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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired April 27, 2004 - 13:15   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now from the Pentagon. We are waiting for the daily briefing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. Any second now, we expect them to step up to the podium. A few highlights we're looking for them to focus on, that, of course, is what's taking place in Fallujah and Najaf. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... battlefield death or injury is painful, and certainly we mourn with the families of those who have lost loved ones in recent weeks in the fight for freedom.

Those who have given their lives fought on the central front of today's global war on terror.

Over the past few weeks, the world has seen the strength and the resilience of the American people, and also the determination of the coalition to see this important mission through.

This morning, I met with Italy's deputy prime minister, Gianfranco Fini. Italy, he said to me, remains steadfast. The Italian government has not been intimidated by those who would oppose freedom. They understand the truth that there can be no separate peace with terrorists and that terrorists must not be permitted to determine the fate of the 25 million Iraqi people.

As the year has unfolded, the security situation in Iraq, and therefore the requirements, have evolved. We're conducting our annual midyear review of funding needs for the year 2004. We expect our review to be completed in the coming weeks. We'll then be in a better position to see what the funding needs may be and to make recommendations, if any.

On the issue of force levels, we've recently extended for up to 90 days the tour duty of some slightly less than 20,000 troops that are currently in Iraq. We are studying options for replacement forces should the additional force level, or conceivably even levels above that, be desirable beyond that period.

I should add that we have no requests along that line, either for replacement troops or for troops above the replacement level. So at present what we're doing is what the Pentagon ought to be doing, and that's simply considering the steps that could be needed in the event such a request were to be considered. That's our responsibility, to do the appropriate types of contingency planning. And I would underline that, because I know that the fact of that planning is something that people become aware of and people tend to jump to conclusions about it, and I have stated the situation with near perfect clarity.

RUMSFELD: As you know, a great deal of effort has been going into ways to relieve stress on the force, including rebalancing our active and reserve forces -- Army's well under way to do that -- increases in the Army size, where we're on a path to move from 33 brigades to 43 brigades or possibly more; and also implementation of the new national security personnel system, which David Chu and Gordon England and a team of people are working very hard on, along with the Office of Personnel Management and the labor unions and the various civilian personnel leadership groups.

The coalition is also examining ways to strengthen Iraqi security forces and to improve their performance, such as embedding them with coalition personnel for joint patrols, as I'm sure you've seen, assigning U.S. liaison officers to Iraqi units, and working with the ministry of defense and ministry of interior, which are being stood up, to assure there are appropriate lines of communication and command as we go forward toward June 30th.

It should be noted that many Iraqi security forces have performed very well. And in recent months, more than 300 of them have given their lives.

In Fallujah, local Sunni leaders are continuing their efforts to achieve a settlement. Those leaders, like the vast majority of Iraqis, oppose the terrorists and the extremists who have occupied their city.

Political and economic progress in Iraq cannot proceed if the Iraqi people do not feel safe from those who would terrorize them.

To get a sense of the stark contrast between the good that coalition forces are doing in Iraq and the tactics that the enemy has used consistently, if one thinks back, they used hospitals, they used mosques, they used schools as weapon locations and fortresses to fight from throughout the time of the invasion.

RUMSFELD: The photo of terrorists using a mosque in Najaf as a base for attacks against our forces is an example of what we're finding. There have been additional attacks taken from mosques in Fallujah. And I believe there have been embedded reporters who have been able to, as well as combat camera -- able to make some of that available to the American people.

There are two ways, I suppose, one could inform readers of the Geneva Convention stipulation against using places of worship to conduct military attacks. One might be to headline, saying that, "Terrorists Attack Coalition Forces From Mosques." That would be one way to present the information. Another might be to say "Mosques Targeted In Fallujah." That was The Los Angeles Times headline this morning. The vast majority of Iraqis know that the terrorists and the regime remnants in Fallujah and other parts of the country are desperately trying to prevent progress and to stop Iraqi people from taking hold of their country. But it will be the Iraqi people who will be on the winning side.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon.

And first, let me join with the secretary in offering all our condolences for those that have given their lives from the coalition and some of the civilians that are in Iraq trying to give hope to the Iraqi people.

As you all know, I recently returned from a trip to Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, where I had a great visit with leaders in the region.

And in Bahrain and Kuwait, I was able to express our appreciation to our close friends and allies for their continued support for U.S. and coalition forces in the region.

