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Pentagon Briefing

Aired November 25, 2003 - 14:08   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCOHR: We are watching very closely right now the Pentagon. In just a little bit, we should see the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Even as we speak, here they come. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Meyers, along with him. They're going to give a briefing on the situation in Iraq and elsewhere. Let's listen in.

This Thanksgiving we have a great deal to be thankful for; thankful for the brave Americans who serve our country in the global war on terror, and we pray especially for the families of those who have given their lives -- those families can know that millions of Americans will have them in their thoughts and prayers -- and thankful for the forces from all of our coalition partners, many of whom have been injured or killed, including the brave Iraqis who have died in the service of their country's security forces.

If one thinks back to the casualties of wars past -- some 292,000 were killed in World War II, 34,000 in Korea, 47,000 in Vietnam -- we can give thanks that our forces in this war have not faced casualties of such enormous magnitude.

We are truly fortunate that there are so many wonderful young men and women who are willing to step forward, volunteer to serve, and their accomplishments deserve full recognition.

Consider what they've accomplished in just the week ending November 23rd.

In that very short period, coalition forces conducted nearly 12,000 patrols and more than 230 targeted raids. They captured some 1,200 enemy forces, and killed 40 to 50 enemy fighters and wounded some 25 to 30. That's a one-week snapshot, but it provides a sense of the determined offensive pressure which the coalition is applying against the enemy.

Another example is that in the last 24 hours alone, the 4th Infantry Division conducted 199 patrols, seven raids and captured 18. They confiscated an enormous number of weapons and potential weapons as well: 17 AK-47 assault rifles, 11 rifles, one pistol, three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 53 grenades, six containers of artillery propellant, 60 120-millimeter and 250 60-millimeter mortar rounds, 50 blasting caps, 10 blocks of C-4 explosive, 10 sticks of TNT, 50 mortar fuses and some 40 spools of wire that's used to detonate these improvised explosive devices. RUMSFELD: At the same time, coalition forces are making considerable progress in helping Iraqis rebuild from some three decades of destruction. Consider: plans call for rebuilding Iraq's hospitals and clinics. To date, the coalition has successfully helped in reopening all 240 Iraqi hospitals and 95% of Iraq's 1,200 medical clinics.

The plans call for getting electric power production up to pre- war levels. On October 6th, production reached 4,518 megawatts, surpassing prewar levels.

The plan called for restoring oil production. And today Iraq is producing about 2.1 million barrels a day for themselves and for the world market.

The plan called for getting the Iraqi justice system up and running. Today, some 400 Iraqi courts are back in operation.

The plan called for establishing a new Iraqi currency, and on October 16th, the new Iraqi dinar began circulating.

The plan called to enable a free press to be established and, today, some 170 newspapers are being published.

The plan calls for getting Iraq education system up and running, and today 5.1 million Iraqi students are back in the classroom and 51 million new textbooks have been issued. Ninety seven thousand Iraqis applied to attend college for the 2003 fall semester.

The coalition now is some 34 countries strong, and they have achieved this not in a peaceful Iraq, but in a situation where many times they've been under fire.

It's not been a pacified country, if you will, but in a country where regime dead-enders are still violently trying to stop progress, the American people can be thankful and proud that there are such superb men and women in uniform who volunteer to serve in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere across the globe in the global war on terror.

RUMSFELD: General Myers?

MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And good afternoon. I join the secretary in giving my thanks to the men and women who serve in our armed forces and to their families for their service and for their sacrifices.

In particular, I extend my deepest condolences to those families of those who died -- those who were killed and wounded over the past weekend in Iraq and in Afghanistan, to include those aboard the MH-53 helicopter that crashed near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

These men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, something for which all Americans are deeply grateful.

As the secretary has said, the coalition has increased our attacks against former regime loyalists, the result of which has been to limit their ability to conduct attacks against us.

Additionally, in the course of our stepped-up raids, we have increased the number of recovered weapons and the number of detainees apprehended. Over the weekend, for example, a coalition Apache helicopter helped engage the enemy -- an enemy ambush site, detaining five individuals and then covering some 600 rockets.

In addition, Iraqis in Baqava (ph) turned in eight SA-7 and two SA-16 missiles, as part of the coalition buy-back program. Also during this time, former regime loyalists staged multiple IED, RPG and small-arms attacks against our soldiers, resulting in 13 U.S. soldiers wounded.

