Rumsfeld Discusses Iraq, Afghanistan on Radio Show
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2004 While there are hurdles to overcome, the people of Iraq are better off than they were under Saddam Hussein, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during a radio interview Oct. 26.
Rumsfeld said the bottom line in Iraq is that 25 million people have been liberated from an oppressive dictator. "The schools are open. The hospitals are open. The clinics are open. They have an economy that's growing at a good clip," he told a Cincinnati radio station.
Rumsfeld reminded listeners that there were many successes in addition to toppling Saddam. He said the coalition prevented Saddam from setting oil wells on fire, as he did in Kuwait. Coalition planners were worried about refugees, both within Iraq and outside the country. Thousands of refugees would have vastly complicated the battlefield and led to suffering on a tremendous scale. Coalition actions prevented that from happening, he said.
Once in Iraq, coalition planners found the country's infrastructure much more dilapidated than envisioned. Even with sabotage and attacks on projects, there is now more electricity than before, water treatment facilities are being constructed -- often in places that received no safe water under Saddam -- and sewage facilities are coming on line. Saddam had used money obtained through the U.N. oil-for-food program, which was supposed to fund infrastructure improvements, for his own ends.
Obviously, there are still problems in the country, the secretary said. The security situation is tough, but American servicemembers and their coalition allies -- including 106,000 trained and equipped members of the Iraqi security forces -- are dealing with the situation. The country will elect delegates to write the new Iraqi constitution in January.
Foreign terrorists, former-regime elements and former Baathists are working against progress in the country. "It is a struggle that's taking place between extremists who want to chop off people's heads and tell everyone how they must live their lives and moderates who want to allow the people in that country to prosper and grow and have opportunities and have elections next January," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary put in perspective the current brouhaha over 380 tons of explosives missing from a site south of Baghdad. "By our count, we have destroyed over 240,000 tons of weapons," he said. "And we have captured another 160,000 for a total of over 400,000."
He said an examination of the situation is ongoing. Pentagon officials said the focus in April 2003 was on getting to Baghdad. Rumsfeld said the troops did that magnificently.
Speaking on Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said the situation there is breathtaking. "The Soviet Union took 200,000 or 300,000 troops, I believe, and attempted to subdue Afghanistan, and they lost the war," he said. "We had less than 20,000, and we won.
"The Taliban are gone; the al Qaeda are out of there," he continued. "They've had an election. They have a constitution. Women voted. The people voted for the first time in the history of that country. It was a breathtaking accomplishment.
"And for anyone to be running around flyspecking what took place in Afghanistan -- when we just had this brilliant, unbelievable historic election and that country is on a path of 23 million people liberated, on a path towards being respectful to its various diverse elements -- is beyond comprehension."