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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired August 5, 2003 - 13:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the Pentagon now. Donald Rumsfeld addressing reporters.
Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... that the Ba'athists will not be returning to power. As a result, more Iraqis are coming forward to help the coalition as the coalition works to get the country back on a path of stability and self-government. And the people coming in are providing helpful information as the coalition deals with the remnants of the Ba'ath regime that are seeking to undermine their progress.

The U.S. recently approved $30 million award to the person who provided the whereabouts of Uday and Qusay Hussein. That information silenced two dangerous enemies and has made Iraq safer for the Iraqi people.

As more Iraqis step forward with information and assistance, coalition forces have conducted scores of raids against the remnants that still exist in the country. Within recent weeks, coalition forces have captured literally many hundreds of individuals. They have now captured or killed 38 of the top 55 most wanted. The forces have confiscated millions of dollars, money that could have been used and some of which undoubtedly would have been used to pay dead-enders to ambush American and British troops.

They have seized thousands of mortar rounds, hundreds of small arms, plus heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives, documents and ammunition.

In addition to the military successes that the forces are having, the Coalition Provisional Authority has had successes on the civil side as well: The opening of universities and hospitals. The return of Iraq to the world oil market. The hiring of Iraqi police and the formation of an Iraqi army. And the local municipal councils that are taking office all across Iraq.

Most important, of course, is the formation of the Iraq governing council. The 25-person council includes Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomen, men and women. It is broadly representative of the Iraqi population. Indeed, I would suspect that it is very likely the most representative body that Iraq has ever had.

Immediately on taking power, this new council began exercising authority. It moved to nullify Ba'athist holidays, to declare April 9 the liberation of Baghdad as a new national holiday.

The council has sent delegates to meet with the United Nations. We expect that it very soon will begin to recommend interim ministers to lead some of Iraq's government ministries and will begin work on the 2004 budget. We also anticipate that in the period ahead it will launch the process of writing a new Iraqi constitution for the Iraqi people.

Each of these successes, the political ones, the civil ones and the military ones, each is putting pressure on those who seek to disrupt Iraq's transition from tyranny to a free and civil society. Success will take time, let there be no doubt. It will require patience. There will continue to be attacks and difficulties that will have to be met, and it will take the continued courage of our coalition forces. Both our forces and the members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, in my view, are doing an excellent job for the country and for the Iraqi people.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss my visit last week to the Arabian Gulf and Southwest Asia. I traveled to Iraq, to Qatar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Oman. And the purpose of the trip was to meet with the commanders of our ground forces and the troops on the ground, and to visit those troops. I really wanted to get a feel for the pulse of the coalition operations in the various countries.

Regarding Iraq, the most important take-away is that coalition forces are really making incredible, remarkable strides toward the security and stability of Iraq.

Just yesterday, they conducted 22 raids, 836 day patrols, 605 night patrols, and many of these patrols were in conjunction with Iraqi police.

Soldiers I spoke with understand the mission, they understand why they're in Iraq, and they understand the greater mission in which the war in Iraq is just one part.

It's particularly interesting to note how well our forces are able to switch from tracking down the violent former Ba'ath regime elements, to assisting Iraqis in rebuilding their country.

Just while I was there last week, I think it was on one raid, coalition forces confiscated over 100 rocket-propelled grenades, 60 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) millimeter mortar tubes, three dozen rockets, 45,000 sticks of TNT, and 80,000 feet of detonating cord, and several hundred thousand dollars in U.S. currency.

I can tell you, I haven't been -- couldn't be more impressed with our forces or with their progress in Iraq. That's not to say that the work is not hard, and that there is not still much to be done. The conditions there are difficult. When I visited, it was 110 degrees, and they said, "This is a cool day -- it often gets up to 120 or more." It's dusty. Clearly there remains a threat to the coalition forces. But the soldiers understand their mission, and they accept their conditions, and we're working on the quality of life to make it better.

In India, I met with my Indian counterpart and discussed ongoing military-to-military ties between India and the United States. Not only is India's cooperation in the global war on terrorism significant, but the U.S.-India military cooperation continues to increase, an important fact given that India will soon have the largest population in the world.

