The following is a transcript of Bret Baier's Friday interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Fox News Channel.
BAIER: Today, I'm privileged to be able to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld some questions here in the briefing room without raising my hand or my voice. So thank you so much for that.
I wanted to start out asking you about yesterday; you said that Operation Anaconda may come to an end. The end may be in sight. Of course you phrased it that no one can be sure, but what gives you that optimism in that fight considering the fierceness that we've seen over the past few days?
RUMSFELD: Well, I think what I said, of course, as you say, is that it's not possible to know. And it looked to me like it would be days, meaning seven, eight, 10, as opposed to weeks or months. I say that because we've got wonderful people doing this task. They're very well organized; they're well trained. We have some excellent coalition forces. We've got some Afghan forces that are being very helpful.
They're in a constrained area that's large, to be sure, and the weather is just terrible today. So a lot of our air assets are not able to fly. But my guess is that over the coming, you know, period of some days — I don't know how many — that it'll wind down. At the present time, the latest report I received this morning was that there's very little ground fire coming from the folks inside, and we're still continuing to use air power because we can still find targets. And we're continuing ground fire as very small numbers of people try to move in or out of the area that's contained.
BAIER: Originally, you and General Myers said that there was a lot of intelligence gathered before this operation and that there was planning for two weeks or so. And we understand that some 500 Al Qaeda are now believed dead. That number is larger than the original estimate of how many were in there in the first place.
Did we severely underestimate the firepower in there? And was that an intelligence problem?
RUMSFELD: I'm sure there are people, you know, whether they are sergeants or colonels, or somebody, who may have overestimated, and some may have underestimated. We didn't estimate. I didn't and I don't think General Franks did. First fact.
Second fact is we don't know how many are in there today. Nor do we know how many are dead because we're not in there. When it's over we'll know. The way one could find that the number is different than you are able to observe, notwithstanding the fact that the observation went on for a long period and in a number of locations around the particular area, is that it is perfectly possible for very small numbers of people to move in and out of that area at a time. It is also recognized that there are fairly large caves and tunnels.
You can't know what's inside of those caves and tunnels until you physically get in there on the ground. But it's going well. And if you think about it, we've now pretty much completed the phase of taking the Taliban out of Afghanistan's government and putting the Al Qaeda on the run, and they're no longer capable of using Afghanistan as a safe haven and that's terribly important.
We've got a lot of cleaning up to do. Obviously, Anaconda is an example, and the next step is to do what we can to help the interim government and then the successor government actually be able to provide a secure environment itself rather than needing our help or others help.
BAIER: Well, speaking of that, how — where do you stand on expanding the peacekeepers there, the force, the international security assistance force? Where do you stand on that today?
RUMSFELD: It is a very tough issue, and I don't know that I know that the U.S. government has not come to a conclusion on it, nor have I as to what is the best thing. We're working with the interim government. We're working with the ministry of defense there. We had an assessment team. They've come out. We're now at the point where we're discussing what is the best way, the most cost-effective way to see that there's reasonable security in the country during the period that the Afghan people are able to develop the kind of indigenous security that they ultimately are going to need, whether it's border patrol, police forces, military people.
BAIER: The fact that all of these fighters were able to assemble, well, fairly near Kabul where this force is, does that indicate that the security force needs to be expanded? I mean, do you think that there's —
RUMSFELD: It's not. A security force would not have been able to deal with this crowd. This is a tough crowd. No, this takes soldiers; it takes airmen —
BAIER: So you are in favor of expanding the international security force?
RUMSFELD: No. An international — even an expanded international security force would not have been able to even begin to deal with this crowd. No. It's a full stop, separate discussion. Security or peacekeepers — they're trying to keep things calm, keep criminals and small pockets of people from developing a deterrent. No. What we've got there are a number of hundreds of very, very well-trained terrorists and well armed, and it takes a very powerful military force and ground and air to deal with it. No, this would be well beyond any ability of an international peacekeeping force.
This would be the kind of thing that in the event, say, a year or two years from now, if the Afghans develop a national army and Taliban and Al Qaeda from neighboring countries try to drift back in and try to concentrate that, it would be a national army, Afghan national army, that would help to deal with something like that as opposed to a peacekeeping force.
BAIER: Do you think other Operation Anacondas will have to happen?
RUMSFELD: You can't know. But I suspect it's a possibility. I think the signal that we're leaning forward, not back, and I think that signal is clear and that signal creates a deterrent effect that we're not going to allow this country to be a sanctuary for terrorists again, and we're going to work with the Afghan government and they don't want it to be a sanctuary.
Does that mean that more Al Qaeda and Taliban might not drift back in from neighboring countries or from the mountains or from the villages and form another pocket like this? No. That's possible, and we may have to do this again in another part of the country. What I do know is it won't be the same people that we'll have to do it to. These people won't be around.