In Iraq, I had the opportunity to meet personally with General Abizaid, General Sanchez, General Metz, Ambassador Bremer, as well as several of our division commanders. It was invaluable, of course, to see the situation firsthand.

MYERS: Our commanders continue to be steadfast, and our troops continue to perform extremely well in very tough conditions.

Despite the increase violence in Iraq, I can assure you that our commanders are firm in their resolve to see a free, progressive and democratic Iraq.

The situation in Fallujah and Najaf and parts of Baghdad, as the secretary said, continue to be very challenging. And our forces are trying to balance efforts to solve these situations peacefully, by working with some of the residents, as the secretary says, while at the same time not tolerating violence against the coalition or against innocent Iraqis.

Also of note, there continues to be progress in other parts of the country. And while in Iraq, I met with leaders of the Polish and Italian troops. I personally observed the commitment and tenacity of these coalition partners. In fact, it wasn't just the Polish and Italian troops I met with; it was a lot of the other forces that make up their division.

These are tough times, and these coalition forces, are facing the same challenges our forces face. And it's important that we stay the course together.

In Afghanistan -- just a brief note -- I was very encouraged in Afghanistan by the progress made to date. I'll just leave it at that. But they're clearly on a path towards freedom and democracy.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Myers, how is it possible for U.S. forces to defeat insurgents in Fallujah and Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia in Najaf without using a degree of force that may alienate or anger many Iraqis? And do you see a battle for Fallujah as inevitable?

RUMSFELD: Well, the answer is clear. Either you have to deal with the terrorists and the regime remnants with force, or else you have to find some way, through discussion, that they are removed from that city and no longer attempting to terrorize the people of that city and no longer using mosques for places to attack others. And it's one of those two.

MYERS: And I think that's the balance I was talking about in my statement. Our military commanders understand this very well. And that's the reason the secretary said we have dialogue with many Iraqis on this particular issue. And I think part of it is having been seen as trying to attempt to do this in ways that don't alienate the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, after June 30th what happens to the administration and this department's financial and other support for Ahmed Chalabi? Does it end on June 30th? Are you in agreement, sir, to rule him out as a member of the interim government?

And can you also tell us the source of the photo you showed?

RUMSFELD: It's a, I believe, a wire service photo that we called whoever had it and asked permission to use and were given permission. And it's in a mosque from Najaf, as I recall.

Larry Di Rita probably has any other details. But it wasn't CNN, I don't think.

QUESTION: And Chalabi, sir?

RUMSFELD: Well, on anyone, we're not in a position of ruling people in or ruling people out, and have no intention to.

RUMSFELD: Clearly there's a vetting process that's taking place by the United Nations representative, Mr. Brahimi, and by the Iraqi people and by the Iraqi Governing Council and certainly by the Americans. And they all look at these people, and at some point there will be consensus developed, I suppose in a manner possibly not dissimilar from that we saw in Afghanistan, where there may be some meetings -- whether they're public or formal as opposed to informal or not -- but the names will be up and someone will rise to the top and -- somebodies plural, undoubtedly, given the nature of the country, and that then will be the interim government, for a period, until the constitution's fashioned and then elections are held sometime next year or the year thereafter, I guess.

QUESTION: And the financial payments to Ahmed Chalabi from this department, do those end?

RUMSFELD: I don't think that's been addressed. I don't think they go to him. I think they go to the organization that the Congress passed the law on, his organization. And I don't -- to my knowledge that's not been determined.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in your last briefing, you said that you were concerned and seemed pessimistic about the negotiations surrounding Fallujah, because the people doing the talking were not tied to the anti-coalition forces, yet those talks are being allowed to continue. Today a Marine commander on the ground said the Marines can't do this joint patrol with Iraqis street to street because they're worried about being upon.

Are you sending the message to insurgent groups inside the country that they are having some sort of success by holding off the U.S. military? How long can these talks continue? Can you explain the thinking behind that?

RUMSFELD: Sure.

First of all, the decisions are being made on the ground in Iraq by the military in close coordination with the Coalition Provisional Authority. There are -- I forget if it's three or four separate Iraqi groups that are currently involved in discussions.

They have varying interests. They have varying capabilities from a military standpoint. They have varying ranges of influence in the city and in the environs.

What's happening is that General Abizaid, General Sanchez, General Metz, General Conway, General Mattis -- if you think down that chain -- Jerry Bremer and his representative, Dick Jones, have been in near-continuous discussion with these four elements that are interacting with themselves and with the people of Fallujah.

