Richard B. Cheney photo

Interview of the Vice President by the BBC

November 15, 2001

11:06 A.M. EST

Q: A look at the current situation in Kabul. You helped the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in the north of Afghanistan. You asked them clearly not to enter Kabul, but they did. And now, it seems that they're setting a de facto government. How sure are you that the Northern Alliance are committed to the idea of a broad-based government in Afghanistan?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the important thing to remember here is, obviously, we do not -- these are not American forces, not U.S. forces, these are Afghans who have been involved for a long time in a very difficult struggle there. And the situation is such that we've been willing to work with them and to do everything we could to support them against the Taliban.

We have urged them to support a broad-based government and we hope that, in fact, will be the case. We think it's very important for those of us involved in the coalition to support the notion that the ultimate government that emerges here has to be one that clearly has the support of the Afghan people and that is broadly representative of the Afghan people. I can't predict with certainty how that will sort out, but to date I think as a general proposition, we believe the Northern Alliance has conducted themselves in a responsible fashion under the extraordinary circumstances that do exist.

Q: They've announced several key ministries: The Defense Ministry; they appointed a defense minister, they appointed the foreign minister. Don't you think that will complicate the whole idea of broad-based government?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's not surprising at this point that you would have those folks who have recently fought a number of difficult battles and emerged victorious over the Taliban to want to put something in its place; I don't find that surprising.

I do think it's important for everyone involved to understand that the United States and our other coalition partners in the effort, especially the U.K., for example, that we will work with the United Nations and other international organizations to try to establish a secure, stable representative government, long-term.

Our interest is not in telling the Afghan people how they should govern themselves; those are decisions they'll have to make themselves. But I think the rest of the world does have an interest in seeing to it that we don't have the kind of situation emerge again that arose under the Taliban. That is to say that Afghanistan becomes a home for terrorists or a sanctuary where terrorist organizations can operate from.

Q: Yes. And also, I don't think the Afghans would like the situation which was 10 years ago when all these Mujahedeen came to Kabul and each commander was controlling one side. If that happened again -- I mean, we understand that only one faction has entered Kabul, and there are news that the other groups -- the Hizaras (phonetic) on their way. If that happened, if they started fighting for ministries, for control -- and let me tell you that there are some reports of summary executions in Afghanistan right now and revenge killings -- how will you sort out that mess?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think -- I guess I'd back off from that at this point, from your sort of assumption there. We cannot solve all of the problems in Afghanistan overnight. We think, I think, have significantly improved the situation by our efforts to force the Taliban out of power.

What you had in Afghanistan before the onset of our military operations a few weeks ago was a regime that was a very bloody regime, a regime that had become dictatorial and in terms of how it conducted itself, that had created enormous pain and problems for the vast majority, I think, of the Afghan people. Certainly had seriously mistreated and abused women in terms of the way they had been forced to live during the course of this campaign. A regime that had, in fact, contributed significantly to the terrible circumstances and living conditions the Afghan people find themselves in today -- while at the same time, while at the same time making it possible for al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to launch terrorist attacks against the outside world.

Now, the situation is not perfect today, but it is certainly much better than it was when the Taliban were in power. The Taliban are, for the most part, gone from about 80 or 90 percent of the country and the international community is committed to working as aggressively as we can to help with humanitarian relief and to try to help find a political settlement here that will enable the establishment of a long-term, stable, representative government.

Now, are there going to be problems along the way? Certainly. Have people been killed in this conflict? Yes, they have. That's the unfortunate part of war. But when that happens, I guess I would make the same point that our Defense Secretary made the other day, that when all is considered and done, this transition of power in Afghanistan probably has been accompanied by less loss of life than any other in modern history.

Is it perfect? No, but we'll do our level best to see to it that what we get through here is as peaceful a transition as possible in the establishment of a good, solid, representative government that will look after the interests of the Afghan people.