In Pakistan, I met with my counterpart and his staff, where we discussed the ongoing operations on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Coalition forces, including Pakistani forces, are continuing the military effort to trace Taliban and al Qaeda survivors. Pakistan is providing tremendous support to the United States in this regard, and they have stepped up troop levels and patrols on the country's borders with Afghanistan, and in the settled areas have detained the largest number of al Qaeda that we've captured, as most of you know, right around 500 al Qaeda captured in the settled areas in Pakistan, either by Pakistani units or in conjunction with U.S. and others.

In Afghanistan, I visited a provincial reconstruction team in Garde. If you remember, Garde was the heart of the al Qaeda- Taliban movement. This is one of four, three American-led and one British- led, provincial reconstruction team in the country. The mission of these Parts, if you will, is to help the interim government establish effective control over the country and to operate in environments where nongovernmental organizations find it difficult to operate.

The Parts not only create a positive effect on how the Afghan people view the coalition, but in how the people view their government.

As in Iraq, I was impressed with the mission accomplishments and the progress that we're making. In general, I noticed that our biggest shortcoming, from Iraq to Afghanistan, is not the accomplishment of the mission as much as it is about getting the word out about the successes that we're achieving every day.

Morale among troops was very high. Their mission is difficult, and they are doing great. I couldn't be more proud of these men and women who are serving our nation so well.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I just ask you briefly about Liberia? West African peacekeeping troops are now in Liberia and U.S. forces are afloat off Monrovia waiting for a decision by the president on whether they will be sent in. Charles Taylor said today he doesn't plan to leave Liberia unless international charges are dropped against him. Do you have any reaction to that? And could U.S. forces be sent in harm's way or would they be strictly, if they are, in a support role, such as communications?

RUMSFELD: Well, Charles Taylor, president of Liberia, has had something to say almost every day or two for the past period of weeks. The statements have varied significantly and trying to chase one and come to any conviction about what he actually may or may not do in the period ahead, it seems to me, is probably something for the State Department and not me.

I don't know what he'll ultimately do. I know that it's unanimous -- everyone except that individual seemed to feel it would be best for the country if he would leave the country at an appropriate moment. Whether he will or not, time will tell. And I've heard of nothing that suggests that the charges against him are likely to be dropped. I believe the charges are in Sierra Leone, if I'm not mistaken. But don't go with that because I'm just trying to remember.

Now, what the president may or may not decide to do is up to the president. And he's watching the situation very closely. We had a meeting this morning, on secure video, where we discussed the Liberia situation. But we don't have any announcements to make at the moment.

QUESTION: Is it likely, sir, that if any troops are sent in it would be more likely in a support role, such as communications, rather than putting them in the streets in harm's way, patrolling, that kind of thing or...

RUMSFELD: Well, what the president has said thus far, he said on his trip to Africa, and that is the policy of the United States that he is concerned about a humanitarian difficulties that exist in the country. Indeed, exist in much of sub-Saharan Africa to be frank. He's concerned about the situation in Liberia from a humanitarian standpoint.

He has encouraged the East African countries and the so-called ECOWAS nations to step forward, as they are now doing. As you point out, some of those troops are going in. He has, from the beginning, said that any role for the United States would be to assist them and not to replace them.

So we have been doing a variety of things: Helping them assess their military capabilities. Their equipment circumstances. Their transportation circumstances. And undoubtedly would be in communication with the leaders of the ECOWAS force, but that's the sum total of the policy at the moment.

QUESTION: May I do a follow up on that please, Mr. Secretary? The ECOWAS forces are in small number now, about 200, may swell to about 3,200. Do you know what the...

RUMSFELD: What did you say? Based upon 3,200. Where did that number come from? Start over with your question (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I don't want to answer a question that I don't agree with.

QUESTION: I'll strike it, because it really is irrelevant. What I want to find out is what is the mission of ECOWAS? Is it simply to try and bring about a cease-fire, a permanent cease-fire and end the civil war? Or is...

RUMSFELD: No.

QUESTION: ... it possible they would arrest Charles Taylor?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I am -- look, ECOWAS' mission will be provided by ECOWAS. My understanding of the ECOWAS mission is that it is not a peace-enforcing entity -- activity. It's not there to create a cease- fire. Their hope and expectation is that the United Nations and the ECOWAS negotiators outside the country will work out a cease-fire in the country among the three elements, the government forces, the LURD and the MODEL.

