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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired September 16, 2003 - 13:29   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live from the Pentagon now, the daily briefing, listening in to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: There has been measurable progress in that short period. Twenty- three million Iraqis were liberated. The harsh regime of Saddam Hussein is no more. Forty-two of Iraq's 55 most wanted Baathist leaders are captured or killed. The country is being put on a path to democracy and representative government, a country that is at peace with its neighbors.

Coalition forces are continuing to root out dead-enders and criminal gangs and foreign terrorists that are in Iraq. It is, in my view, better to be dealing with terrorists in Iraq than in the United States.

The Iraqi people are on a path to governing themselves. Iraq now has its own governing council, 25 leaders drawn from the Iraqi people. The governing council has appointed cabinet ministers to run the government departments.

More than 90 percent of the Iraqi people today live in towns, villages and cities that have functioning local councils that are bringing back basic services to the Iraqi people.

To my knowledge, all the schools, hospitals and universities in Iraq are now open. Some 6,000 reconstruction projects have been completed. There are now 56,000 Iraqis providing for their own security, police, army, border guards, site protection and a civil defense corps.

Another 14,000 Iraqis have been recruited and are in training, for a total of 70,000. The Iraqis are eager to participate. I'm told that the volunteers are exceeding the recruitment goals and that joint Iraq-U.S. patrols are working well.

And with the involvement of some 56,000 Iraqis in security activities in Iraq, I'm told that there is a steady increase in the intelligence made available to our forces from these Iraqi security people, which helps our forces flush out more of the folks we're looking for.

If you compare the progress in Iraq to what happened in Germany after World War II, I'm told that in Germany it took three years to get an independent central bank; in Iraq, it took two months. To get German police established, it took 14 months; in Iraq, two months. To get a new German currency, three years; in Iraq, two and a half months. To have a German cabinet, 14 months; in Iraq, four months.

So some things are being achieved at a good clip. Without doubt, the work in Iraq is difficult, it's going to take time, it's going to take patience, and it's going to take sacrifice.

And there's no question that there will be setbacks. But success is critical to the security of the American people. If we fail, or as our enemies hope we withdraw, the next battle in the global war on terror could well take place here, as happened on September 11th.

And next time, the toll could be higher.

General Pace?

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, sir.

Now, the secretary and I and Dick Myers and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz have all had the privilege of visiting our men and women in Naval Bethesda Hospital, and in Walter Reed Regional Center, and they are the real heroes of this conflict.

When you look them in the eye, they want to know how their unit's doing, they want to know when they can go back, they really make you feel humble and proud to be part of that team.

So to them and their families, from all of us who serve here in D.C. and around the globe, a very sincere thank you for your sacrifice for your country.

With that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, have you received any interim report from David Kay on WMD in Iraq, and have you any indications whether WMD have been found?

And if you haven't, I have a good fall-back question.

RUMSFELD: I have not seen an interim report at this stage.

QUESTION: So you don't have any indication, do you have any indication whether WMD have been found or not?

RUMSFELD: What I see is periodically a Iraqi survey group memorandum is circulated for various people in the government that reports on things they have been doing.

In no way could it be considered, even the aggregation of those kind of daily or weekly updates, in no way could even the aggregation of those things be considered an interim report.

I don't know about an interim report, or whether there is one or whether it's coming forward, but there may very well be. I just haven't seen it.

QUESTION: Is there any indication in those spotty reports that you've received on whether or not WMD has been found?

RUMSFELD: My instinct is to let that team of hundreds of people who are well organized and working hard on this problem proceed in a manner that's appropriate to them, and they are interrogating a large number of people, and they are from time to time investigating various suspect sites.

How they will pull that together into a report at some point is something I think I'll leave to them.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, it now seems that you may not get the United Nations-mandated multinational force that you and the president say you want. There may be a veto in the Security Council, and things don't seem to be going well.

If you don't get that force, what will you do?

RUMSFELD: First of all, I don't agree with the premise. I think it's a perfectly open question as to whether or not it will. I don't know that things are not going well. They may or may not. But from -- I just spent an hour and a half with Colin Powell reporting on it and his report is slightly different than yours. How it will eventually shake out, I think is an open question. But I don't think it's proper to -- I don't think it would be accurate to begin with that premise. So I'm going to help you get a better premise here. I'm just here to help you.

QUESTION: I want to rewind the tape a little bit. Mr. Secretary, if you don't get a multinational force to assist our forces in Iraq, what will you do? Will you send in more U.S. troops?

RUMSFELD: Well, let me take that premise -- if you don't get a multinational force. I visited the Polish division. The people -- some of the people here were with me -- there's 17 countries, just in the Polish division alone, with another four helping, that's 21 countries.