If at some point the military decides that the string has run out, then they will tell us that and take appropriate action.

At the present time I think it's accurate to say that they're conclusion is that they see sufficient prospects that it leads them to believe that this is a useful thing to be doing. I'm sure you can find any number of Marine officers or any Army or Air Force or anything else who will have a slightly different view, because this is something that they're working on there on a continuing basis. And I suppose it also depends on which day and what time of day somebody would opine that they're optimistic or pessimistic.

QUESTION: Well, what's your thinking on it? You seemed pessimistic the last time when you talked about it.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: I think that realistically if you've got some very tough people in a city that are terrorists -- some of them foreign terrorists, some of them senior Iraqi intelligence types and Baathist remnants -- that you have to expect that they're not going to be terribly cooperative.

Now, does that mean that something can't be worked out? No. I wouldn't say that or else we wouldn't be where we are.

RUMSFELD: But the people on the ground clearly feel that there's reason to be somewhat -- let me rephrase it -- the people on the ground have indicated to General Myers and to me that they believe what they're doing and the pace at which they're doing it is net in the interest of their goals.

MYERS: It's worth a try.

RUMSFELD: It's worth the try.

MYERS: And the other thing -- the secretary outlined the different groups and all that -- the other thing is that they came -- some of them came forward with offers of help at different times. And that's why you may have seen things change over time because different groups came forward.

QUESTION: General Myers, you said last week in testimony on the Hill that you were looking at $700 million more for the troops, and I understand that you are in the middle of a mid-year review. But have you been given the option of requesting a supplemental if you need more money, or is this going to be a reprogramming only to cover those extra bills?

MYERS: I'll let the secretary answer that question. But on the $700 million, that was a rough order of magnitude, I think -- I know I said it -- for what we think it will cost for the extra 90 days, if we go to 90 days, with the 20,000 troops that we've extended in Iraq. And so that was what that number was for.

And on the mid-year reviews...

RUMSFELD: We've had a couple meetings on this. And the data, I'm told, came in in large measure, last Friday. It's still coming in over the weekend. And some of it came in this morning, I'm told -- yesterday morning, Monday. And the controller shop and PA&E are now massaging all of that to try to answer the question you posed.

In other words, is it conceivable that they're not going to be able to manage the additional costs? Obviously, there are additional costs because we didn't budget for the war. And then in addition, there are some costs, for example, that General Myers just mentioned.

So we all know that eventually there's a bill to be paid. We also know that a budget is a plan.

RUMSFELD: It's not something that's executed. It's something that is your target. And that's the same with your family budgets. No one has a budget and then lives through it all through the year because things change.

Whether or not it can be managed with reprogramming is the first question that's going to be asked, obviously. And then, if not, what does one do about it?

I think jumping to conclusions about that at the present time -- the one thing I know historically, both from personal experience and from people who have mused over this subject, is that people who see the accounts they manage, being overspent, because of the war, are the ones with their hair on fire.

And the ones that see their accounts being underspent because of delays in procurement, one thing or another, are not the ones with their hair on fire.

So the task is to net all that out and see over what period of time what's required to manage it from a cash-flow standpoint.

The earlier you go in for the supplemental, which is inevitable that there be a supplemental, obviously -- you cannot -- at the request of the Congress, we did not budget for the war. We tried that two years ago, you'll recall, for Afghanistan. The Congress said don't do that.

So they didn't fund it. But the earlier you go in the less you know, for supplemental. The more of the year that plays out, the better visibility and knowledge you have and precision you have in what you ultimately will need. And we went in, as I recall -- I shouldn't say that. I can't recall precisely. I think it was early last year. It was early for the '04 supplemental...

QUESTION: 30 days early...

RUMSFELD: No, no, it was early in the period, in the calendar year, in the fiscal year, I mean. And as a result, we didn't know everything perfectly. And the later you go in, the more you know, but conversely the more you have had to move things around in accounts, which is currently not the most efficient way to run your business.

RUMSFELD: And it's preferable not to have to do that very late in the year.

So there's that tension between doing it too early and not knowing as much as you'll know later, or doing it too late and having disrupted some of those accounts.

QUESTION: General Myers, I need to ask you a capability equipment question that's floating around the building here.

