Rumsfeld: Early Iraq, Afghan Pullouts Would Be ‘Terrible’ Mistake
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2006 An early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq or Afghanistan would aid terrorists and cause more instability in those countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told military and civilian employees at the Pentagon today.
The United States has invested much during anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rumsfeld said at a town hall meeting. And both of those countries have made great strides in governing themselves, he said, since U.S. and coalition military forces toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and deposed Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Afghanistan and Iraq, however, still face severe challenges from terrorists determined to topple their new, democratic governments, the defense secretary said.
An early withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan or Iraq before more stability is established would simply create more instability, Rumsfeld said.
“I believe it would be a terrible mistake,” he said.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that Americans are concerned about the pace of progress, particularly in Iraq. “There’s an impatience in the United States and in the Congress (over Iraq), and there’s nobody who sees people being killed and wounded and doesn’t feel a sense of urgency about getting it right and doing the right thing and seeing that their loss of life is as minimal as it possibly can be,” the defense secretary said.
“The other thing we have to think about, though, is the dire consequences were we to fail there,” Rumsfeld said.
The war against terrorism in Iraq will ultimately have to be won by its people, Rumsfeld said. But, for now, U.S. troops are still needed there, he said, to train Iraqi soldiers and police and to help suppress extremist violence until the fledgling Iraqi government can stand on its feet.
Yet, the war in Iraq also won’t be won by military means alone, the defense secretary said.
“It has to be won by the Iraqi people,” Rumsfeld said. Efforts must continue, he said, to establish accord between Iraq’s Shiia and Sunni Muslim citizens and to improve the quality of life for all Iraqis.
“And, it is those diplomatic and economic and political things that have to move forward in that country,” Rumsfeld said.
Animosity between Shiia and Sunni Muslims isn’t just an Iraqi issue, Rumsfeld said, noting there’s a major divide between those groups across the Middle East.
“And what’s taking place in Iraq is, in effect, a microcosm of what’s taking place in that region,” the defense secretary said.
The United States and its allies need to do better against extremists in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rumsfeld said. But, he added, he believes there’s no silver bullet that can be employed to quickly defeat insurgents operating in those countries. Rather, the endeavor will simply take time, he said.
“And, we have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries, but only if we have the patience and only if we have the staying power,” he said.