BAIER: Do you think Usama bin Laden is alive?
RUMSFELD: Can't know. He may be, he may not be. Maybe in the country, maybe just outside of the country, but there's no way to know. It's — we've been looking for Karadzic for seven years, I believe, in the Balkans. Four, five, six countries have been after him. But we know is Karadzic is not functioning effectively. We also know that Usama bin Laden is not functioning effectively. If there's another terrorist attack, I suspect — and I suspect there will be — it will be very likely because of the thousands of terrorists that were trained in Afghanistan and in other countries that have been moved out to 40 or 50 countries around the world who are waiting to engage in terrorist acts and kill innocent people. But it is not possible for bin Laden to be using Afghanistan effectively as a haven for terrorism. He's not recruiting there. He's not training there. He's not raising money there. He's on the run. And our goal is to do everything we can to root out these terrorist networks and to see that no country in the world provides safe havens. To the extent — people ask why we're in Yemen. My answer is, would you like Yemen to become the next Afghanistan? Would you like to provide — announce that we're not going to be in Yemen, therefore all the Al Qaeda in the world can go gather there and create a new haven. And I think nobody wants that to happen, and goodness knows the Yemeni government does not. That's why they are doing what they're doing to go after the terrorists, the Al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen today, and they're doing a very good job of doing that.
BAIER: You and the president have said repeatedly that it's not about one person, but can this operation be called a success if we don't get Usama bin Laden?
RUMSFELD: Well, you know, has it been a success in the Balkans if you didn't get Karadzic? Why not? Your goal is to have people be freed and liberated, as the Afghan people have been. You don't want the country to be a terrorist haven. Do we want to get bin Laden? Sure. Do I think we will? You bet I do. But I mean, if you look at what our stated goals have been and what they are, it's to go after terrorists and to bring them to justice and to stop countries from harboring and creating sanctuaries and safe havens for those people. That's important.
BAIER: Back to this current Operation Anaconda. It is definitely a change of strategy, a change of tactics now that U.S. soldiers are fighting directly instead of assisting Afghans in small numbers and calling in air strikes. Why change that now? You've called the other effort, the other strategy very successful, remarkably successful. Why the change now?
RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know that it is a big change. We've had relatively small numbers of Americans in the country from the beginning. We still do have relatively small numbers. The numbers we have today are in the low thousands, four or five thousand. The numbers we had previously were in the hundreds. And if you have hundreds, it's not likely you're going to use them for a major ground action, and we had the cooperation of the Afghan forces. Today, we've got cooperation of Afghan forces, plus four, five or six coalition countries that are very active in this activity.
So we've got Americans, Afghans and four or five coalition countries both on the ground and helping from the air. So it's very much a coalition effort.
BAIER: Yesterday, these photos surfaced of the attack on September 11th here at the Pentagon and obviously next week marks six months. Looking at the progress that the U.S. military has made up to now, is there anything you would have done differently looking back?
RUMSFELD: Well, it would have been nice if we started six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, 36 months earlier going after global terrorism and the attacks on the United States and the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had never happened. The reality is they did. We now know, the world knows, it's not possible to defend against terrorists in every place at every time against some of these most unusual techniques of driving airplanes filled with Americans into our important buildings. Therefore, we all know, we've all registered that, the society has, the people of our country, the people of the world — that we've got to take this battle to the terrorists and go after them. I don't think until an event like that occurred that the world would have been ready to take it to the terrorists and understand that the only defense against terrorists whose purpose in life is to kill large numbers of innocent men, women and children, that the society — the world probably wouldn't have been ready to go out and take the battle to them absent those events.
It may very well be that, in a perverse way, those events will have saved us from something considerably worse if one thinks of the nexus between terrorists willing to kill thousands of innocent people who don't have weapons of mass destruction and connect them with those weapons of mass destruction, which, what, six months, a year, two years, how long would it take? They have close relationships with countries with weapons of mass destruction. There you're not talking about killing thousands of people, but tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people with weapons of mass destruction. So it may be that those events have been the call, the call that caused all of us to recognize the change in our world, that our margin for error is vastly different today, given the power and reach of weapons of mass destruction, than it was in a previous period, and we best get about this task as President Bush has said.
BAIER: Specifically, nothing wouldn't have changed anything military up to now?
RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness, you know, we always change. Life is a learning experience every day for me unless you're born knowing everything. I think all of us involved are constantly trying to search out lessons learned, how we can do things better. And we've had a major study going on since last year, shortly after it began, so that it could almost track along and we could begin to feed in those lessons as we've gone along. And that's been taking place and I hope we're getting better.
BAIER: Mr. secretary, thanks for being with us today.
RUMSFELD: Thank you.