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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired October 16, 2003 - 11:01   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it looks like we're seeing the defense secretary right now, as he steps up to the podium. We promised it to you live, and here is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECY.: I just saw somebody out there that looked like the catcher for the Florida Marlins. It brought back some memories from last night. My poor Cubs.

Good morning. I returned this weekend from Colorado Springs and California. With us in Colorado Springs were three former Warsaw Pact adversaries, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, now NATO allies. Also present were Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia, nations that have been invited to join the alliance.

These recently liberated nations are truly changing our alliance for the better. They're bringing in new energy and a love of freedom. Six of the seven invitees have now sent troops to Iraq, as have three of the nations invited in the first round of NATO expansion. Poland has not only sent troops, but along with Spain is leading a 17-nation multinational division in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: Consider some of the countries that are contributing troops in Iraq today. There's a total of 32, but I'll just mention the following: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Maldova, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.

These are diverse nations, but they have one thing in common: They recently recovered their sovereignty and their independence, and they're proud and eager to be helping the Iraqi people recover theirs.

Their contributions demonstrate why it's important that we succeed in helping Iraqi and Afghan peoples get on a path towards freedom and self-government.

Because of the $90 billion the U.S. invested through the Marshall Plan after World War II, freedom took root across Europe. The liberated nations of Europe then joined with the United States to form the NATO alliance. Together the allies stood up to the forces of communist tyranny, and by the end of the 20th century, liberty had spread across the entire continent.

Today many of those recently liberated nations are helping the Iraqi and Afghan people recover their freedom. And if we succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will still have additional allies in the battle for freedom and moderation in the Middle East.

Some have asked why the American taxpayers should be asked to pay $20 billion to help Iraq get on a path to stability and democracy and self-government. And it's a fair question. And the answer is, because it is in our national interest, just as the Marshall Plan was in our national interest. And it certainly is in the interest of the free world.

Before I turn it over to General Myers, I'm told there are some -- a delegation of Iceland journalists that are with us today. And we welcome you, wherever you are. A NATO ally. And we're pleased -- I guess you're all here on a State Department program. So welcome.

General Myers?

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

And good morning, everyone.

Operations in Iraq continue to be aimed at providing a safe and secure environment for the Iraqi people, while countering efforts by former regime loyalists and terrorists attempting to disrupt our coalition efforts.

We continue to receive assistance from the Iraqi populous in the identification of weapons caches and individuals involved in attacks on our forces.

Over the past week, Iraqis have come forward almost daily to point out and provide us explosive devices that had been planted which could have been used against the coalition or Iraqis.

MYERS: For example, coalition forces were recently led to two caches. One had twenty 60-millimeter mortar rounds, three RPGs, a bag full of hand grenades and a dozen 57-millimeter rockets.

Another One had nearly 200 high explosive rockets, more than 200 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, four RPG launchers and 400 boosters for the RPG launchers.

The Iraqi citizen also provided information leading to the arrest for those who were hiding these weapons.

So while there are still dangerous people out there trying to prevent the development of a free Iraq, we have made in many cases great strides in reducing the amount of weapons on the streets and the opportunities for preventing future attacks on coalition forces.

Operations to prevent infiltrations into Iraq are also continuing. Operation Chamberlain (ph) is designed to provide the Iraqi people with a stable and secure border in order to maintain territorial integrity.

In this vein, coalition forces recently intercepted smugglers trying to go cross the border southwest of Sinjar (ph). As coalition forces approach the group, the smugglers opened fire on our forces. While some of the smugglers escaped, several of them were detained. And in the operation we seized weapons and a pickup truck.

Other border operations have resulted in the detention of similar individuals trying to illegally cross over into Iraq with weapons and money.

Additionally, we have recently begun Operation Sweeney. This operation is to designed to prevent smuggling operations in the south. To date, we have arrested about 75 individuals, seized 20 full barges, 15 empty barges, eight oil boats, 36 petroleum tankers and nine pickup trucks containing fuel and 10 fuel pumps.

As part of this effort, Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit operating from the USS Peleliu have gone ashore in Iraq to assist in this operation.

All over Iraq, coalition forces are having some good successes. However, as I said on numerous occasions, we are still a nation at war. Conditions are difficult. And our soldiers continue to make many sacrifices, and in some cases the ultimate sacrifices.

So our thoughts and prayers go out to the soldiers and their families, as well as those soldiers from our coalition partners.

We have many hard challenges ahead, but I'm very optimistic that the fruits of our labor will pay huge dividends in the future.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the U.N. Security council has just within minutes ago passed a new U.S.-supported resolution on Iraq. You've said previously that you don't expect that that would result in large numbers of additional international troops in Iraq.

Initially what will the practical effect be on security in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's a good thing that it passed, and it will have a favorable effect in some countries that have indicated they would prefer to have an additional U.N. Security Council resolution.