General Ellis, the FORSCOM commander, wrote a memo that's getting some circulation. He's getting reports from the field that all these up-armored Humvees that the military has moved heaven and Earth to get into Iraq are not doing the job, or his words, are not providing the solution the Army hoped to achieve, and they need to build more Strykers and get those into Iraq. It feeds the notion that there's a readiness capability problem over there.

Can you address this? How should one interpret this memo? Did you hear any of these complaints when you were in the region? MYERS: No, none of those -- and I asked those questions, because obviously force protection is a big issue and improvised explosive devices have injured and maimed a lot of our troops, not to mention RPGs and AK-47s and other things.

I think the facts are this, that the up-armored Humvee and the Stryker have a lot of similar capabilities. And I'd have to get my chart out, which I don't have with me, that talks about their capabilities.

The capabilities are actual very similar against RPGs and those sorts of things.

It turns out that a large enough weapon, a 155 artillery shell can do damage to both of them -- improvised explosive damage. That's up-ended tanks. We've had tanks blown over by these improvised explosive devices.

So the thought that you can ever have enough armor to protect you 100 percent is not the right notion.

We do have evidence, and we're starting to collect evidence, and we've asked the Army to collect evidence that on the up-armored Humvees, that they provide added protection. They do. They have been known to, in combat, in Iraq, to reduce the injuries. And that's a fact.

Stryker is a good vehicle. It does a good job of doing that as well.

And, you know, how fast we're going to be brought the inventory and everything, I think, is an interesting point and have to work that. But it's not a shortage that was brought up by the field commanders. And it's not one that's been brought to us by General Schoomaker up to this point.

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Well, just a minute. All I'm saying is there is not a lot of difference in the actual capability, if I remember the chart right. And I may have it wrong, so we'll get it and give it to you, if it's unclassified. But there are very similar capabilities in terms of RPGs and small arms fire between an up-armored Humvee and a Stryker vehicle.

There is no vehicle we have, to include the M-1 tank, that can withstand a big shell going off next to it, OK? So that's not the right notion.

And we do find -- one more time -- we do find that up-armored Humvees do provide much more protection than the thin-skinned Humvees. I mean, it's just more steel and more material between you, so it does. So I don't...

(CROSSTALK) MYERS: I go back to the same thing. I think if you look at -- and we'll have to get the figures on APCs, but, you know, all these systems -- none of these systems provide 100 percent protection. That's the fact.

And what it boils down to in the end is there is something technology can help you with. And in this case more steel is probably better for personal protection, but it's not the 100 percent solution. Your tactics, techniques and procedures are probably the bulk of what's going to protect you.

And as the British said in Northern Ireland, you take those two and add a little bit of luck, and then you get the rest of your package. But it can't all be done with technology.

So obviously, whatever is required by the Army -- we have made a big effort to get up-armored Humvees. The requirement continues to go up as the nature of this fight changes, as we adapt to the enemy tactics.

And what people forget sometimes, that we're actually at war here. And we have adversaries that think, and they adapt to our tactics. And part of the requirement was to come up with more up- armored Humvees. We have about a little over half of the requirement, as it keeps going up. We have a little over 2,000 in-country, essentially everything in the U.S. inventory, no matter what service, is in-country. We've ramped production up as much as the manufacturer can sustain, as I am informed. And we're pushing that way.

QUESTION: A study, an unofficial Army study apparently said about the 789 coalition deaths, 142 were from roadside bombs, and most of those were in unprotected vehicles. Does that sound right to you?

MYERS: I have no idea. I have to look at it. I know that the improvised explosive device is one of the bigger threats, clearly.

QUESTION: Don't you have a substantial number of unprotected or soft-sided Humvees, still in country?

MYERS: Oh, sure. Sure we do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as we approach the one-year mark of the declaration of the end of major combat, some of your critics are restating the argument that had the United States put a bigger force into Iraq a year ago, and spent more time hunting remnants of the regime then, you wouldn't be dealing with the kind of situation that you're facing in Fallujah today.

Now, I know that you addressed this in the past. But I'm just wondering if now, a year later, with the benefit of hindsight, if you believe that you could have had a better strategy a year ago, that would have forestalled some of the problems that we're facing today.

RUMSFELD: Well, I guess we'll never know for sure. Maybe Dick would want to comment on this, too. The number of troops that went into Iraq, and that have been in Iraq every month over the past 12 months, have been the number that the combat commanders and their subcommanders, have decided was appropriate.

