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Rumsfeld to Troops: 'Give Me an Easy One'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BISHKEK, Kyrghyzstan, April 26, 2002 – April 25 American and coalition troops here at Ganci Air Base had a chance to, April 26, 2002 – ask the U.S. defense secretary questions. And they were ready for him.

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Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld addresses a crowd of more than 500 coalition members in Kyrgyzstan, April 26, 2002, on the first stop of his trip to visit American and coalition forces in Afghanistan and neighboring nations. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Stuckey, USAF)
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived mid-afternoon from Washington to greet troops and tour the base. It was his first stop on a five-day trip through Central Asia. After he finished his formal troop talk on the war on terrorism, Rumsfeld opened the floor to questions -- but he had one caveat.

"I just flew all night and I'm just getting warmed up, so give me an easy one," said the secretary who's known for his terse, forthright style and candid humor. A U.S. Air Force staff sergeant obliged with Rumsfeld's request.

"How long do you expect we'll stay in Kyrgyzstan?" the staff sergeant asked. To which Rumsfeld replied, "As long as necessary! And I must say, God bless the folks in Kyrgyzstan for being so hospitable and for welcoming this coalition force."

The next question came from a U.S. Air Force major regarding the situation in Israel, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah's visit to Texas and whether the United States was willing to put troops in Israel.

"Well," Rumsfeld remarked. "She said she had 'a' question and she had three. I asked for an easy one and she gave me a tough three."

The secretary responded by briefly discussing U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and the situation in Israel. He said he has not heard any proposals to send U.S. troops to the area. Some in the international community, he said, have raised the subject of peacekeepers or observers.

"The only reason you'd have peacekeepers or observers is if you have a peace to be observed," Rumsfeld said. "It does not yet exist. There are still suicide bombers strapping explosives onto themselves and blowing up pizza parlors and shopping malls. It is not time yet for that kind of a solution."

The secretary said he wouldn't presume to know what the president would decide, "if and when we arrive at a point that conditions for a peace are such that observers might be what we need." Pausing, he said, "now, for a non- diplomat that was a pretty diplomatic answer."

An Australian officer asked the secretary if integrating coalition forces is a successful model, and if it is the model for the future. "I do indeed see the model as being successful," Rumsfeld said. "We are working with coalition forces literally all over the world today."

Rumsfeld said he recently asked U.S. Central Command's Army Gen. Tommy Franks how many ships he had in his command area conducting anti-terror, maritime interception operations. Franks said he had 101 ships and they were from six nations.

"It seems to me," Rumsfeld reflected "that the world is so big and so complex and the number of skills and talents and capabilities and relationships that are needed, it makes all the sense in the world for there to be coalitions developed that can then go about their business. And to the extent they can function together, be interoperable, and communicate together -- and I don't mean just speaking the same language but having the equipment --. Then we can be vastly more successful."

"You asked for an easy question, I've got one for you, sir," a U.S. Air Force technical sergeant told the secretary. Then drawing a round of whoops and applause for his question, the sergeant asked: "Upon arrival at Ganci Air Base, we were told that we were at war. …When we get our hands on Mr. Bin Laden are we going to negotiate with him or are we going to annihilate him?"

When the hubbub died down, Rumsfeld said, "I've got to be careful (what I say), the press is here."

"In truth, it's kind of his choice," the secretary said of Bin Laden. "We're tracking him down. He's hiding. We haven't heard hide or hair of him since about December. We don't know where he is. I doubt that he's the kind of fellow that's going to turn himself in.

"We're pretty sure he's dead or alive," Rumsfeld added with a grin. "The reality is, he is probably not very effective right now in running the al Qaeda organization. My guess is he will be killed in some attack or he will be captured, in which case we would have an opportunity to visit with him."

Budget requirements, equipment procurement issues, and personnel readiness matters – the questions went on, and the secretary explained the way it is. He concluded that keeping the military strong and ready boils down to attracting and retaining the people needed to operate the institution.

Responding to a question regarding the military's mandatory stop-loss program, Rumsfeld said about 20,000 to 25,000 folks were "asked" not to get out in light of the war on terrorism. "Did I get that right?" he asked the troops. Then he jokingly concluded, "God bless them for being willing to stick around."

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