Q: Britain is into -- to send troops, peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan. Will those efforts will be matched by America?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We already have a significant number of American forces in the region; some on the ground in Afghanistan. What will be required, going forward, is as yet undetermined. But certainly, the United States is committed to working with our friends in the U.K., and other countries that have expressed an interest in seeing to it that, in fact, we do establish a good -- perhaps an interim arrangement or interim government ultimately leading to a representative government, and the United States is prepared to do whatever we have to do to achieve those objectives.

Q: Well, that includes sending 1,000 American troops as Britain is indicating?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You're asking for specific commitments on specific operational details, on a hypothetical basis and speculative questions, and I can't answer those questions.

Q: But Britain is giving away this information.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The United States has already done more than any other nation to try to improve the situation in Afghanistan. We are the leading donor of humanitarian assistance; we were before the tragic events of September 11th and the subsequent conflict in Afghanistan, and we are yet today. We've provided well over a million rations in the last few days to the people of Afghanistan. We have liberated them from the terrible yoke of oppression of the Taliban. And we will continue to be actively and aggressively involved in helping the Afghan people reclaim their country and establish a government that they are comfortable with.

Q: That's right. Can I ask you something right here? Many people in Afghanistan feel quite cynical about the way that they've been used by the outside powers and the powers. And as you remember, the Mujahedeen were used to fight the Soviets; later, the Taliban were created partly with the help of CIA, and now you seem to be using the Northern Alliance. And how can the Afghan people trust America?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think they will get far better treatment at the hands of the United States than virtually anybody else that they've been dealing with in recent years. I think if you go into the streets, from everything I can see in the streets of Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif and the other major cities around Afghanistan today, the people of Afghanistan are thankful and delighted to be liberated from the yoke of oppression of the Taliban, and that happened as a direct result of the policies of President Bush and the United States of America and the operations of our military forces.

Q: But there is also a sense of not knowing what will happen next. And also, can you guarantee that once your objectives are achieved, you won't abandon the country once again?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We've made it clear that we have no interest in abandoning the country. We want to be actively involved with the Afghan people in creating an environment, say, that is healthy for them and lets them live life to their maximum potential, and also at the same time ensures that Afghanistan never again becomes a base for the conduct of terrorist operations against the outside world.

Q: A lot of Afghans are angry about America's newfound friendship with Pakistan. Pakistan has always been seen as a country which has interfered in Afghanistan in the last 22 years, backing various factions at different times. What assurance can you give about Pakistan's role in the future?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You keep asking for assurances of this and assurances of that. I will simply come back and say that Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan are in a much better position today than they were a few months ago when they were ruled by the Taliban. It's not surprising that the neighboring states, whether we're talking about Pakistan or we talk about Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, a lot of countries that are neighboring states to Afghanistan have an interest in what happens inside Afghanistan; and that's not surprising. I think it's been true for centuries. Our effort will be to try to lead an international coalition to work through the appropriate international agencies, such as the United Nations, to allow the Afghan people to make decisions for themselves about what kind of government they want, and to be able to live their lives in the future free of some of the pain and suffering that's been visited on them in the past.

Q: Do you think that the war against Taliban is over?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I wouldn't say it's over yet. I think it's clearly been a very successful campaign up to this point, but there are still parts of the country today that are under Taliban rule. Most of the cities obviously have been liberated. Much of the country now is free of Taliban rule. But there still pockets of resistance. There still are foreign invaders, if you will, in Afghanistan. Some of the outsiders, especially some of the Arabs who came in with Osama bin Laden, and who were invited in by the Taliban and who are still resisting, if you will. So I can't say that the conflict has ended yet.

It's also important to remember from the standpoint of the United States, we have an abiding interest in finding Osama bin Laden and the leaders of al Qaeda, the foreigners the Taliban invited into Afghanistan, and in fact, the reason all of this recent grief has been visited on Afghanistan is because of their presence.

We want to round them up, we want to bring them to justice. There are significant financial rewards that have been offered by the United States for information leading to the capture of these individuals, and we'll continue to be very active there in order to stamp out the al Qaeda terrorist network and its leadership.