And the tension, the dilemma, that they faced was the risk that, on the one hand, they would have too few, which you're citing, and which people are writing about now; on the other hand, that you'd have too many, and create a larger presence requiring larger support, requiring larger force protection, requiring some way of avoiding being seen as flooding the country with people and becoming clearly an occupying force and just smothering what's going on.

RUMSFELD: And the judgment they made -- which I happen to agree with and General Myers agreed with and we accepted as the best possible recommendation -- reflected the tension that exists between those two desirable goals.

And you know, who knows? You can only down one fork in the road and they went down that fork in the road and I agreed with that fork in the road and I still think it was the right fork in the road. That's not to say we're not facing problems now, which we are.

So I don't know how anyone can answer that any differently than I have.

QUESTION: General Myers, as a military man, would you give us yours?

MYERS: I was writing down my points and the points were the same as the secretary's.

I would just add that the thought that if we would have had more troops, we would have gone after the adversary is probably not the right thought because a lot of the adversary that we're fighting today had given up at that point and they, kind of, melted back away.

Remember, we went after the leadership. We had our top 50 or 55 and then our top 200, and we've been chomping away at the leadership all along. The folks that we're seeing from the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Republican Guards that we think are major components of what we are fighting in Fallujah, they weren't fighting at those times. They were doing whatever they were doing, but they weren't fighting. So there was nobody to really fight. And so, we probably wouldn't have rounded them up. We may not have deterred them.

And I think we made our decision based on; this is a liberation, it's not an occupation and we want to get the Iraqis taking charge of their own affairs and making their own decisions as soon as possible and the best way to do that is smaller rather than bigger.

MYERS: It is, again, combat. It's war. And it's not a science. It's an art. And I think what you see from coalition forces, the ability to adapt as we see things, whether it's in equipment or in our tactics, or in the number of forces that we have committed to the fight.

RUMSFELD: We'll take two more questions.

QUESTION: A related question: Late last year, Admiral Cebrowski commissioned a Defense University study which ultimately recommended creating stabilization units that specialize in the kinds of missions of rebuilding a society after major military combat. Where do you stand on the creating units like that?

RUMSFELD: We have been, in the Department of Defense, talking interagency for, gosh, a year and a half about different ways that the United States could contribute both internally but particularly externally by assisting other countries in developing those kinds of capabilities.

They come in two versions. One version are the, kind of, military peacekeeping, peace-enforcing categories, and stabilizing. Then there's the civilian components which are the kind of things that took so long to do in Bosnia and Kosovo and namely the civil side, the court system, the police, the ability to create government entities that give people confidence and reassurance.

Figuring out ways to do that that you could then deploy those capabilities and that they would be multinational, needless to say, is something that is at a stage in the United States government now that it's rather well developed. And some pieces of it have been discussed publicly.

RUMSFELD: President Bush, when he was in Africa, mentioned some aspect of it with respect to peacekeeping forces. And others are up at the level where their meetings are being held almost as we speak.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more interested in having other nations contribute the bulk of that?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I think not the bulk, but -- yes, the bulk, I would say. Sure, numerically the bulk. I think it requires some leadership and it requires some structure and it requires some money.

QUESTION: I'd like to go back to the question about the Humvee, and wondering if there's any consideration being given to sending back or sending in more heavy armor -- I think that you mentioned that in your testimony at the Congress last week -- and whether there's a thought now that heavier forces are needed rather than the lighter forces that were thought to be required just a couple of months ago?

MYERS: Good question.

There were indications that they were going to ask for some heavier equipment to go in. I've not seen that request yet so I don't know where it stands. But again, that's up to the field commanders. Some of these units, you know, left a lot of their heavy equipment back because the task was not suited to M-1s and Bradleys as much as it is to other means of conveyance and other ways of doing the job. So some of them may have changed, you know. As the situation changes, they'll adapt to them.

So it's being looked at. It hasn't come up to our level yet. But as far as I know, if they're requesting more I haven't seen any.

QUESTION: It's the thought now that maybe the light forces are inadequate for the situation that you're facing especially as you approach the handover of sovereignty and, you know, the escalating violence.

MYERS: The pieces I've heard it's a modest amount of equipment. It's not a major change in philosophy but it's a modest amount.

RUMSFELD: I haven't seen anything come up to me.

MYERS: It has not come up. I've just heard about it so I mentioned it when they asked about it.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chief Staff there, Richard Myers. Fallujah and Najaf remaining to be the two major hot spots in Iraq for the coalition, which of course is racing to prepare for that handover of sovereignty June 30.

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