The overall number of attacks against Americans and coalition forces is actually down, but the number of attacks against Iraqi citizens has risen.

Make no mistake, former regime loyalists are intensifying their efforts and increasing the lethality of their attacks. These attacks against the coalition and against Iraqi citizens demonstrate the utter disregard for life these former regime loyalists hold in their efforts to create instability. It emphasizes the importance, I think, most importantly, of our resolve to follow through with our mission, and we will.

Moving now to Afghanistan. Operations continue throughout the country, including the five provincial reconstruction teams.

MYERS: Additionally, Operation Mountain Resolve continues in the Northeast region, near the Pakistani border area of Assadabad. The purpose of Operation Mountain Resolve is to conduct interdiction operations to capture enemy forces and deny sanctuary to them.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Abizaid said earlier today in Iraq, as General Myers said, that attacks have gone down sharply on U.S. forces in Iraq in the past few weeks due to intense strikes by American forces, and yet...

RUMSFELD: Presumably for that reason.

QUESTION: ... and yet strikes against Iraqis are rising sharply. Could that become a major political problem for the United States in terms of winning hearts and minds in Iraq; the feeling of the perception perhaps, that while you are training Iraqis to protect Iraqis, they apparently are not doing it? And there's a perception that maybe the Americans can't do it.

RUMSFELD: I don't know that that's correct. We are training Iraqis to provide security for the Iraqi people, and they are doing it. Something in excess of 90 Iraqi security forces have been killed in the line of duty, one way or another. They are providing security, and they are doing it increasingly jointly with coalition forces, which we believe advantages both the Iraqi security forces and our security forces. You're right in the sense that on the one hand by targeting Iraqi forces and Iraqi people, two things can happen. One is, there's a risk of intimidation, which undoubtedly is their purpose. And second, there's a risk from their standpoint that the Iraqi people won't like being killed and attacked by the former regime elements that are still trying to take back that country for Saddam Hussein.

So it's -- I think there's some of each in it to be balanced on it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, would you bring us up to speed on your desire to shift U.S. forces around out of old Europe, back from the DMZ in South Korea, or even maybe out of South Korea, moving a carrier out there, in that part of the world.

QUESTION: Where do we stand on all of that?

RUMSFELD: Well, we stand where the president today, I think, shortly an hour ago or something issued a statement on the subject, that we were -- he kind of announced that we had been working for the past couple of years on our posture around the world, and that we were now -- had developed concepts, and we were at a stage where we were ready to begin talking to our friends and allies and partners in various parts of the globe about these concepts.

How it will all end up will depend in a major way on our discussions with our allies, friends and partners.

And, because of the costs involved and because of the importance of the Congress in this role, we will be in engaged in the Congress on those subjects, as well.

And, very likely, it'll take some period of months to complete those consultations and discussions, to come to some conviction about what we actually believe is in the best interest of all of us, of the United States as well as our allies and alliances and friends.

And then it will take some period of years to actually roll out those decisions, as we work with the Congress to determine how to do it and at what pace to do it.

The statement's available, I believe, on the Internet.

MYERS: Can I just make a comment on that?

There are several goals associated with reviewing that footprint, which, I think, the secretary and the president have gone over. But one of those primary goals is that if we rearrange ourselves in the world, that we do a better job of enhancing U.S. security and the security of our friends and allies.

So it's another time where change makes people nervous, which is the human condition, and we should all understand that.

At the same time, one of our goals is to make sure that however we come out of here, however we are rearranged, in the end, that we are stronger in terms of our security posture and the posture of our friends and allies.

RUMSFELD: And we're convinced that that's the case. The difficulty we sense in some early discussions we've had is that there are an awful lot of people -- all of us, I suppose, have a tendency to think about the past and the last century.

RUMSFELD: And so we look at numbers of things -- ships, guns, tanks, planes and the like, and people.

Whereas, the important thing in the 21st century is to look at capability. For example, if you had five of something -- ships for the sake of argument -- and you reduced two, you end up with fewer ships. But if those two ships or three ships left have a capability that's double the two ships taken away, you've increased your capability by a substantial margin.

