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Rumsfeld: Quitting No Exit Strategy for Iraq

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2005 – "Quitting is not an exit strategy" for Iraq and would open a Pandora's box of risks to the American people, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters today.

"It would be a formula for putting more American people at still greater risk (and) an invitation for more terrorist violence," the secretary said.

"Indeed, the more the enemies make it sound as though the United States is going to quit, the more encouraged they will be," Rumsfeld continued. "And the more successful they will be in recruiting and in raising money and in trying to wait us out."

Rather than thinking in terms of an exit strategy, the American people need to focus on the U.S. and coalition strategy for victory, he said. That strategy involves passing responsibility to the Iraqi people and helping them further develop the capabilities needed to take control of their country. "It is their country to lead, and increasingly they are doing so," Rumsfeld said.

President Bush will discuss such a victory strategy during a major speech Nov. 30 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Rumsfeld noted.

"That strategy is working, and we should stick to it," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary ticked off examples throughout Iraq, particularly within its security framework, that demonstrate progress:

  • More than 212,000 Iraqi security forces are fully trained and equipped, up from about 96,000 a year ago;
  • Ninety-five Iraqi army battalions are in the fight, compared to five in August 2004;
  • Iraq's army has seven operational brigades and 31 operational brigade headquarters, up from zero in July 2004;
  • Twenty-eight special police battalions are conducting operations, compared to zero in July 2004;
  • U.S. forces have turned over control of 29 military bases to the Iraqis;
  • Iraq forces have assumed responsibility for 87 square miles of Baghdad, an entire Iraqi province and 450 square miles of territory in other provinces; and
  • More than 5,000 Iraqi troops played a key role in recent operations in Tal Afar, where they helped liberate and secure a terrorist operational base.
But numbers are only part of the story, Rumsfeld said. What's equally important, he said, is the vast experience Iraqi forces continue to gain. They're assuming an ever-increasing role in the country's security and demonstrating a capability some once doubted was possible, he said.

"In short, those who have denigrated the Iraqi security forces have been wrong," the secretary said.

As this trend continues, once-restive areas now under Iraqi military control are experiencing a new sense of peacefulness. Attacks along Baghdad's Airport Road have dropped sharply since an Iraqi police battalion assumed control of it in April. Baghdad's once-violent Haifa Street has become largely peaceful under an Iraqi army battalion's control. Shiite areas of Najaf, Karbala and Sadr City, scenes of bloody encounters in 2004, have dropped from the headlines.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi people are playing a bigger role, too, by reporting insurgent activity to Iraqi and coalition forces, noted Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In March, a special hotline received fewer than 500 tips, but in October that number surged to 4,700, Pace said. One tip from an Iraqi citizen helped Iraqi and U.S. forces uncover a bomb-making factory Nov. 28, he noted.

"These kinds of tips from the Iraqi populace indicate to me that they understand that the future is with their own armed forces, and, with the help of the coalition, we will help them (realize) that," Pace said.

Rumsfeld acknowledged challenges remain in preparing Iraq's security forces to take full control of Iraq's security as progress continues. More work is needed to develop logistics and administrative capabilities at the brigade, division and ministry levels to fully sustain Iraqi units through the range of combat operations, he said.

Iraq's military still needs to overcome the legacy of the Saddam Hussein era, which Rumsfeld said punished initiative and centralized virtually all decision making.

"Let's be clear," Rumsfeld said. "U.S. forces are in Iraq to help the Iraqis fight the terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here in the United States."

He posed a choice for Americans debating the worthiness of that mission: Would Americans and the world be better off or safer if the United States abandoned its job in Iraq prematurely and allowed terrorists to prevail?

Or, Rumsfeld asked, "would the American people be better if we continue to work with the Iraqi people so they are able to gain in the experience and capabilities that they need to fight and defeat terrorists in their country?"

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Donald H. Rumsfeld
Gen. Peter Pace, USMC

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