Rumsfeld Praises Troops' 'Hard Work' on Iraq's 'Positive Changes'
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 18, 2005 On the eve of the two-year anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld praised those who have made changes in Iraq and, consequently the Middle East, possible.
"The positive changes under way would certainly not have happened ... without the hard work and the dedication of America's men and women in uniform, their families, and indeed, the efforts of all of you who have devoted your lives to our country's defense," he said today at the Pentagon town hall meeting for servicemembers and Defense Department civilians. "I want you to know that we are grateful and your country is grateful to you for your service."
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Rumsfeld for the meeting and echoed the secretary's praise.
Rumsfeld noted Iraq's improving economy and rising property values as indicators of progress. He also said refugees are starting to return now that the interim government has replaced Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime.
"Since the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the coalition has engaged in a test of wills with an enemy determined to derail Iraq's progress," he said. "Their goal was to force the coalition into retreat, but their mission failed. The enemy sought to test America and the Iraqi people's will, and they found it firm."
A strong proof of the Iraqis' firm will was in the millions of Iraqis who showed a great deal of courage providing security, working in the polling places and voting on Jan. 30, Rumsfeld said. The voters passed graffiti reading "You vote, you die" just to get to the polls.
Iraqis, despite terrorists' attempts to derail the country's progress, are pushing ahead to force a brighter future, he said. That spirit, the secretary added, is setting an example across the region.
"In the last two years from Afghanistan and Iraq to Ukraine and now the streets of Lebanon, we've seen again and again the great sweep of human history is for freedom, and we are on freedom's side," he said. "And the enemy's extremist ideology will meet its end when (the) wider Middle East sheds itself of tyranny and of violence and extremism and carves out a future of tolerance."
That, Rumsfeld said, will continue to be the goal despite changes in the coalition. With rumblings of countries considering withdrawing troops, Rumsfeld said he is not concerned, and that in fact he expects coalition numbers to fluctuate as they have from the beginning.
"Each country has its own circumstances," he said. "It has its own force capability and force-sustainment capability, and it also has its own political circumstance."
While some countries may feel they need to bring troops home, that doesn't necessarily mean that they also are leaving the coalition. Instead, they may feel that they prefer assist in NATO's train-and-equip effort or another related activity, Rumsfeld noted.
The secretary said that while U.S. troops in Iraq numbered about 152,000 surrounding the elections, that number stands to drop some.
"We're dropping down to something like 17 brigades over the coming month, maybe six weeks," he said. In that period, he explained, troop strength should drop to 135,000 to 140,000.
Iraqi force numbers are on track to pass the 200,000 mark, he added. With those increases, Rumsfeld said, U.S. troop levels could be adjusted.
And while Pace said the focus should continue to be on warfighting capacity, that capacity includes some nontraditional elements.
"Warfighting capacity includes ... language and cultural education skills. ... It includes satellites," he said. "It includes all the things that not only bring kinetic energy against the enemy, but also allow us to shape the environment before, during and after combat."
Rumsfeld added that with America's "can do" spirit, caution should be taken not to do too much. He said a country at some point needs to stop doing and start teaching so that developing countries can provide for themselves.
The secretary called attention to an "America Supports You" lapel pin he was wearing, and urged the audience to check out a DoD Web site on the program that illustrates the level of support the American people have for the men and women wearing the uniform of their country.
"If you go to that site, you can find ways that you can participate in supporting the troops," the secretary said. "You can find ways that hundreds of other people across the country are engaged in activities that are worthwhile.
"And I hope you will do it," he continued. "I hope you'll also tell your friends, because we are so fortunate as a country to have such wonderful people put up their hands and say they're willing to serve our country, and to serve it at risk to their lives, and to serve it with such wonderful skill and dedication."