That doesn't count the British force, which has a number of countries, I forget how many, helping them. What is the total number of countries helping them?

PACE: There are 32 countries that currently have forces inside of Iraq. There's another country that is preparing to send. There's 14 more who were discussing sending. So you've got somewhere between 32, for sure, and 45 possible.

RUMSFELD: So what you've got is a number of people going around, saying why does the United States go it alone? Now -- and people in the press repeating that we're going it alone when, in fact, we're not going it alone. In fact, there is a large international coalition that currently is participating in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: If you don't get more of a multinational force, will you send in more U.S. troops?

PACE: Can I (OFF-MIKE) this one?

RUMSFELD: I'm wondering how many chances he ought to get.

(LAUGHTER)

I really am.

QUESTION: It's only one, Mr. Secretary. Just that we're (OFF- MIKE).

RUMSFELD: Go ahead.

PACE: If I -- these numbers may not be exactly precise. And you all can go back and check the record. But at the end of major combat, there was about 162,000 coalition forces inside of Iraq. About 150,000 were U.S. and about 12,000 were coalition.

The 150,000 U.S. has now gone down to about 130,000. The 12,000 coalition has now increased to 23,000, 24,000, and going up. And significantly, the zero part of that coalition that was Iraq is now 60,000, with another 10,000 in training and going up. So your aggregate right now of coalition forces is around 210,000, when you include all coalition who are not Iraqis, plus the 60,000 to 70,000 who are Iraqis.

So it's hard to pinpoint numbers when you talk about, are you going up or going down. The bottom line is the numbers of individuals providing security in Iraq is increasing day by day by day. And a proportion of that, that is coalition, and a proportion of that, that is Iraqis, is increasing dramatically.

RUMSFELD: Let me try to answer the question that maybe you were thinking about asking.

QUESTION: I need all the help I can get.

RUMSFELD: One of the reasons for asking for another resolution at the United Nations -- there were really two -- three reasons, really. One is that it might assist some countries in being able to provide additional forces. I don't know anyone who has a high expectation for a large number of forces. We would very much like to have an additional international division, in addition to the two we have.

In other words, somewhere between zero and 10,000 or 15,000 troops would be a help. It would relieve some of the pressure on our forces. Whether or not there will be a resolution and whether or not -- even if there were a resolution -- we would get that number of troops is an open question. And we just don't know and you won't know until you see what it says.

The other two reasons are -- I've always believed it's good to get additional countries committed to the success of Iraq.

And third, the experts in the financial world say that it would be easier for the international financial institutions to participate with grants or loans if we have an additional resolution.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) set you back on that. So if you get that additional 10,000 or 15,000 international forces in there, would they be reinforcements or would they be replacements for U.S. troops? In other words, would we -- would you reduce the U.S. presence?

RUMSFELD: I think the way to think about it is this: General Pace pointed out there are really three elements that are moving parts in this equation. There are U.S. forces. There are all the other international forces, and there are Iraqi forces. We have a significant number of U.S. We have a good slug of international and we have a rapidly growing set of Iraqi elements that can be characterized as security forces.

The total number that's appropriate depends on what's happening on the ground and it depends on the mix of forces you have, and it may change. It gets reviewed every week. I mean, people are looking at it -- what kinds of skill sets do we need? Where do we need them? Where -- do we have more forces than we need, and where can we move them where we have fewer forces at that stage of the situation we might need?

And I think it's not possible to try to draw a direct line from a potential new international, let alone from -- let's say you've got another 10,000, 15,000 Iraqi forces, which we'll have over the coming weeks and months, what does that mean? Well, again, it goes back. It depends on what's taking place on the ground.

And I think the goal, the end state is to have no U.S. and no international forces and a large number of Iraqi security capabilities because it is their country. They ultimately have to take over the responsibility for the security of their country. It is unnatural to have foreign forces, U.S. or coalition in that country for any sustained period of time. We're not there as occupiers. We're there as people to help facilitate their transition to -- away from a repressive government.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the American general in Iraq, who's in charge of the detention center, said today that there are six people, prisoners, at the Abu Ghraib prison who claim to be American citizens and two who say they're British.

I'm wondering if you can flesh that out any. And would they be transferred to the American court system?

RUMSFELD: She is the general that we visited when we were out there. I don't know if some of you folks were there.

Someone just waved the article at me as I was coming down here. The truth is that the folks that we've scooped up have, on a number of occasions, multiple identifications from different countries. They're quite skilled at confusing people as to what their real nationality is or where they came from or what they're doing. And it takes a little time to sort those things out. But we do not have additional information, and we likely will not have additional information in the period immediately ahead.