And what we're going to have to do is to just take the time and work through with people, including ourselves and our own systems. In other words, we have a tendency here where combatant commanders will ask for specific things, and that's the old way of doing it. And in the future, they very likely are not going to be asking for X numbers of troops or planes or ships or tanks; they're going to be asking for capabilities that they can then use to project power on a specific type of target. And that is something that we, ourselves, have to get adjusted to.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: I haven't seen the president's statement, but your description of it sounds almost exactly like the things you have been saying over the past couple of weeks about the state of play on this footprint question.

Have there been some decisions made or actions taken by the president that the statement reflects, beyond what you've said in recent days about the process?

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess -- I think what I've said was roughly what I said, but that I said it was basically internal to the department and that we were in the beginning process of engaging the interagency.

And I guess the way to interpret is that the interagency piece is now over and the Department of State will be stepping out with cables and the like, giving people indications that we will be in intensive discussions with them to talk about these things and to hear their ideas and to engage our friends and allies so that we can figure out between us what makes the most sense.

I should add one other thing.

One of the things we're doing fairly systematically, for example, with NATO, we've just connected them with the Joint Forces Command, the transformation command. RUMSFELD: If you step off of the Iraq war and think of the advantage that accrued to our forces because of their jointness and because of the fact that they were able to do what they did in such close coordination and cooperation and interoperability with coalition forces and then look out into the future, the ability to do that can only happen if other forces evolve roughly the way we are and at a pace roughly like ours. And so, to the extent that happens, that is enormous leverage.

And the capability of the combined force, just as the capability of the joint force is more than the sum of the parts. And we've -- in our discussions in other countries recently, we've talked to them also about connecting with the Joint Forces Command and thinking through not just interoperability -- that is to say interoperability in the way that would give you the ability to deconflict -- we're actually talking with them about ways that we can train together and exercise together and evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century together. So we're now at that stage where we are really going out to the other countries on a more organized...

QUESTION: National movements of...

RUMSFELD: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


QUESTION: I'm sorry, to follow up on Bob's question, if I may. It's not -- would not be to reduce or change the basic U.S. footprint, but also to meld the new capability of the U.S. force, as you've just described, with a perhaps new, my word now, enhanced capability of U.S. allies to have more punch, even though there might be fewer U.S. troops.

RUMSFELD: Well, forget numbers of things.

QUESTION: Yes, capabilities.

RUMSFELD: The goal is to end up with capabilities that are as good or better and addressed not to 20th century threats, but to 21st century capabilities and threats.

QUESTION: So if the State Department begins sending out these cables and such, as you had described, DOD and others would begin trying to help the allied -- I know help is probably not the best word that you would use -- but to encourage the allies of the United States military to begin this -- their own transformation, to improve their capabilities, thus offsetting, in their eyes, the loss, quote, unquote, "loss" of U.S. troops?

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't predict loss of U.S. troops or ships or guns or tanks and planes.

RUMSFELD: In some cases, they may go up. It's an adjustment to fit the 21st century. And I would point out that the things we've been working with NATO on for two years, as we've been working internally, do exactly that. I mean, the NATO Response Force, for example, which we proposed a year and a half ago and had its first major exercise, I believe, in Turkey -- is that what Jim said...

(UNKNOWN): That's right.

RUMSFELD: ... last week is an example of progress in that direction. The modifications in the command structure of NATO is something that we proposed a year ago. It's been accomplished. Correction, it's been agreed to, and it's now in the process of being actually implemented.

The old SACLANT command is gone, as such, and the NATO relationship is now with Joint Forces Command. So we've been doing pieces of this. And my guess is, if anyone's expecting there's going to be some big announcement at some point, I doubt it. I think what'll happen is these things will be happening incrementally over a period of, probably, four, five, six years.

QUESTION: However, you say this four, five, six years, would you want it to be largely accomplished before the 2005 base closure or in conjunction with it?

RUMSFELD: I think we want to have conviction about what we think with our allies, as we work with the Congress on that because, clearly, foreign-base structure, ex-U.S.-base structure and U.S.-base structure, one would hope, as well as other countries' base structure, one would hope, would conform reasonably. And you would be investing in things that were relating to the future, as opposed to investing in things that related to the past.


QUESTION: Yes, a non-footprint question. This is on tankers. Yesterday the president signed a $400 billion defense authorization that allows you to go forward with this controversial tanker program. Yesterday also Boeing announced it was firing two officials for ethical violations in their contact.