Now, whether that will actually occur or not, time will tell. But that is the expectation of the ECOWAS forces as I understand it.

Yes?

QUESTION: General Myers, on the Liberia, if the U.S. commits a brigades that -- of soldiers, there's going to be inevitable cries from analysts and commentators that the U.S. is stretched too thin militarily and this is another example of them being stressed. From a purely military perspective, what problems would that cause if you sent two thousand or three thousand soldiers from Liberia from just that military stress-on-the-force perspective?

MYERS: I think that's one too many "what if" 's. The secretary is exactly right in describing the situation and describing what the U.S. is prepared to do. In terms of U.S. forces, we know right now that we're very busy in Afghanistan. We're very busy in Iraq. We've talked about -- our people have talked about the rotation scheme down here. So we have -- we are working that very hard. We're trying to put predictability in the lives of our soldiers and the families and the reservists and their employers.

So all of that is working. We have sufficient force to do what is required in the world today, however. So I mean, we're -- there is not a crisis in terms of that -- in that respect. But to try to "what if" what would happen is...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) one follow-up? Some commentators have said this could be another Somalia if the U.S. goes in there without a clear objective, and you know, harking back to...

MYERS: Let me assure you...

QUESTION: ... 10 years ago.

MYERS: Let me assure you, this -- I'm not going to speak for the secretary, but I think I can say for both of us...

RUMSFELD: Oh, go ahead.

MYERS: OK... (LAUGHTER)

MYERS: ... now, I'm going to speak to...

(LAUGHTER)

There will be no commitment of troops anywhere in the world without some of the essentials that we need, and that is a clear mission, a clear end-state and sufficient force to do the job. That's not an issue. I don't know who's talking about Somalia. This is not the same situation. People that really care ought to figure out what's really going on in Liberia and then develop some of the intelligent options.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: If you could both come out of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

RUMSFELD: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) three questions and you ask two people.

QUESTION: Well, one question.

RUMSFELD: I see.

QUESTION: A couple of months ago at sort of the early phase of the post-war situation in Iraq, we heard quite a bit from this podium from you about foreign fighters showing up in Iraq, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Egyptian, Syrians --

We haven't heard as much since then. And I wonder if you could both comment, especially the general having just been there, about what the state of play is on that. Are you finding less of them? Are there more of them? Have you detained them? Do you know where they are coming from? Just sort of a general update on the outside influence.

MYERS: Well, I was there. And before I got into the country, I talked to General Abizaid in Qatar. Clearly, as he's explained in several events, that his focus and their focus remains on the mid- level Ba'athist former regime because it appears that they're the ones that are opposing the coalition and opposing Iraqis, opposing success in their country.

At the same time, as you know, it's been now three, four weeks ago that there was an enclave of foreign fighters that were somewhere west of Baghdad about two-thirds of the way to the border in tents in a camp -- encampment -- that fought very fiercely. But all 75, 80 of them were killed in that engagement. They were all foreign fighters. So no one, I don't think, believes that there is not an infiltration of, continued infiltration of, potentially of foreign fighters into that country.

The other part is the Ansar Al-Islam, which was in Iraq before the war, is in Iraq now, is a potential threat. Some of those individuals have been captured in Baghdad and other parts of the country, are being interrogated. So this is always, at least for the near term, going to be a potential threat that we're going to have to deal with.

QUESTION: Two questions.

One, is there anything about the bombing in Jakarta that you can share with us?

Number two...

RUMSFELD: I don't have any information on it other than what you've seen.

QUESTION: The search for Saddam, which we understand is going to great lengths, a lot of different missions outstanding, he's moving around a lot.

QUESTION: Can you share any details on that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I can. It's interesting, I mean, someone says, "Are you getting closer?" and some people say yes and some people say no, and I say I don't know, because you don't know if you're closer until you get him. And I find the whole thing kind of amusing. You got to appreciate the folks that are trying to find him are enthusiastic, and they think they're getting closer. And I'm for that, I like that enthusiasm.

