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Talking Tough: President Bush and General Tommy Franks

Extended excerpts of comments made by President Bush and General Tommy Franks on the U.S. war against al-Qaida.

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    President Bush is on vacation at his ranch in Texas, but he was briefed on the Afghan campaign today by Commanding General Tommy Franks, who just returned from the region. Afterwards, the two met outside with reporters. The President was asked about whether he'd seen the latest bin laden videotapes. He was also asked about leaked reports that the administration's military tribunals would require a unanimous verdict for the death penalty.


    I didn't watch it all. I saw snippets of it on TV. You know, who knows when it was made. Secondly, he is not escaping us. I mean, this is a guy who three months ago was in control of a country. Now he's maybe in control of a cave. He's on the run. Listen, a while ago I said to the American people our objective is more than bin Laden.

    But one of the things for certain is we're going to get him running and keep him running and bring him to justice. And that's what's happening. He's on the run, if he's running at all. So we don't know whether he's in a cave with the door shut or in a cave with a door open. We just don't know. There's all kinds of reports and all kind of speculation.

    But one thing we know is that he's not in charge of Afghanistan anymore. He's not in charge of the… He's not the parasite that invaded the host, the Taliban. That — we know that for certain. We also know that we're on the hunt, and he knows we're on the hunt. And I like our position better than his. In terms of whether or not the tribunals will be able to render the justice necessary, that… You know, I spoke to the Secretary of Defense today about the story in the newspaper.

    Evidently, somebody in our government wanted to show off to his or her family in between Christmas and New Year's by leaking information in the press that he or she thought would be helpful to the government. The truth of the matter is, the Secretary of Defense hadn't even seen the report that was on the front page of America's newspapers.

    So my answer to the question, Scott, is I know that the leaked report is preliminary; that they're still in discussions about how best to bring justice. One thing is for certain: That whatever the procedures are for the military tribunals, our system will be more fair than the system of bin Laden and the Taliban. That is for certain. The prisoners that we capture will be given a heck of a lot better chance in court than those citizens of ours who were in the World Trade Center or in the Pentagon were given by Mr. bin Laden. David, good to see you.


    Good to see you. Merry Christmas.


    Thank you.


    Can you say with confidence now that Osama bin Laden is no longer in a position to mastermind another terrorist attack against the United States or our allies? Related to that, you talked about 2002 being a year of war. What can you say to prepare the American people for what that vision is, what they need to be prepared for as compared to what they've seen in Afghanistan?


    Well, I hope 2002 is a year of peace, but I'm also realistic, and I know full well that bin laden and his cronies would like to harm America again. Bin Laden and his cronies would like to harm our allies. How do I know that? I receive intelligence reports on a daily basis that indicates that that's his desires.

    Therefore the United States must be vigilant, must make sure we continue to focus on our homeland security measures, must disrupt, must use our intelligence gathering network to prevent the enemy from attacking. And so while I hope 2002 is the year of peace, I'm realistic.

    As to whether or not bin laden is in control of some network, who knows? We don't know, David, whether or not he has given any orders to any of his soldiers. But we take nothing for granted, and so our country still remains on alert, and we're actively looking for anybody who would harm America. The shoe bomber was a case in point where the country has been on alert.

    A stewardess on American Airlines flight… A flight attendant on American Airlines flight was vigilant, saw something amiss and responded. It's an indication that the culture of America has shifted to one of alertness. I'm grateful for the flight attendant's response as I'm sure the passengers are from the airplane. We've got to be aware that there are still enemies to the country and our government is responding accordingly.


    Mr. President, some say the events of 2001 have changed you while others say you're the same person you always were. Who's right or is it fair to say there's some truth in both arguments?


    Talk to my wife. I don't spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, except when I comb my hair. And, you know, listen. I'll give you a hint. I liked coming to the ranch before September 11. I like coming to the ranch after September 11.


    Timetable in your mind for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan or as long as bin Laden is still on the run, do you imagine them being their indefinitely?


    I imagine us being there for a period of time, but my timetable is going to be set by Tommy Franks. Tommy is in charge of the military operations. He is in charge of the military. I'll let Tommy speak for himself. But I'll tell you this, we won't be making political decisions about what to do with our military. I gave Tommy a mission. It was a well-defined mission, and Tommy is in charge of getting that mission done. When Tommy says, "Mission complete Mr. President," that's when we start moving troops out. But until he says that, I will make the case to the American people that we're doing the right thing.


    In Afghanistan?


    In Afghanistan? Well, Taliban gone, the country's secure, the country's stable. Al-Qaida cells rounded up. Taliban fighters, you know, brought to justice. The over 6,000 troops– prisoners being held, prisoners of war being held by our allies, interrogated. There is a lot to do.

    The American people must understand when I said that we need to be patient, that I meant it. And we're going to be there for a while. I don't know the exact moment when we leave, David, but it's not until the mission is complete. The world must know that this administration will not blink in the face of danger and will not tire when it comes to completing the missions that we said we would do.

    The world will learn that when the United States is harmed, we will follow through. The world will see that when we put a coalition together that says "Join us," I mean it. And when I ask others to participate, I mean it. And in order to lead the coalition, we must show that we will complete the mission.