RUMSFELD: I read that.

QUESTION: You read it?

And the question is this: What's your view on whether that contract -- signing the contract should be delayed until the Pentagon reviews whether this flawed Boeing process tainted at all the acquisition process that led to the language that became law yesterday?

RUMSFELD: At a senior staff meeting this morning, I asked our senior folks to ask themselves that question and to look into it.

QUESTION: What's the time line? Do you want an answer in a day or two or a week?

RUMSFELD: I don't know the complexity sufficiently, how long it would take them. But certainly when something of that nature occurs, one has to step back and say, what is it we ought to be thinking as responsible managers of this department about that, and does it have implications in any way for things that we're doing or thinking about doing? And it would -- but you don't say, do that in 24 hours or 24 months, you just -- you say, do it in a responsible way.

QUESTION: So you asked them to look -- to take -- what happened with Boeing yesterday and then this contract that's pending and decide whether it's prudent to go forward at this point?

RUMSFELD: Let me rephrase it.

What I said, I believe, in the staff meeting to the individuals was this: I said we have just read that two people have been relieved of their responsibilities by a company that we had engaged in an understanding with and that it struck me, at least, that responsible people would want to say to themselves, well, what might that mean for the department? Did something happen?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions.

Did something occur here that relates to that that we ought to know about? And I said that I thought they ought to set about looking at it and asking those questions.

We're the custodians of the taxpayers' dollars; we have an obligation to see that things are done properly.

And so, I'm sure what they'll do is come back, having thought it through -- I didn't, you know, spout out well-formed thoughts. I posed a series of four, or five, or six questions, as is my way, because I just don't know the answers to those things.

And I'm sure they'll come back to me and say, we've thought about it and we've talked to the lawyers, and here is what we think our responsibility is and here is what we believe is in the best interest of the department and the taxpayers.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the issue of bringing back units of the old Iraqi army. Senators Carl Levin and Richard Lugar wrote to the president two weeks ago, they released their letter today, saying, "We ask that you give serious consideration to recalling Iraqi army units at the mid-officer level and below."

QUESTION: And then, also, this week, the secretary general of the Iraqi Democratic Homeland Party said that Iraqi officials have been in deliberations for the past two months with the coalition forces and it has been agreed to reestablish and rehabilitate the Iraqi army.

RUMSFELD: Who said that?

QUESTION: This is the secretary general of the Democratic Homeland Party in Iraq. RUMSFELD: I have not seen that. It is a question that is moving around in the department and in the Coalition Provisional Authority and, I believe, possibly with the governing council.

And it's complicated; it's not an easy thing.

The Iraqi army was -- in effect it disbanded itself toward the end of the war, in sequences. The closer our troops got, more and more of them disappeared. There were not mass surrenders of large elements of the Iraqi army.

At some point, the Coalition Provisional Authority made a decision to make a statement that acknowledged the fact that it no longer existed as an entity.

There have been people who have been writing subsequently that maybe what we ought to do is go back and look at the people who were in the Iraqi army and see if it's possible to reconstitute some elements of it.

The reality is that a lot of them are being hired back a lot -- I shouldn't say a lot, a number -- I don't know the number, but some non-trivial number -- have been being hired back in the new Iraqi army in the police forces, in the border patrols, in the civil defense groups, in the site protection groups.

But that isn't the issue. The issue is: is it possible to go reach back in and see if units below some officer level -- everyone says -- no one knows where that is, but some people say like colonel, or some people say captain or something else -- so that you don't get folks that were too close to the regime, and recognizing that an awful lot of those people were simply conscripts who were called up and were there against their will.

RUMSFELD: I don't know whether it's feasible. I've seen articles arguing it, and I know they are discussing it at the Coalition Provisional Authority.

QUESTION: ... sense we will get a firm proposal for this, it might...

RUMSFELD: I don't have a sense. I know they're -- it's a discussion that's taking place in this building. You've been involved in it and...

QUESTION: ... months away, or is there any ballpark...

RUMSFELD: I just don't know.

O'BRIEN: We have been lisening to the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Richard Myers, addressing reporters at the Pentagon briefing, discussing a full range of issues relating to the situation in Iraq. Security situation there.


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