But if you ask me are we getting closer, I'll say, "I'll let you know when we catch him." Until you have him you don't have him, and we need to find him, and we're going to find him.

QUESTION: General Myers, while we're on the search questions, you mentioned al Qaeda and searching in the Pakistan/Afghanistan area. Understanding that we don't have him until we have him, can you bring us up to date on the hunt for Osama bin Laden? Do you still believe that he is in that Afghanistan/Pakistan area?

MYERS: Well, I think this question of whether he's alive or not, if he's alive a lot of people believe that the region he is in is in that border area where the terrain is very rugged and where he might find people sympathetic to his outlook on life.

And beyond that, it's one of those things, just like Saddam Hussein, that we'll continue to keep pressure on those kind of individuals. It's important. It's one more step.

You know, if we were to get Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri today it would not end the threat from al Qaeda. They have morphed into an organization that is not as hierarchical as it previously was, more of a network today.

And so it'd just be one step. It'd be, obviously, a big step, but just one step in working the whole international terrorism piece.

QUESTION: But unlike the search for Saddam, it seems like the tips are not coming in, as opposed to the search for Saddam where we're being told, at least, that good intelligence is being developed for that.

MYERS: I wouldn't make that assumption, just because you haven't heard of what's going on, that there's nothing.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how that's going?

MYERS: No, I'd prefer -- it gets into the operational details and intelligence details, and that's just something that is quite sensitive.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, going back to Liberia, you and the president probably saw the pictures with the first vanguard troops of the African troops arriving and the cheers that resulted, and also the landing of some humanitarian supplies at the airport. I wonder what your reaction to that was. Do you find that encouraging, and does that perhaps bolster any idea to help them with some support and just logistics?

RUMSFELD: Well, as I said, the president said in Africa that he wanted to assist, and we have been, and we are. It's encouraging that the advance elements of the ECOWAS force have been well received, that's a good thing.

And certainly there is a need for humanitarian assistance, food, water, medicine. The city, as you know, was normally I think in the 600,000-range. It's estimated now, although needless to say they're not doing a census, of something in excess of a million, one hundred thousand.

One has to anticipate that to the extent that a cease-fire holds, and the environment is more permissive, and humanitarian workers and aid can get into the port, that it will serve as a bit of a magnet to attract still more people in.

So the problem is, is what it is today, and is likely to grow in terms of the numbers of people, I think it's reasonable to say, to the extent that there is success in creating a more permissive environment.

QUESTION: Curious, sir, your assessment on al Qaeda at this point. In a week when we've seen a tape from Zawahiri, the potential Indonesia bombing being related to them, your assessment on the type of threat they pose today, almost two years later.

Also with respect to your view now on whether you think the evidence is still pretty solid there was any al Qaeda in Iraq, and it's very clear there are top al Qaeda being sheltered in Iran.

Would you like to see Iran give those people up? How much pressure can we put on Iran to do that?

RUMSFELD: I think of the tapes as promotional. I think of them as recruiting devices, and financing devices, to say to the world, "We're alive, we're functioning, please send money, send recruits," essentially. And I expect that they'll continue until the folks that like to make those tapes are captured or killed. With respect to Iraq, the Central Intelligence Agency has announced that there had been al Qaeda in Iraq. And I don't have anything to add to that -- what the Central Intelligence Agency has said.

With respect to Iran, it is correct that there have been and are today senior al Qaeda in Iran.

PHILLIPS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, addressing reporters at the Pentagon briefing, looking for answers -- basically, we were looking for answers with regard to the illness that's been taking place overseas in Iraq. The defense secretary not addressing that. But we will continue to follow that story and bring you as much information about the hundred cases of pneumonia striking those troops on the ground.

But a question was addressed with regard to Liberia. News reports coming out of Reuters that a Nigerian spokesperson has said that Liberian President Charles Taylor appears to be reluctant to take up a Nigerian asylum offer, and wants Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed war crimes court to drop the humanitarian charges against him, those charges of civilian atrocity -- or atrocities, rather, against civilians. Rumsfeld saying, only time will tell, that if Taylor doesn't leave, will U.S. forces be sent in? Right now, U.S. ships are anchored off the coast there.

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