Q: Do you think that you will ever find bin Laden himself?


Q: If the Taliban were to take to hills and fight a guerrilla campaign, what military strategy would the U.S. pursue? I mean, I understand that Afghanistan is not an easy place.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm well aware of that. I think the questions would be whether or not they would have any outside support. In the past, of course, they have had outside support from various sources in terms of financing, in terms of arms, in terms of training. Osama bin Laden has been one of the major sources of support for the Taliban.

In effect, you had something of a state-supported -- terrorist-supported state, if you will. To the extent that we can wipe out that terrorist base, I think that will weaken their capabilities, and I don't think anybody in the outside world in the future will have any interest in supporting the Taliban or providing them with additional military capability. So I would think over time, once a strong government is established and local control is established as well in the various key provinces around Afghanistan, that the Taliban will not be much of a factor.

Q: But if it is seen as a foreign intervention in Afghanistan, and if some of the people in Pakistan religious schools support him to give him that kind of protection, what would you do then?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: If they give who protection -- Osama bin Laden?

Q: Bin Laden and also Taliban and the al Qaeda.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think after the experience the Taliban has had -- remember what happened here; after they had provided sanctuary for Osama bin Laden while he attacked U.S. embassies and killed hundreds of people in East Africa and attacked our ship in Yemen, and then New York City and Washington, D.C., they, in effect, have -- were asked to turn over bin Laden and refused to do so.

President Bush made the point that if you are a government that provides sanctuary to terrorists, you have to accept guilt and responsibility for their actions, just as do the terrorists. The Taliban refused to turn him over and they've suffered the consequences. I think it will be difficult to find anybody else around the world who will have an interest in providing sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his kind.

Q: Many people, both inside and outside Afghanistan, were horrified by reports of civilian casualties caused by American bombs despite your claims of accuracy. And we have reports today of more bombing in Afghanistan. What lessons have you learned about avoiding the loss of innocent lives?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We do everything we can to avoid the loss of innocent life or collateral damage. In a war, unfortunately it's not possible to be absolutely certain that you always avoid hurting the innocent, but we've done a better job than anybody in history in terms of our conduct of military operations.

The precision of our attack, the care with which we apply military force are, I think, were there for anyone who wanted to see it. There were a lot of reports, for example, of the people of Kabul watching our military operations from the rooftops because they were confident of the precision with which we used our military assets.

Any loss of life, of innocent life, is to be regretted, and certainly we're sorry if that happened. But remember how this started. It started with nearly 5,000 innocent people -- men, women and children, most of them Americans, but many of them from other nations as well, including a large number of Muslims -- being murdered on September 11th in the attack on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon here in Washington, D.C.

The key to avoiding that kind of thing happening in the future is to eliminate the people who did it, and that's Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network and the leadership of the Taliban that provided them with sanctuary.

So in the long run, I think there will be far less loss of life in the world as a result of our taking this military action. And that's why we feel it's justified and why we did what we had to do.

Q: You always say that the war on terrorism was much wider than just Afghanistan. What is the next stage?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there are a great many places around the world where there are cells of the al Qaeda organization; maybe as many as 40 or 50 countries. And we're working now with the services of other countries and other governments to try to wrap those organizations up, and we'll continue to work to dry up their financial assets and resources where it's appropriate. We'll be prepared to use military action should that be required in order to close down these operations.

But what we are specifically interested in and the President has defined is the war on terrorism. And, unfortunately, it's become all too frequent an occurrence. And the United States, I think, and the rest of the world now have made it very clear that we will no longer tolerate that kind of activity, nor will we tolerate governments who provide sanctuary for terrorists. And I'm sure the campaign ahead will be a long one, but in the end it will be successful.

Q: Thank you very much. I think that's all of 20 minutes. Thank you very much for the interview.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You bet. Thank you.

Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President by the BBC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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