QUESTION: I think what the president has addressed now -- has talked about the fact, in his view, Iraq is the front line in the war on terrorism. And you mentioned again today, better to be fighting the terrorists in Iraq than in the United States.

I was wondering if you could clarify two points. Was Iraq the front line in the war on terrorism before the U.S. engaged in conflict there, because I'm not clear that we ever heard that? Before that, it was Afghanistan. What made Iraq become the front line in the war on terrorism? And the notion that it's better to fight them in Iraq than in the United States, do you have any direct evidence that the people you are fighting in Iraq had any goal or capability or interest in actually coming to the United States and fighting?

RUMSFELD: I think the way to think of it is that after the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, the president declared that we were engaged in a global war on terror.

And the first activity, obviously, was to go after the terrorist training camps and the al Qaeda in Afghanistan. During that period and subsequent and through today, we continue to put pressure on terrorist networks throughout the world.

The decision to go into Iraq, the president has elaborated on it at great length, as has Secretary Powell. I'm not going to repeat all of that verbiage. You know, your question doesn't go to that. I think it is a correct statement to say that there are terrorists -- there are several people that make up the problem in Iraq -- several categories. Excuse me.

Clearly, there were all the criminals that were released. Clearly there are the remnants of the Baathists that are there, and clearly there are terrorists in there, and they are coming in from various neighboring countries. And our task, it seems to me, is to deal with those terrorists there.

There are people in that last category that clearly have an interest in opposing the United States and the West, and have linkages that demonstrate that. But that is not true of all the people, some were criminals and some were the remnants of the Baathist regime.

QUESTION: But was it the front line before the U.S. went to war or did the war make it the front line? How do you think about -- how do you sort that problem out?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think the way I described it is that the task is to deal with terrorists and countries that -- where terrorists exist. And we have been trying to do that. We've assisted the Philippines, for example. We've had activities with several other countries, as you're well aware. And we're still working the problem in Afghanistan, with the Taliban. And we're working the terrorist activity in Iraq. I think of it all as a part of a whole. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, about the issue of weapons of mass destruction, there was some testimony this morning from John Bolton on Capitol Hill from the State Department that suggested that Iraq may have moved some of its chemical or biological weapons into Syria and perhaps to other places. What's your view on that?

RUMSFELD: Do you want to respond to that? I will be happy to.

PACE: Sir, I do not know.

RUMSFELD: I don't know. We've seen snippets of information over time that we know they buried MiG airplanes. We know they buried a lot of things. And we know in the prior war they flew their planes into Iran, for example.

I do not have hard evidence that I could say that they have done that, but certainly Mr. Bolton sees all of the intelligence. And I would think one could rely on what he said, although I didn't see what he said.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about -- let's go back to the replacing troops with foreign troops. You know what the situation is on the ground right now. If you got more multinational troops in the next few months, would you be comfortable replacing American troops? And are you comfortable replacing American troops or even re-enforcing American troops with foreigners for any jobs that the Americans are doing now -- in other words, for all jobs?

PACE: First of all, I'm comfortable with General John Abizaid's judgment, not Pete Pace's judgment in Washington, D.C., and I mean that in all sincerity. It's the commanders on the ground who understand, day-to-day, what they are faced with and the kinds of skill sets they need and the kind of troops they need to address those skill sets.

I am certainly aware, having been in parts of coalitions in past events, that there are many nations around the world that have unique capacities, like the Italian Cabineri. Each country has resources available to it. Each country's military is trained a little bit differently that brings different skill sets. And when you combine them in a coalition like we're doing and you have the right unit married up with the right problem, you can really make significant process.

So no, not all U.S. forces that are heavy armor that can do that kind of battle can be replaced by all coalition forces. But likewise, there are coalition capabilities, like the Cabineri, that we don't have in our armed forces. So it's situational dependent. And I'm very comfortable with the process that is being facilitated by our State Department that is going out to solicit other governments, for them to volunteer the types of capacities they have so we can provide them to John Abizaid so he can employ them properly against the proper threats.

RUMSFELD: There's one other aspect to that I might add. If we had our forces, which are really very good -- well trained, well equipped, talented, innovative in what they do -- doing the full spectrum of activities, they are certainly capable of doing the toughest activities. They're currently doing things other than the toughest activities.

So as you replace them with forces that may have somewhat less training or less equipment, you can assign those forces to the activities that require less training and less equipment. So you do not net lose capability even though one might say that some forces may be not quite as well trained or quite as well equipped as the U.S. forces, because you're having them do things that they're perfectly well equipped to do. And our forces doing them were probably over equipped and overtrained to do them.

So it is a complicated thing that the combatant commander has, John Abizaid, in getting all of that matched in a way that makes sense.