Which countries and how many troops it might affect, I think, remains to be seen. We're in discussions with, oh, goodness, I'm going to guess five or six, seven countries still about it, and time will tell. And it's really up to them and to their parliaments and their cabinets.

It has one other effect, and that is, it, I believe, makes it easier for the -- what do they call them -- the international financial lending institutions, I think it makes it easier for that cluster of international organizations, somewhat, to participate in helping the rebuilding of Iraq.

RUMSFELD: So that's a good thing.

QUESTION: Do you expect that it might quickly have some effect, some positive effect on security in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: I think -- I'd like to be able to say yes, but I wouldn't be able to -- I can't, in my own mind, indicate in what ways it might. It certainly is a plus, not a minus, but I couldn't draw a connection line between the resolution and security. It's a tough situation there.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, it seems clear from intel and press reports that Iran not only continues to aid and abet and finance terrorism, but is continuing its threat of terrorism in that part of the world, and perhaps elsewhere.

If the president is serious about waging a worldwide war on terrorism, why is the administration so relatively soft on Iran? And even though the final decision obviously is the president's, as defense secretary, do you believe U.S. forces will be needed to curtail that spread of terrorism, and also to handle Iran's manufacture of nuclear weapons?

RUMSFELD: Those are issues that the president is working in the United Nations and through the IAEA, with respect to the nuclear program, that being addressed in Iran.

RUMSFELD: You're right, Iran does continue to sponsor terrorism. There's no question about that, that they have been a major sponsor of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and that Al Qaida have found haven in their country and that we worry a great deal about the border between Afghanistan and Iran and that possible safe haven, as well as the border between Iran and Iraq.

And General Abizaid is working through ways that we can do a more effective job with respect to the border there.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you both if you would comment on the Stars and Stripes survey of troops in Iraq which indicated that a large number, large percentage of troops expressed or defined their morale as being low, and reluctance to reenlist when their obligations were up.

I know you've both been to Iraq in recent weeks and months and talked to troops and commanders. How does that square with what you know about what the morale and retention situation is?

RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness. Well, I'll take a quick stab at it and let General Myers comment.

We have not yet seen any adverse indications with respect to recruiting or retention that are notable. There's one one indicator in one service with respect to one category that is soft, but...

QUESTION: The Army?

RUMSFELD: It is the Army, and I'm trying to think if it's the Guard or the Reserve.

MYERS: It's a Reserve component... (CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: I think it's a Reserve component.

But overall the indicators remain good.

On the other hand, the effects of a stress on the force are unlikely to be felt immediately. They're much more likely to be felt down the road.

So we have to be attentive to that, and we are. There's a whole host of things that the Army's undertaking to -- indeed the services are undertaking to address the issues of the circumstance of our troops. They're just enormously important to this country, these young men and women who are doing such a terrific job around the world, and we have to see that we manage the force in a way that's appropriate to them, and that they're paid properly, and that they have the right kind of certainty as to what's going to happen in their lives, and that we do the best possible job with respect to their families.

I'm told that this, I guess it's Stars and Stripes, I haven't seen the article, so I'm not an expert on it, but I'm told it was an informal and admittedly nonscientific poll. And one would have to say that if you take a couple hundred thousand people, and look across them, you're going to find people at every point in the spectrum in terms of their views and whether they're up or down or happy or sad or whatever.

RUMSFELD: And I don't know that I would be a good judge of morale. I try to be a judge. I try to go out there and talk to them. And I do talk to a great many of the troops.

And one has to say that, you've been there, you've seen how they are. They seem up and recognizing the importance of the task they're doing and proud of what they're doing.

On the other hand, I'm sure that you could go to any one of those groups and find people who are concerned about something, or unhappy, or don't have sufficient access to Internet or telephone to their families, or that may have -- one of the tough parts of this is that the active forces' families tend to be clustered around their home bases. So they get the word. The military commanders and the chain of command works pretty well with those families.

The Guard and Reserve may live in a single unit, might live from three or four or five states. And when I was in the naval reserve, and drilling and training, goodness, people came to that naval air station from four or five, six states. I used to go to one in Michigan when I lived in Ohio.

So it's not unusual for their families to be spread, in which case their families don't have that support group. They don't have as effective a communication.

Ad we've talked to the Army, and they're trying to find ways to do a better job of seeing that they network down to the families of the Guard and Reserve in a way that gives them a greater sense of certainty about what's taking place.

Want to comment?

MYERS: Yes, I would like to make a comment.

As you can tell from the secretary's remarks, morale's really important, because it's people who get the job done. And there should be no confusion about that.

We often focus on the high-tech piece of our business, and the equipment and so forth. But in the end, it's the individual soldier, sailor, Marine, sailor, Coast Guardsmen that make the difference.

So morale of our folks is very important. I've read the articles -- Well, I've skimmed the Stars and Stripes, I've read the one that was in The Washington Post, I think, one was today; whenever it was, and it's useful insight.

Both the secretary and I put our tentacles out to people who have visited, congressmen, others. We just met this morning with a group of senators who had recently visited both Afghanistan and Iraq and we asked them those questions. You know, how do find the soldiers?

Because they'll talk to constituents, and they'll see people that we don't see. And I always worry as a four-star somebody's always, you know, they're bringing us all the happy folks, you know.

MYERS: I want to see the folks that have complaints. And sometimes they won't let them near me.

So we know that phenomena exists out there and that's why we have our tentacles out.

And I don't think we could ignore how tough conditions are in Iraq. I mean, we are still a nation at war. We're at war against terrorism. The focus right now is Afghanistan and Iraq, Iraq being probably a more dangerous place right now for our troops that are on the front line of this battle.

And their living conditions, while hopefully improving, are still pretty austere. And while they're volunteers, and while they raised their right hand and they wanted to go defend their country and are proud to do that, our obligation is to try to make life, as the secretary said, as predictable, to provide as much quality of life as we can for them to allow them to connect back to their families back here. And, you know, there were several months where we didn't have the phones and the ways for them to do that.

So this is a very tough and difficult environment. And the survey, as I read it, about a third said their morale was low, two- thirds said it was above average to average. Dr. Cohen (ph), Eli Cohen (ph), who studies these matters, says he's surprised the numbers for high morale are so high. It's something we take very, very seriously, we look at all the time. We query our commanders, General Abizaid on down. It's a focus of the good leadership that we have out there today. And the leadership I'm talking about is not just officers, I'm talking about NCO leadership and the leadership of the individual troops on the ground, because they all have their own leadership responsibilities.

But it's something we're going to continue to look at and continue to try to try to work those issues.

RUMSFELD: It's an important subject.

QUESTION: On the Buy American Act, do you still support the compromise that Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz worked out with Chairman Hunter late last month?

RUMSFELD: I'm personally a free trader type. And I know that we had an understanding with some members of Congress that we would sit down with them, work out to the extent it's possible something that would be appropriate -- that might be appropriate to see if we couldn't get a decent bill passed through the Congress.

RUMSFELD: The understanding was that Secretary Wolfowitz would discuss that with the staff up there. He did. There were four or five, six versions of that, so which version you're referring to, I don't know.

The current status, as I understand it, is that we always said that the rest of the government has to agree as well. Which includes the special trade rep, Department of Commerce, the White House, OMB. And they then worked with Secretary Wolfowitz to moderate that in some way.

What will eventually be agreed upon, it's really a White House issue. And eventually, I don't know. But certainly with the Joint Strike Fighter and the various things we do around the world with other countries, we have to be careful on that issue. And I'm sure that Secretary Wolfowitz and the negotiators in the conference are being careful.

QUESTION: On the troop rotation plan, although you say you don't know what countries might join, how many, it doesn't look like you'll get a multinational division, another multinational division by February, March, to replace the 101st, which the Army had planned on replacing.

At what point do you have to make a decision whether to call up additional Guard and Reserves, or possibly bring some Marines back as well?

RUMSFELD: I don't know that we won't get additional international forces in that time frame.

QUESTION: Get a new division. Do you think that's possible?

RUMSFELD: I just don't know. And I don't want to discourage all the people that we're talking with about bringing in forces by saying that it's not going to happen.

Second, I would have to concede, anyone would, that it's complicated. We have the U.S. military, CENTCOM, that would have to work with them, develop a memorandum of understanding as to where they would be located, how they would be supplied, what roles they would have. Are they properly equipped. There's a whole set of issues that are quite important.

And, an additional dimension of complexity is, we would have to work with the Iraqis. Because whatever we end up with has to be acceptable to the country offering troops, to the Iraqis, and to CENTCOM as to how it is all done.

That suggests to me that it takes a little time. And therefore, we're going to continue working the problems.

RUMSFELD: With respect to the second part of your question, I think we've already made decisions about what we would do in the alternative. Isn't that right?

MYERS: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Yes. So we've already talked to the Army. It's basically the Army and the Marines. We're looking essentially at ground forces. Although we are looking at other services' forces to assist in various types of things.

MYERS: Support.

RUMSFELD: Support. And those decisions have been made, that is to say, that in the event that we do not get a sufficient number of forces, whatever number that is, we have a backup plan, and those people have already been notified, and they know who they are and what they would do.

QUESTION: Exactly a week ago Turkey decided to send troops, and here in Washington it was welcomed by everybody.

RUMSFELD: Sure.

QUESTION: And so, you met with your counterpart in Colorado Springs. What are the difficulties? Is there any progress?

