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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired January 6, 2004 - 13:36   ET

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

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We are now going to interrupt that report by Allan Chernoff and now take you to the Pentagon where the briefing is now under way. There you see Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaking.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Equally busy one. Our agenda is clear. The global war on terror is continuing, and it will for the foreseeable future. As we prosecute the war, we'll need to continue to strengthen, improve and transform our forces; modernize and restructure programs and commands, which we're working on; streamline DOD processes and procedures.

Already, what I would characterize as remarkable progress has been made in these areas.

In addition, Afghanistan is free and moving forward. This past Sunday the loya jirga approved a new constitution for Afghanistan that represents a truly significant milestone in that country's path to a moderate democratic society.

As all of you know, the new constitution balances power between the branches of government, extends equal status to men and women, promotes tolerance, extends protections to minority groups and paves the way for national elections this summer.

I think all of us have followed the process of taking a country and providing some direction and watching the Afghan people, with their various ethnic groups and divisions and difficulties over the decades -- civil wars, droughts, occupation -- and seeing how they have taken to this loya jirga process, compromised, discussed, debated, voted and stepped forward with a constitution that offers prospects for a future for that country that I think is historic.

Americans, and certainly the 38 other nations that are part of the coalition in Afghanistan, can be rightly proud of the Afghan people, of the leadership of President Karzai and his administration, of the role of the United States in this process and the coalition countries in creating an environment where that can happen, military and civilian leadership, and in the achievements that have been accomplished by the Afghan people.

A similar but different process is taking place in Iraq. After three decades of brutality and oppression, Iraqis are slowly taking control of their circumstances. Some two dozen Iraqi cabinet ministers now contribute leadership on a day-to-day basis to the business of the government. If all goes as planned -- and it occasionally does in life; not always -- an interim but sovereign Iraqi government could be in place sometime next summer.

RUMSFELD: Thanks to the work of our 36-nation coalition, ever- increasing numbers of Iraqis are involved in their own security. And Iraqis, now totaling something in excess of 160,000, now make up, by far, the largest component of the total coalition of Iraqi security forces in Iraq.

Indeed, today is the National Army Day in Iraq, a holiday that predates the former regime and coincides with this year's graduation of some 705 recruits of the 2nd battalion of the new Iraqi army.

Today's graduates will assist the 1st Armored Division in and around Baghdad, and also help train new recruits of subsequent battalions whose mission, unlike that of Saddam Hussein's army, is to protect and defend the Iraqi people, not to oppress them.

Terrorist networks worldwide have been damaged. Our 90-nation coalition in the global war on terror continues to track and hunt down and defeat terrorists before they strike.

Work continues on several ongoing initiatives here in the department.

First, we're working to rebalance the active and reserve components in all of the services. That work is moving along very well.

Our experience thus far in the global war on terror, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, has shown that we have somewhat of a Cold War mix of active and reserve forces remaining, and we really do need to adjust it to reflect the circumstances of this new century.

The military departments are working with the Guard and the Reserve and the entire department to come forward with proposals that will set a new balance between active and reserve that will fit the 21st century.

Second will be adjusting our global posture. As you know, we have been discussing it with our allies and our friends and partners around the world.

Third, we are in the process of implementing our new national security personnel system as an important step in better managing the civilian and military work forces.

RUMSFELD: Executed properly, the new system, we believe, can play a key role in relieving stress on the force.

Going forward, we will continue to be aggressively pursuing the global war on terrorism; strengthening joint war-fighting capabilities; transforming the joint force; strengthening our intelligence capabilities; strengthening our ability to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; improving force-manning through quality of life, infrastructure and other modifications.

We will be refining and improving DOD's role in homeland security.

We will be streamlining our budget, contingency planning, and other departmental processes.

We have a full agenda. It's what President Bush has asked of us. It is what the American people expect of us. And it is a work that we intend to proceed with over the coming months of 2004.

General Myers?

MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

And good afternoon and happy new year.

I'd like to echo the secretary's comments about the previous year. It was, indeed, a busy year for the U.S. military. Looking back on last year helps us focus on the priorities that lie ahead for all of us.

The U.S. military continues with deployments around the globe.

And while there's roughly 125,000 troops stationed in Iraq and 13,000 in Afghanistan, we still have over 2,000 men and women stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, guarding al Qaeda detainees; over 1,000 servicemembers participating in Joint Task Force Horn of Africa; nearly 3,500 involved with the stabilization efforts in the Balkans; and 1,500 in Central and South America conducting counter-drug operations; and other training -- just to name a few of the many deployments our forces are involved in today.