And it's not static on the ground; it changes on the ground. So he has to make those adjustments, in addition.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the general in charge of persons in Iraq also said today that some 4,400 prisoners have been classified as security detainees. I was wondering if you could explain, you know, what that is, what their rights are and, really, what the status is of the people who have been picked up in various (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around the country, since the end of major combat operations?

RUMSFELD: I'll try. And Pete, you can calibrate me. But I'm not quite familiar with that phrase that you quoted, apparently, out of the newspaper article, which I should have read.

If you think about it this way, our forces go out every day. There are incidents. They pick up some people for a variety of reasons. It may be because they've stolen a car. It may be because they've shot at somebody. It may be because someone said down the street there's somebody who was involved in thinking about doing something bad and they get them.

Then they sort them. And there are going to be a category that are criminals. They're just bad people who would be like criminals in our jails, who've done something they shouldn't have done and you want them off the streets. And they eventually would get tried and dealt with in some orderly way by an Iraqi system that would do that.

Then there are others that have a value in terms of interrogation and they are people that you suspect or know to be involved with the Baathists or involved with the foreigners coming in as terrorists. And what you want from them is not to punish them for doing that but, rather, to extract from them the information they have that can help you track down, find out who's paying them, find out where their headquarters are, find out how they're operating and learn so that you can prevent other attacks. It's those two categories. I don't know what that word would fit.

QUESTION: Are they considered something other than prisoners of war? And, I mean, in the case of in Afghanistan, people were picked up, but they were judged to be people who were combatants, detained in the course of the global war on terrorism. Iraq is a somewhat different situation. And I guess my question is what's the legal status of these people and what rights do they have?

PACE: And there is a very specific definition. And rather than try to remember verbatim what they are because they're very important if you get them correct, we'll get you a copy of what those definitions are. And then the definitions are there for the field commanders, so they can triage their detainees, those who are -- any prisoners of war, those who are detainees in other categories. And there are certain sets of rights and privileges and responsibilities that go with each one of those, so we can get that for you.

RUMSFELD: I misspoke. There's a third category I should have added. I didn't misspeak, I just didn't finish my thought. There are a group of people in Iraq that were scooped up, who surrendered or, for whatever reason, who were as Pete says, triaged.

RUMSFELD: They looked at them and said, "Well, these people are basically just foot soldiers. And they're in the net, but we don't want them. They're not going to go steal cars. They're not going to go become a foreign terrorist or something. And they're not Baathists. They're just foot soldiers." And we let them all go. I mean, we must have let -- I don't know -- 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 of these people go, as we did in Afghanistan with a lot of people as that triage process took place. So that's the third category.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... forces holding six people who claim to be Americans, two who claim to be Brits.

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I just don't know. I mean, I saw the article, and that's all I know.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there have been a number of public opinion polls that show a fairly sizable percentage of the public believes that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11th attacks. Do you believe that?

RUMSFELD: I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that. We know that he was giving $25,000 a family for any one who would go out and kill innocent men, women and children. And we know of various other activities, but that -- on that specific one, no.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, once Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge, I should say.

QUESTION: Once there are significant revenues coming in from Iraq's oil, will any of that money be used to reimburse U.S. taxpayers who are -- any of the billions of dollars that are currently being spent both to maintain troops and to rebuild the country? RUMSFELD: The Office of Management and Budget, and the White House have made -- and the president -- made an announcement with respect to a proposal. I don't know if it's going to end up being a supplemental or a budget amendment, myself, but I know that those negotiations are currently taking place.

All of those kinds of questions are the kinds of questions that will get aired probably by the Office of Management and Budget in the process of discussing with the Congress these things.

QUESTION: So that means (OFF-MIKE) decided yet?

RUMSFELD: I shouldn't say that. I can't say it. I was out of the country when the bulk of that negotiation was going on, and Paul Wolfowitz was dealing with it.

RUMSFELD: What we do know is that there are several areas where money can come from. One is from the -- ultimately, from oil revenues. A second -- I should add, however, though, it's probably important to improve the oil infrastructure so that liftings can be increased so that additional revenues can be -- so that's a possible, not only a source of money, but a possible use of money as well.

Frozen assets -- Iraqi assets around the world, the United States and other countries had Iraqi assets that were Saddam Hussein's. The oil-for- food program in the U.N. is another category where funds can come from. A fourth category is the money that's been scooped up in these raids.

Just very recently, another $1.5 million I think was in one of the raids in a house where they found a lot of weapons and a lot of people -- that that money is available. Then there's just -- there's taxpayers' money from the United States. Then there's international funds that will come from a significant effort on the part of the United States...

PHILLIPS: Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld side by side with General Pace, vice chair of the joint chiefs, briefing reporters today from the Pentagon there on post-war Iraq.

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