RUMSFELD: Sure. I just answered that question, really. It's very complicated. It takes -- we're very pleased with the action taken by the government of Turkey. What they decided was that they would offer the possibility of sending troops subject to the discussions with the Central Command and with the Iraqis.

And so that process is now going forward. And they're talking about how it might be done, what numbers, where it might be. And in the last analysis, whatever ends up has to have been tested and agreed on by the Turkish government -- military -- and the Central Command that's working with them, and the Iraqi Governing Council.

So all of those pieces are being worked on. And as I said, we'd have to have a memorandum of understanding, as we have always with Turkey, and other countries. So it all just takes time. And expecting something as complex as that to happen rapidly, I think probably is not likely.

QUESTION: You don't have any time frame for this? RUMSFELD: You know, I don't. One could go back and look historically and say how long do these things take. But the model we're working on here, there's no historical predecessor that I know of.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Lieutenant General Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, has been quoted and seen giving speeches to various religious groups casting the war on terrorism in fairly religious terms, among other things saying radical Islamists are attacking the United States because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian the enemy is Satan.

I won't read all of these quotes, but he also says that the president is in the White House not because of the voters, but because God put him there.

Your reaction to these comments? And what is the policy about people in your office or in the military overall about giving these speeches casting the war on terrorism in this way?

RUMSFELD: Well, that's a lot of questions. I've not seen the videos, which I understand are pieces of a speech or speeches that he made. And, therefore, I not only have not seen that, but I have not seen the full context of what it was he said.

We do know that he is an officer that has an outstanding record in the United States armed forces.

I'm trying to think what else you asked. Oh, the policy.

RUMSFELD: The policy is, as President Bush has stated, that we believe in this administration that -- oh, whatever he did, I'm told, was in his private capacity as a person.

But the president has said, and I think correctly, that this is not a -- the war on terrorism is not a war against a religion. It is not a war against a people or a country. It is a war against a group of people who have taken the subject of terrorism and tried to hijack a religion and make it look like that's part of their religion, which it is not. And I think the president set exactly the right tone and tempo on it.

QUESTION: He was seen in a military uniform when he was giving these speeches. And is it harmful to have these kind of statements out, especially in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim population?

RUMSFELD: Do you want to comment?

Let me comment first on the latter part and then you can comment on the uniform. Because, I mean, General Myers tells me he wears his uniform to the national prayer breakfast, so I don't know that he's violating any rule in that regard.

How do you answer this? I'm trying to think.

There are a lot of things that are said by people in the military, or civilian life, or in the Congress, or in the executive branch, that are their views. And that's the way we live. We're a free people. And that's the wonderful thing about our country. And I think that for anyone to run around and think that that can be managed and controlled is probably wrong. Life just isn't like that in our country. Saddam Hussein could do it pretty well, because he'd go around killing people if they said things he didn't like.

And as I say, I simply can't comment on what he said, because I haven't seen it.

Dick, do you want to comment?

MYERS: The only thing I would say is there is a very wide gray area on what the rules permit. I mean, a very wide gray area. And the secretary just mentioned one.

Generally speaking, you know, you can't criticize the chain of command in public. There are other ways to do that. Generally, when you speak to groups, if you're in a private capacity, it's probably appropriate not to wear a uniform, but there are always exceptions to that. And I've spoken at church before, at a prayer breakfast, but other occasions where they might be honoring the military, very appropriate to go and speak in uniform.

So all kinds of different kinds of shades of gray here. At first blush, it doesn't look like any rules were broken. That's just from what I've read, and what we've discussed this morning.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: I'm going to make a comment. I'm going to make a comment. I'm going to make a comment.

QUESTION: Your briefing.

RUMSFELD: We were asked, is that harmful or something, someone said. I'll tell you what's also harmful. The Los Angeles Times, I read this morning in the Early Bird, and it had, I guess, yesterday or the day before, an article that we were going to close -- according to this -- shuttering nearly 25 percent of its bases. And the headline says, "Big risk in cutting troops."

And so today's an editorial commenting on an inaccurate article, therefore, the inaccurate article precedes and followed by an inaccurate editorial. And a whole lot of people out in the world look at that and say, "My goodness, they're going to shut 25 percent of the bases. Big reduction of troops."

Just not happening. We've got a BRAC. We've got a process. We've got a procedure. And someone sits down and writes this and a whole bunch of people read it and then they say, "Oh, my goodness, we're going to cut all these troops and we're going to cut all these bases."

We don't know what we're going to do yet. The BRAC process is in law. It's there. It will be properly done.

MYERS: Hasn't started.

RUMSFELD: And it hasn't started.

I'm going to go to Iceland. I'm going to go to Iceland. I'm going to go to Iceland.

KAGAN: Well, as the defense secretary goes to Iceland, we're going to get out. As the defense secretary noted, there are some visiting journalists from Iceland at the Defense Briefing today. We'll be checking back there to see what else the defense secretary had to say.

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