As you would suspect, though, Iraq and Afghanistan remain top priorities and will continue to be so into the foreseeable future.

In Afghanistan, the coalition-led provincial reconstruction team at Konduz transferred authority to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in a ceremony today.

MYERS: This German-led PRT in Konduz is the first in Afghanistan is the first in Afghanistan to operate under NATO control, marking another milestone in the planned expansion of the PRT program.

In Iraq, we're continuing the operations which have yielded us favorable results over the last several months. We continue to round up former regime elements and continue to confiscate large amounts of weapons.

Our commanders on the ground are well-equipped to counter those wishing to carry out violent acts against the coalition or Iraqi people.

We are making great strides in Iraq. And we'll continue to work with the Iraqi leaders and CPA to ensure a smooth transition to self- governance later this year. And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you and General Myers often extol the virtues of the U.S. all-volunteer force. And you yourself have predicted repeatedly that the draft will not return.

I wonder, sir, do you feel that the Pentagon is keeping faith with those volunteers with the numerous stop-loss orders that have been called in the past two years, including the one called by the Army yesterday in which respective retirees will not be allowed to go from Iraq and Afghanistan until they get home and possibly 90 days beyond that? Do you think that the Pentagon is keeping faith with those people?

RUMSFELD: I do. First of all, you've got to remember that each person involved in the armed forces -- active and Reserve and Guard -- volunteered. And they made a conscious decision to serve their country. And God bless them, we appreciate that they've done that.

The stop-losses you've mentioned occur from time to time. You've said numerous. I don't know what the definition of that is. But in this case, I'm told there are about 1,500 out of a force in Afghanistan and Iraq that numbers -- what?, 130,000 plus -- that are stop-loss.

Another 1,500 plus I think are stop-moves. Those are active duty people who aren't going to be moving at a normally predictable time.

And I think the answer to your question is that what we're also trying to do obviously is to provide the kinds of incentives to re- enlistment that would reduce that number.

RUMSFELD: And I'm sure you were briefed on that.

What we try to do is to take the full mix of incentives for the men and women in the service and see that we are able to continue to attract and retain the numbers and skill sets we need. And so far, we are.

And we have taken a lot of steps. We've got a number of programs under way to reduce stress on the force today. And I think that there's been a very positive response to the way that this is being managed.

I think I should also say something. We talk about the people in Iraq and Afghanistan a lot, and we should. We've also got people in logistics and people in TransCom and people all across the country here in the United States and across the world who are engaged in a enormous task of moving some 120-plus thousand people from where they are in Europe and the United States over into that region and 120 or 30,000 people out of that region and back and equipment being fixed.

And if one looks at it, it is always possible to look at it and say, "My goodness, you have to have 1,500 stop-losses," -- maybe. That's the maximum. A lot of those people may re-enlist, they may volunteer to stay. And so that's an outside number, I'm told. But what's taken place is this monumental task or feat that's being accomplished by the civilian and military personnel in this department that are spread all across the world.

And even though there may be an instance where some 1,500 people have to have a stop-loss for a period of whatever it is -- two weeks, a month, three months, I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

So it's, roughly, 3,500 stop-loss and about the same for stop- move.

RUMSFELD: And of that, it'll never be that number because a number of the people will re-enlist, and a number of the people will voluntarily offer up, and a number of people we may be able to incentivize.

So I think one has to give a lot of credit to the folks working these big tasks that are under way.

Do you want to comment at all?

MYERS: The only thing I would add to that is the obvious. But we got to step back for just a second.

You know, we are a nation at war. We've got a large part of our force over there doing very important work in two countries in a region that has previously and still is host to terrorist organizations. This is very important for our national security; it's very important for international security.

So, yes. The force is working very hard. We're asking extraordinary things from the force and their families. I think most individuals understand and their families understand what we're asking them to do. We're asking them a lot. They're responding magnificently.

QUESTION: Can you explain the reason why you have to have the stop-loss? It might seem obvious to some. But is it a matter of readiness? Is it a matter of keeping troops there who are trained as the new ones come in? What are the priorities here? And what does it say about whether or not there are enough trained-and-ready troops?

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess I'll start and say it's probably all of the above.

It's the combatant commanders' requests of the department for certain skill sets. It's the combatant commanders' requests of the department for a certain amount of overlap so that the day someone arrives, his predecessor in that post doesn't leave but there's a continuity, there's a transfer of knowledge and information and relationships that take place.

In some skill sets the transfer period can be relatively short; in others, it can be somewhat longer. It is a reflection of the fact that we have a poor balance, currently, in the active and reserve components of the department. They hadn't been adjusted the way they should have been to fit the 21st century, and we're now in the process of doing that.

Do you want to add some other...

MYERS: But I think it's also reflective of the way that the secretary and the senior leadership decided to fight this global war.

MYERS: In World War II, the armed forces went to war, and they stayed until victory. In Vietnam, units initially went to Vietnam, and then we replaced people individually, not by unit.

What we've tried to do in this conflict is to use unit replacements. And so it's exactly as you said. If you have a unit that's ready to go and somebody's only going to be around for six months and then would otherwise leave the service, the service has always had -- I mean, this is a tool that we've used for years in these situations, where you can extent that person to complete the unit move and then come back. And stop-move is the same idea.

QUESTION: Could you talk about that balance a little bit, to fit the 21st century? What do you see as a better balance to fit the 21st century?

RUMSFELD: Well, if you look at the -- I'll just give you two or three examples, by way of illustration.

For whatever reason, the Department of Defense, 15, 20-plus years ago, made a conscious decision that they did not want to have on active duty a number of the skill sets that are needed to go to war, that they kept those in the Reserve and the Guard. And, therefore, any time you have an event like Bosnia or Afghanistan or Iraq, you need to get those people out of the Reserves and on active duty and doing their job.

If that happens two or three times in a row, you end up mobilizing and activating a set of Guard and Reserve people who didn't really sign up for full-time duty; they signed up for periodic duty.

And, therefore, what you say to yourself is, "OK, let's put some more of those skill sets on the active force so that we don't have to overuse the Guard and Reserve," and take a look at the active force and say, "What are some of the skill sets we haven't used?" and put some of them in the Guard and Reserve so that we're better balanced for going forward. That's just an example.

MYERS: For instance, what the Army has proposed and the secretary has approved is we need military police.

MYERS: We need more military police than today are on active duty and, in some case and for the most part, are even in the reserve component, specifically.

And so they've taken units that perhaps will be less useful in the security environment, some of the artillery units in the reserves, and converting them to military police, which makes sense, seems to me.

And those sorts of things, civil affairs teams, things that most people don't even know about, movement control teams -- these are small teams that the Army uses to facilitate the flow of equipment and people into and out of theaters. They're absolutely essential to working that flow. And it turns out that there are small numbers of these teams. And so they're enhancing those and trading off skills that probably will be less useful in the future.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq. I noticed that a number of commanders there have said in recent days that not only have the number of attacks gone down, but the devices and the approaches used by the attackers have become less effective and a little more haphazard, suggesting that perhaps their resources are diminishing.

I'm wondering if you are seeing indications that the resistance is fizzling, that you've broken the back of that.

RUMSFELD: You know, I see numbers that drop down. And the question is: When is it a trend, and when might it turn and go up again?

And I'm kind of conservative on predicting those things. I look at the numbers every week and I see how many IEDs they have captured unexploded; I see how many were exploded; I see how many caches of weapons of various types have been captured; I see how many people were detained and arrested and captured and how many of those were let go after it was clear that they were just scooped up in a broader net.

And the numbers are large. And you look at it, and how many of the enemy were killed and wounded in an effort to attack our people or the Iraqi people?

RUMSFELD: You see all that. And rather than leaping to a conclusion about it, my instinct is to let it run for a period of months. And you're right, there are some commanders who've said that.

And the other thing you have to remember is it's different in different parts of that country; it's not a uniform pattern in that country. You may be down in one region and up in another. You may be hearing a commander from the region that's down and not from the region that's up.

So I guess, we'll know in good time whether the back is getting weakened.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about the decision to award the same combat medal to service personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, a move that apparently is somewhat unpopular with the troops. And some critics have even suggested that, perhaps, it could be a political motive for trying to blur the distinctions between Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Could you comment on that? RUMSFELD: Well, I'll let General Myers comment. It's a recommendation that came up from below. It was approved by the chiefs in the tank; they had a lengthy discussion and debate about it. It was approved by the undersecretary for personnel and readiness that has jurisdiction over this. And it was signed off on by Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy.

QUESTION: Is there any political agenda behind this?

RUMSFELD: Not that I can even imagine, no. This department is not involved in politics. And it's my understanding that this is the recommendation that the uniformed and civilian people in the department unanimously recommended.

MYERS: Right. And everything that goes into it in the history of awards and the appropriateness of how we do that was all considered. And I can guarantee you, at least in our discussion, there were no political -- you know, we're just trying to do what was best for the troops. And that was the decision we came up with.

QUESTION: But general, as a military man with a chest full of ribbons yourself there, I mean, you know that that's, in a way, your resume right there on your chest. Do you understand why a lot of troops would be unhappy that they're not being recognized with distinctive ribbons for these two different...

MYERS: I see this, from time to time. And it almost doesn't matter what decision you make, somebody's going not going to be happy with the decision.

MYERS: The Joint Chiefs of Staff sat and discussed this. We discussed it with Dr. Chu and other folks. And we discussed it with the deputy secretary of defense. And we thought this was the best for our armed forces, and that's why we made the decision. It had nothing to do with politicizing anything.

QUESTION: General Abizaid is said to be in favor of a new proposal to place a four-star general in charge of the U.S. forces in Iraq as the country shifts to self-rule. I'm wondering what your thoughts are about that proposal and where that stands.

RUMSFELD: General Myers and I have talked about it, but not in a fully structured way yet. He is going to be coming back to me at some point in discussing that. We'd been discussing a whole host of things.

If you think of where we are, we have a situation where we have a coalition of forces in the country. We have a combatant commander in General Abizaid that has a large region with Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa and the whole host of things he has to think through. And we have the Coalition Provisional Authority that is the government of the country, for all practical purposes, working with the ministries and the governing council in governing Iraq.

We're engaged in a very extensive interagency process at the present time and have been for a period of several months at least, I think.

I remember talking to Secretary Powell about beginning the process of transferring over responsibility to an ambassador at that point where the Coalition Provisional Authority head, Jerry Bremer, departs -- and the responsibilities go into an embassy of some kind, probably a beefed-up embassy to be sure -- and how we do that.

So we've been working on that. We've got a couple handfuls of interagency committees that are thinking through the governance pieces and how that works and the central service piece. One of the pieces is the security situation.

RUMSFELD: And it may very well be that we will want to make an adjustment and have some division of responsibility, as between CENTCOM, the relationship with the embassy, Office of Military cooperation-type task as well as somebody that has the responsibility for the tactical, low-intensity war fighting that's taking place.

It's not been decided.

QUESTION: Do you expect a decision soon?

RUMSFELD: We'll have it in good time. We must have 25, 30 things like that that we're working through now in advance to try to see that that transition is as smooth as possible and that we have the right kinds of command structures, both civilian and military. And those things are under way and have been for some time.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean, has said that the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made the American people any safer. Politics aside, as one of those responsible for U.S. national security, what's your response to that?

And secondly, why not commit the same amount of troops and money, manpower and effort to capturing Osama bin Laden, as was used in Iraq to capture Saddam Hussein?

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into the first subject. If I start responding to every comment by a politician in this country over the coming year, the department will inevitably be enmeshed in politics.

And I just don't intend to do that. I think that's not good for the department. That's not good for the administration. And it's not good for the country.

Questions are going to get cast like that. They've been cast like that now for several months. And inevitably, no matter what I say, it will be: He takes on some politician and says such and such in contradiction to what that person said. And that's lots of fun for the press, and it's not very much fun for the government. So, I respectfully decline.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I ask a second...

RUMSFELD: I think when you ask a question like that, you don't even deserve a second.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: There were entire divisions -- the division out of Tikrit was concentrated on capturing Saddam Hussein. They went on this intensive manhunt. There's a secret task force whose sole mission apparently was to capture Saddam Hussein.

Rumsfeld: OK, you're misstating the circumstances. In fact...

QUESTION: Well, why not put forth that same effort in attempting to Osama bin Laden?

RUMSFELD: You're not accurately stating the circumstance.

The fact of the matter is, the division where Saddam Hussein happened to have been captured was doing a lot of things simultaneously. The idea that all of those people got up every morning and worried about Saddam Hussein is just factually incorrect.

QUESTION: But a large part of their mission was, in fact, an effort to track down Saddam Hussein...

RUMSFELD: Just a minute, just a minute. You've had a good crack at this. Let me have a crack at it.

They have been doing lots of reconstruction projects. They have been doing sweeps and capturing high-value targets and former regime officials. They have been arresting people. They have been finding caches of weapons.

If you looked at what they've done during the period they've been in there, it is a long list of things they've done.

It happens that in all over that region, and indeed the world, we've had a lot of people focused on Osama bin Laden and also on Saddam Hussein and also on other senior al Qaeda and other senior Iraqi officials. And we have picked up -- I don't know what the number is on the al Qaeda officials, but it's a very high percentage at the present time of senior officials in al Qaeda.

We happen not to have had UBL at this point. But my guess is, if he's alive, we'll find him.

And we have -- I don't know what the number was on the 55 deck of cards in Iraq, but my guess is it's over 40 of those folks that they've found.

So you haven't had 125,000 military people sitting around with their fingers in their ear wondering where Saddam Hussein was. They've been doing a lot of very important things, with all respect to your poor question.

QUESTION: On the onslaught of Hussein in the last two or three weeks, can you give us some insight into what's been learned in his interrogations, realizing that the CIA is in charge of those. Is he providing any information that's helping locate the, thus far, elusive weapons of mass destruction stocks or helping with information that is dropping the number of insurgency attacks against the U.S. troops?

RUMSFELD: I asked George Tenet, and he agreed that one location ought to be in charge of Saddam Hussein's interrogations and the management of what he's saying so that we can use it to our maximum advantage.

And I'm not going to get into the subject. I've made that arrangement with George. He and I have agreed on it. It's the way we're functioning. And I'll let other people talk about what he's saying and what he isn't.

QUESTION: Isn't there something you can tell...

RUMSFELD: Sure. There's lots of things I can tell you, and I've decided not to.

QUESTION: General Myers, if I could ask you about a couple of military operations that occurred over the holiday over the last couple of weeks. The U.S. military has conducted three ship seizures in the Persian Gulf, ships you believe had al Qaeda connections and, in fact, were full of illegal drugs. And it has been announced that several of the crew members you took into custody are now at Bagram Air Base.

Can you give us your assessment of al Qaeda's involvement in the drug business? Now that you've seen these three incidents, do you think they're financing through drugs? What do these ship seizures say about their connections back up the line to Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MYERS: It's a very good question and one where we need to develop more data on. But if we go back a couple of years, it became clear pretty early on that there is a nexus between terrorism and the drug business in the financing part of that. And it's true in South America; it's true in the Middle East.

And you're right, some of the folks that we detained were probably just running the ship and were not of much interest and were repatriated. And there were some that were of more interest that were being interrogated to find out their connections to other terrorist groups. And we're going to have to let that play out.

But it's part of a larger effort that we've had ongoing for sometime, what we call maritime intercept operations where we look for things like drugs moving, where we look for things like weapons moving, or any of the terrorist personnel themselves moving, not only in that region, but in other parts of the world.

QUESTION: Do you see any evidence, any direct evidence yet, between al Qaeda and the narcotics business? Are you looking for that yet?

MYERS: Sure, you always look for that. You look for ways that they obtain their financing. So that would be a part of the quest. And I can't answer that right now for you. We'll get back to you.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you spoke near the outset of the briefing about the continuing need to reshape the department. And the department is now working on the 2005 BRAC round. You've sent out requests to base commanders for various information about their bases and their operations. And we're told that those questionnaires will not even be released.

Can you tell us why, with the need obviously to have transparency in this process, that you won't even let us know what base commanders are being asked about their bases?

RUMSFELD: I guess the short answer is that I don't know why. The process is prescribed by law, in large measure. It is, in large measure, a transparent process. And certainly at that point where any recommendations are made, the basis for those recommendations have to be made and defended.

I understand that those recommendations by law come, I think, in May of '05.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. There's no question about the recommendations. But the question's been raised in the past about the process being rigged. And it would seem that you'd want people to know what went into your thinking as you went through this process.

RUMSFELD: And, as I just said, when those recommendations are made, we would disgorge all of that basis for the recommendations so people would see that it is transparent.

The law set out what had to be done. And I can assure you that every single wrinkle in the law will be fully complied with.

And we're at the very beginning stage, as I understand it. And it is nothing -- I don't think you'd find it terribly enlightening.

I asked somebody about it coming down here. And they said, what they've asked is -- hundreds of installations and activities around the world in the Army, Navy and the Air Force, you know, what they've got out there, how many square feet of this and how many of that, and how many people and what are they doing, and what's the cubic square meters of so many activities that they're engaged in and various things.

That's what they're doing. And that's how this thing goes -- and how many square miles of land do they have -- and all of that. It's no big deal.

RUMSFELD: The idea that there's anything mysterious about it, I mean, we've been through these before. The law is what the law is. It will be complied with. It's going to be examined 16 ways from every direction, as you can well imagine, by local officials, by members of Congress, by members of the House and Senate.

QUESTION: But that's part of what prompts the question, that it is going to be looked at by all these... RUMSFELD: Exactly.

SAVIDGE: You've been listening to a press briefing coming from the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld there continues to answer questions.

That's the first press briefing of 2004 covering a whole load of topics, everything from Iraq to Afghanistan. And also covering up the makeup of the U.S. military and the transition of troops both into the National Guard and into the Army itself.

As was stated at the beginning in what has to be a classic case of understatement, 2003 was a very busy year for the U.S. military.

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