
They eventually invested Kabul. We thought, "Let's keep them out," but they got
close and things happen when you get close. They went in, and to our pleasure,
they did not do the kinds of things they did previously. They understood that
this was a different game, and I think they've played a fairly responsible role
I understand you actually used that word "invest" talking to President
Musharraf as, perhaps, one general to another; say, something that you
Yes. It's not the word one would use in a drawing room somewhere. But it means
something to military people. He knew the context in which I was using it.
"Invest" essentially means you make the place untenable for whoever is in
there. You now are investing it; you're not going in to wipe out everybody, and
you don't want to fight city block to city block. But you have surrounded it so
to speak. You've cut it off, so to speak, and you've made it no longer a
tenable position. You have invested it.
[Can you tell us about President Musharraf's concerns about debt
While we were working with President Musharraf and having him move in this new
strategic direction, there were great risks for him, and there was a great cost
associated with it. People became nervous about Pakistan. Contracts were being
cancelled for goods that were made in Pakistan. It became a very, very unstable
situation, and he was starting to pay a great price for it.
So, very wisely, he said, "You've got to help me with this. I not only need
investment; I need trade. I don't have these. Try to do what you can to keep
these contracts from being cancelled and, by the way, I'm carrying a lot of
debt around. You've got to do something about debt." Every time we got
together, he would raise this issue of debt. He has a very sophisticated
minister of finance who always will raise debt, and he and I had known each
So finally, one evening I said, "Mr. President, Mr. President, I've got it,
I've got it. It's burned in my forehead forever: 'Debt relief.' Even my wife
can see it now." It's become a running joke ever since.
At the very end of October, or perhaps it was the first of November, we
understand there was a key meeting in the White House. At that point, certainly
to the public eye, the war was not going that well. The dominant Taliban front
lines had not really started [to fall]. ... Could you give us a sense of the
nail-biting, the worrying? It didn't seem to be all happening, and yet it was
going to happen right around the corner.
Yes, there was a great deal nail-biting. The public always tends to get
impatient with operations that don't go as neatly and quickly and cleanly as
they might wish. You'll always get that kind of criticism.
It wasn't just a single meeting. All of us were watching us and trying to make
a judgement as to where the main effort should be. There was a suggestion that
we could do both Mazar-e-Sharif and the Northern Alliance advance across the
Shomali Plain down to Kabul. We decided we'd better focus on one and then shift
our attention to the other, and that's what we did.
So what emerged from our discussions -- no one person came up with the idea. It
emerged from our continuing discussions every single day in our dialogue, and
it kind of followed how the battle was unfolding. Then the shift and then the
question was how fast could the Northern Alliance move? It turned out once we
married up that First World air force with it, it could move rather quickly.
In fact, they moved so fast that it created problems for you. Kabul fell
within a few days. You had a pretty heavy weekend [at the U.N.] in New York
with the dinner for President Musharraf again, and at that point, no political
strategy was in place. Why was this?
We were hoping to keep the Northern Alliance outside of the city until we had
created a political environment for them or for others, as well to make sure
there would be this move toward a multi-ethnic nation. We had not yet gotten
that process under way, the Brahimi effort, the six-plus-two effort, the
Bonn Conference -- all that was yet to come about.
So we were concerned. But battles tend to have a motion and a rhythm of their
own. Once those troops got that close, they went in, and once they got in, we
cautioned them. We had to do some careful conversationing with President
Musharraf -- if I can invent that word -- to keep him calm, that we were
watching this carefully, it wouldn't get out of control. Fortunately, it
didn't. The Northern Alliance behaved rather responsibly. I think the fact that
American personnel were with them helped in that regard.
Then we rapidly got on with trying to get the political conference underway.
Do you recall if there are any key moments in New York?
There was a meeting of the six-plus-two, the surrounding nations of Afghanistan
and the United States and Russia, and we had a long conversation about all of
this. The Iranians were there; it was the first time I'd ever seen or met my
Iranian counterpart. There was lot of conversation: Where are we going to hold
it; what are we going to do? It was a good, fulsome discussion.
But at the very end of the discussion, I asked for the floor. Mr. Brahimi was
there in the room with the secretary-general, and I said, "Let me just
summarize this with the following observation: Speed, speed, speed!" Three
times, I think I said it, according to The New York Times the next day.
The reason for that is that the situation on the ground was unfolding quickly.
We needed a political solution quickly in order to have something ready to put
You mentioned Bonn. In the end, it went far better than I think anybody
could have dreamed. But there was really a sticking point towards the end, with
President Rabbani saying, "Look, you should all come back to Kabul. This is an
Afghan thing; I'm feeling hassled," and via Jim Dobbins to Richard Armitage,
who calls you, saying, "Can you do something?"
The answer was "Do not let them break up. Keep them there. Lock them up if you
have to. We do not want this to go anywhere else. We're almost there, and this
is the time to grind it out on this line. If they go off, I don't know when
I'll get them all back together." Rich Armitage loves the little idea that once
you get frogs in a wheelbarrow, you don't let them get out. That was a good
analogy. So we kept them. ...
You took one practical step there. I believe you called [Igor Ivanov] in
Well, I called Igor and let him know that this was starting to slip away from
us, and to make sure that he emboldened his representatives there to keep them
there. What was interesting about that -- and it has remained interesting in
the months that followed -- is the relationship that we were able to develop
with the Russians.
There was that nervousness in the beginning about the U.S. around their Central
Asian former republics. But now they are accepting the fact that we are there
not as potential enemies, but as friends, working against common enemies:
terrorism, fundamentalism, drug smuggling -- all those things that are threats
now to Russia, just as they are to the rest of us. So Igor and I talk two or
three times a week now on this and other matters. ...
home + on the ground + assessing the campaign + with us or against us? + fighting on two fronts: a chronology
epilogue + discussion + interviews + links & readings + introduction + video + reporter's notebook
FRONTLINE + wgbh + pbsi
photo © reuters newmedia inc/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation