If you can fast-forward to that evening when you finally get together first
for an NSC meeting in a room together. Did you have any idea at that point who
was responsible? How did the conversation run?
We actually had an NSC meeting of a little bit earlier in the day on Sept. 11,
when President Bush landed at Offutt [Air Force] Base in Nebraska, and we had a
moment to ask the question who had done this. Everybody assumed that it was Al
Qaeda, because the operation looked like Al Qaeda, quacked like Al Qaeda,
seemed like Al Qaeda. But by late evening, when we met again as the National
Security Council after President Bush's address to the nation, there was
increasing analytic evidence that that is what had happened.
I don't think there was ever a doubt in anyone's mind, because we knew enough
about the organization to know that this is exactly the kind of thing they
would try to do.
We've heard that George Tenet said this organization is in 50 to 60
countries, and the president said, "Let's pick them off one by one." Can you
tell me that story, if it's true?
We had had a number of discussions of the Al Qaeda network, going all the way
back to when we first came into office in January of 2001. At several of those,
George Tenet had talked about the far-flung nature of Al Qaeda, that it had
tentacles into many, many different countries.
The night of Sept. 11, George was relating that part of the problem here would
be not just to deal with their home base in Afghanistan, but to deal with their
tentacles in other places. The president said, "Then we're going to have to
have a strategy to defeat them, even if we have to do it one by one." That was
a revealing moment.
From the very start, this president said that our first job was to try to
recover as a country, to try to deal with the problems of New York City and of
the Pentagon. But moments after that, he was already focused on what we would
need to do to defeat these terrorists who had done this to us. He also very
early focused on the fact that this was going to have to be a global struggle,
in which this not just America's struggle, but the struggle of the entire
The following morning, I think almost the first thing the president does is
put a call in to Tony Blair. We've spoken to the prime minister, and he said he
stressed the need to look for evidence to present to the world that it was Al
Qaeda, and also the need to present an ultimatum to the Taliban as quickly as
possible. Can you tell me about that conversation, what the president said in
Prime Minister Blair and the president talked the morning after 9/11. Of
course, Great Britain is one of America's closest friends, and so it was not
surprising that it was one of the first phone calls that the president made.
Prime Minister Blair was concerned about evidence -- was this indeed Al Qaeda;
about what kind of ultimatum we would need to give to the Taliban if, in fact,
it was Al Qaeda. The president was quite clear that he believed with every bone
in his body that it was Al Qaeda, and that there was no question in his
We considered the question of whether to give an ultimatum to the Taliban.
First [we] considered whether or not the president should do it in his address
to the nation the night before. But at that point, it didn't seem we had put
all of the pieces together, and the address to the nation was really to rally
the American people, who had just gone through a terrible shock. But it was
only a few days later that it was decided that there would indeed be an
ultimatum to the Taliban -- that they should hand over Al Qaeda and stop
harboring terrorists, or they would meet the terrorists' fate.
That was foreshadowed in President Bush's address to the nation on Sept. 11,
because he said that those who harbored terrorists were just as guilty as the
Still on the morning of the Sept. 12 NSC meeting, the president comes out
and issues a statement stronger than any he's made yet. He talks about this as
being a war. Presumably, he talked that through with you. It's a big step to
take to say, "We are now fighting a war." Can you tell me how he spoke to
In fact, the president had said to the national security principals the day
before [that] we were at war. But because we thought that the role of this
statement to the nation, the need to bring the American people in and to say,
"It's all going to be all right," it didn't seem the right time to declare war,
So instead, the president the next day, when he talked to the National Security
Council principals -- and I can remember quite clearly -- he said, "This is a
war, and we're going to have to tell the American people that we're at war." He
did it actually without any preparation or paper in front of him. It was a
perfectly natural thing for him to say. He did discuss it with the National
Security Council principals, but it was not a written statement. He simply went
out and called it an act of war.
Now the weekend. You all head down to Camp David for a real brainstorming
session. We're just focusing on two or three of the key points of conversation
there. We've spoken to Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary Powell. They've spoken
about how there was a discussion on whether to go after Iraq. Mr. Wolfowitz put
one case; Secretary Powell the other. Can you just talk us through how the
president listened to the debate, and [how] you came to the decision that you
eventually came to?
... That night, the president went up to New York, to Ground Zero, for the
first time. But he sent the vice president and Secretary Rumsfeld and Colin
Powell and me to Camp David ahead of him on Friday night to begin to talk about
what we were going to face. ...
The president listened to the debate at Camp David that Saturday after the
events of Sept. 11, and there were a number of questions on the table. One of
the questions was how wide a war should we declare -- should we talk about the
war on terrorism as just against Al Qaeda? What about states with which we had
hostile relations, that, even if they weren't directly supporting Al Qaeda,
were clearly a part of the insecurity that we were now feeling? Iraq fell into
that category. How to think about Afghanistan itself, and how to go after this
base that Al Qaeda had?
When it came to Iraq, there were those who at least put forward the proposition
that we ought to consider what to do about Iraq. Was it important to do it now,
because Iraq was clearly a problem?
The president listened to it. He has [no love] -- and clearly still has no love
for the regime of Saddam Hussein, and this administration is committed to
regime change. But after listening to all of his advisers, he said within a
day, first things first. We had to deal with the base where Al Qaeda was. We
had to deal with Afghanistan, because it was Al Qaeda that had hurt us and that
would try to hurt us again.
But, in many ways, something that I remember most about the Camp David meeting
was when we put the map out on the table, you look at the map, you look at
Afghanistan and you look where it is -- I think the color kind of drained from
everybody's faces, because [of] the stories of British defeats in Afghanistan,
and Soviet defeats in Afghanistan, not to mention the potential for instability
in Pakistan. It sits there on the Iranian border. We have no relations with
Iran. States like Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. I think everybody thought, "Of
all of the places to have to fight a war, Afghanistan would not be our choice."
But we didn't choose Afghanistan; Afghanistan chose us.
From that, I think you realized you were going to have to get together a
fairly unusual type of coalition, which is another of the things he talked
about at Camp David. Could you just tell us a bit about how the conversation
went about this strange coalition of coalitions?
Due to the nature of Al Qaeda and the fact that it was in so many different
countries, and also due to the geography, if you will, of Afghanistan, we
recognized that there was going to have to be a coalition of the willing, a
coalition that was broad. But we were concerned to not have the nature of the
coalition or the membership of the coalition begin to define the mission too
I think it was Secretary Don Rumsfeld who came up with the notion that really
we were talking about coalitions, many different coalitions in the service of
the war on terrorism. There would be members of the coalition who would not
want to participate in military activity, but who might have exactly the right
piece of information through intelligence sources that was ultimately very
important in bringing down Al Qaeda; or those who would participate as
important members of the coalition in freezing terrorists' financial assets.
So early on we decided that we would ask states to do what they could and what
they were best suited to do. This was not like the Gulf War coalition, where we
were taking contributions to the military effort, because the military effort
was going to be only a small part of winning the war on terrorism.
The next day, I think, the president has pretty much, in his own head, come
to decide what he's going to do. He calls you into his office and tells you.
You write it down on a sheet of paper. Can you take me through that?
The day after we returned from Camp David, the president called me in, and he
said, "I've decided what I want to do." He had been presented a lot of
different views, a lot of information. ... So he came back, he processed it, he
said he knew what he wanted to do.
He wanted to focus on Al Qaeda first. He recognized that the way to Al
Qaeda was through the Taliban. Probably the most important conclusion that he
came to was that this military action that we were about to take had to look
different than what the United States had been doing over the last 10 years or
so. It could not just be an air campaign. It could not just be a cruise missile
campaign. There had to be boots on the ground. We had to have a ground presence
to demonstrate our seriousness. Probably that single insight governed more of
what we did than anything else, and that was the president.
I'm going to zip forward about a week now. Back at Camp David, the president
gets a call from President Putin. We spoke to President Putin. He saw this as
an enormously important call, which kind of opened up a new chapter of
U.S.-Russian [relations], if you like. Could you just tell me the American side
of that phone call?
The phone call between President Putin and President Bush was an enormously
important phone call. President Putin had, at the time of the event, called to
say that Russia was prepared to help. Russia itself had experienced terrorism.
In fact, all of the way back in their first meeting at Ljubljana, the president
and President Putin had talked about terrorism and the threat from
organizations like Al Qaeda.
But on this particular day when they talked on the phone, President Putin
really pledged his support for the war on terrorism. And because we needed to
have a presence in Central Asia in the territories that were part of the former
Soviet Union, I think that President Putin wanted to make clear that he would
not object to an American presence to fight the war on terrorism.
President Bush, for his part, wanted to assure President Putin that it was not
the intention of the United States either to try and supplant Russian influence
in the region or to try to stay in the regions -- some kind of permanent
military bases -- but that we would be partners on the war on terrorism. It
was, indeed, a very important phone call. ...
But it was emblematic of something larger. Back almost at the beginning of
this, the president had said, through his tears, that he could see
opportunities for new relationships. Here we had a vivid example of a new
relationship that was budding with Russia, and the president wanted to move to
cement that new relationship with Russia. The counterterrorism mission gave us
a common security agenda with Russia that finally gave a clear vision to what
the president had said to President Putin, which is, "It was time to move
beyond the Cold War." Russia and the United States would now have more in
common than we had in conflict, and Sept. 11 made that abundantly clear. ...
I'll fast forward now to the next time the two presidents met, which was in
Shanghai. This is kind of 10 days into the war now, but I'd like to focus on
what they said to each other about the future of Afghanistan. Now certain
people in the State Department have told us that the feeling was Russia was a
bit too close to Professor Rabbani [of the Northern Alliance] at that time. So
what did you say in your discussions about post-Taliban Afghanistan about the
slightly different positions on that?
President Putin and President Bush did discuss at Shanghai the future of
Afghanistan and how to think about the various parties, and how to think about
a stable future for Afghanistan, because by this time, by the time of Shanghai,
military operations were well underway. There were questions about whether the
Northern Alliance would try and take Kabul. If they tried to take Kabul, would
that somehow then make the Pashtun feel that Afghanistan's future was being
taken way from the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan? They had a rather
detailed discussion of that.
I think that they found more in common than in conflict. Obviously, the
Russians had relations with Rabbani. They had relations with the Northern
Alliance and with certain parts of the Northern Alliance. But what was really
important in that meeting was that they came to a general agreement that you
had to have a broad-based government to rule Afghanistan after the defeat of
the Taliban; that it had to represent all ethnic groups; and that it had to
have a strong and heavy representation of the largest ethnic groups in
I think that was an extremely important finding/insight, because without the
agreement of the Russians -- and indeed even the Iranians -- that this had to
be a broad-based government in Afghanistan, we might have had what has
typically been Afghanistan's past -- which is its history of outside powers
trying to arrange the pieces in Afghanistan to favor their own interest, rather
than thinking about the interest of Afghanistan. Here, I think, you had the
outside parties understanding that the best interest of stability was to have
an Afghanistan government that would be broadly based.
Did you talk about how President Putin might be able to deliver that message
to the Northern Alliance when he was stopping off in Dushanbe?
President Putin agreed that when he stopped in Dushanbe, he would indeed send
this message loud and clear to all of their allies. We have every reason to
believe that he did exactly that.
Around about the beginning of November, we're about three weeks into the war
and not much seems to have happened on the ground at least. Secretary Powell
has talked about a bit of nail-biting in this time. But he remembers a key NSC
meeting at the end of November where you agreed to focus your military efforts
on Mazar-e-Sharif. Do you recall that NSC meeting?
... Yes, we were getting a little concerned that the Northern Alliance didn't
seem to be moving. We've been bombing for several weeks, now winter would be
coming fairly soon, and what objectives could actually be achieved on the
ground before winter came? That was really the question.
There were two possibilities. One was to try to do something more spectacular,
like make certain that Kabul fell before winter; the other was to take what
was, at that time, the nearest city to Mazar-e-Sharif, an important city, also
a city that allowed you to open a land bridge between Uzbekistan and
Afghanistan, so that humanitarian aid could get into the country. ...
We were also working through the problems of trying to marry 21st century air
power with men on horseback. There wasn't any plan on the Pentagon shelf that
said, "Your cavalry will be supported by 21st century aircraft," and so there
was a lot of work to do. Very early on, though, we had decided on a strategy to
support the Northern Alliance, and we reaffirmed that strategy.
Before we could put much energy and effort into deciding Mazar first and then
Kabul, events on the ground take over, as they often do throughout military
history. That's what happened, and the Northern Alliance started to sweep
through these cities very, very rapidly.
When they took Mazar, which is, I think, Nov. 9, it must have been a
difficult moment to evaluate. On the one hand, it's your first victory; it's a
sign that the Taliban will crack. On the other hand, going back to the concerns
you've been talking about President Putin, the Northern Alliance have a dubious
history, let's say, and any misbehavior, any massacres could discredit the
American campaign against terrorism really. Could you just talk me through
those concerns in the context of when Mazar fell, and, as you said, the
Northern Alliance were sweeping through the country?
Even before the fall of Mazar, we, the Russians, and others were sending very
strong messages to the Northern Alliance that we expected their behavior to be
far better than it had been in the past and that they had, this time, a stake
in behaving in a way that would allow a broad-based Afghanistan government to
take root after the Taliban had been defeated.
As they began to sweep through the country and as Mazar was liberated, of
course, there were concerns about Northern Alliance behavior. But most of the
reports that we were getting were that, perhaps, they also understood that this
was a second chance, and that they had to behave differently if they were going
to have a place themselves in a future Afghanistan.
I remember mostly, though, the fall of Mazar as being greeted with something of
a sigh of relief that there finally was a real victory to chalk up on the
board. Then, as things unfolded so rapidly after that, now facing the fact that
the end might be coming for the Taliban much more quickly than anybody
realized, and were we really now prepared for the end of Taliban regime? Were
we now really prepared for post-Taliban Afghanistan? So that emotion being
tempered a little bit by lack of information.
I can remember that the fall of Kunduz must have happened three or four
different times because we kept hearing, "Yes, it's fallen; no, it hasn't; yes,
it has; no, it hasn't." But Mazar, I think, we probably greeted more with
relief than anything else.
I'd like to pick up on something that you said there, that you realize you
didn't really have a post-Taliban plan in place, and it was a remarkable
weekend between the fall of Mazar and the fall of Kabul. I presume you were in
New York for some of that. Richard Haass [the undersecretary of state for
policy planning] remembers the president kind of rounding on him and saying,
"What is the U.N. up to? Are they doing anything? Do we have to take this on
ourselves?" Can you elucidate on the president's concerns in that respect, in
the context of that amazing weekend?
Early on, we had understood -- and not just the United States, but with our
partners -- that the United Nations was going to have to play a major role in
the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We were somewhat concerned that the U.N.
might not move quickly enough to fill the vacuum, if you will, between the
Taliban and the new government. So the president was [with], not only his own
staff people, but with Secretary-General Annan, and I saw Mr. Brahimi
[the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan] here.
I think what is very interesting about this is that the U.N. did respond very
quickly. In fact, the Bonn Conference was put together rather rapidly, and an
interim authority put together far more rapidly than I think any of us thought
possible. So in some ways, they turned out to be unfounded fears. But it was
just that there was a bit of a shock at how quickly the Taliban was routed, and
the fact that we were now facing a reconstruction more quickly than we had
How crucial was it for your whole effort, in a sense, that Bonn be
successful? Because the war on terror will focus on countries other than
Afghanistan, and if no government had been set up to move into the vacuum of
the Taliban, then in some ways it would discredit what you've achieved there.
Could you talk about your concerns?
The war on terrorism obviously had a goal to defeat Al Qaeda and defeat the
Taliban. But I think that we realized that that wasn't going to be enough --
that if terror wasn't going to return somehow to Afghanistan, or Afghanistan
wasn't going to again become a place where terrorism would thrive in the way
that it had under the Taliban, you had to have a stable Afghanistan. So a third
war aim, if you will, became a creation of a stable post-Taliban regime.
The Bonn Conference was absolutely crucial in getting that off on the right
foot, because if Bonn had fallen apart and you'd not been able to get an
interim authority that was broadly representative, then what we've just
experienced in the loya jirga would have been impossible.
So a lot was riding on the Bonn Conference. The United States had a wonderful
asset in an Afghan-American, Zalmay Khalilzad, who went as special envoy for
the United States and is a member of the National Security Council staff, to
work with the parties and to work with our allies on creating an atmosphere at
I think we were all really pretty amazed and quite respectful of what the
Afghans were able to do at Bonn. Yes, they had a lot of help. But what was
really impressive was the degree to which the Afghans themselves were
determined to use this new opportunity to make a new start for Afghanistan.
Very often, we get caught up in the history, and we say, "Afghanistan has
always had trouble being stable, it's had trouble having a central government,"
and we forget that, if you give people a choice between freedom and tyranny,
they'll very often choose freedom. So the Afghans themselves comported
themselves very well at Bonn, and that was very gratifying.
The man who ended up on the top of the tree there, Hamid Karzai, must have
been identified by you much earlier because he had American military support
throughout the end of October. Can you remember the context in which Hamid
Karzai first cropped up in your meetings?
Hamid Karzai, I think, emerged, not just because of American military support,
but because of whatever faction that you talk to in Afghanistan, they talked
about him as a possible reconciliator -- someone who would have the respect and
the trust of all of the different ethnic groups. So that's how he emerged.
Indeed, he came to the United States at the time of the State of the Union
address of the president. I remember being impressed with his stature, his
calmness, and his vision for the future of the people of Afghanistan, and
thinking to myself, "I can understand why he's thought of as someone who can
reconcile these very different groups." So, in that sense, he emerged from just
about every quarter as the person that the Afghans thought most likely to bring
about the reconciliation.
I'm going to move on to a general question about Tora Bora. Can you compare
the objectives with to what extent it has succeeded?
Tora Bora was, of course, one of the first major operations after the Taliban
had lost control of the country. It was successful in, again, they had decided
to try to regroup en masse. I don't think we will ever know how many of them we
actually killed and however many of them may have scattered. But if you study
your military history, they were massing to do something. And the fact that
they were unable to successfully mass and attack and scatter, it was
It was also important that we destroyed a lot of the cave complexes that they
had. Afghanistan had become, interestingly, not just a state sponsoring
terrorism. It was almost as if it had been hijacked by Al Qaeda and become
their state. They had an entire infrastructure in Afghanistan of cave complexes
and training camps and communications facilities. The destruction of all of
those meant that it's a less coherent organization than it was before this war.
It's still a dangerous organization, and indeed, some parts of it have
scattered to other places. The goal now is to make sure that they can't
regenerate someplace else or coalesce again.
But Tora Bora, and Anaconda after that, were extremely important in continuing
to break up that infrastructure and to make sure that they couldn't coalesce. ...
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