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Meeting with the Troops
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Friday, April 26, 2002

Thank you very much.  Gen. Lloyd, Ambassador O'Keefe, the men and women of the United States armed services, and the men and women of the coalition forces from all across the world, I thank you for the welcome, and I thank you for what you are doing.

It is a terrific thing for me to be able to be here and to see you and to have a chance to say personally, how much I appreciate what you are doing.  You are doing a superb job for our country and for all the countries in the coalition.  It is not an easy job -- indeed it's a tough job.

The problems we face as a world are somewhat new, and different.  Certainly they are different for the United States.  Having had the benefit of two oceans and friends on the north and friends on the south -- to be subjected as we were on September 11 to terrorist attacks that killed thousands of our fellow Americans -- indeed, it was not so much an attack on the United States as it was an attack on the world.

There were people from 80 countries killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in those few hours.  There were people of every race and color and religion.  The task that you're doing so far from home is one that I am afraid is going to last for a while.  It's not something that is going to be over quickly.

People in this camp are used to dealing with armies and navies -- and air forces.  Regrettably the people we're having to deal with don't have armies or navies or air forces as such, they operate in shadows and caves.  They operate secretly; they operate against civilians as opposed to against armies.  And the difficulty of that task is real.

We've been very successful in Operation Enduring Freedom thanks to the help of people from so many countries.  When I say we, I don't mean the armed services alone -- all of the elements of national power have had to be brought to bear:

  • economic power,
  • financial power,
  • diplomatic efforts,
  • intelligence sharing, as well as military activity, both overt and covert.

The task is to put pressure on terrorists wherever they are -- in Afghanistan to be sure and you folks are certainly helping to do that in good style, but also to put pressure on them all across the globe.  To the extent that they have safe havens, sanctuaries where they can go, then the effort we put into Afghanistan will be for nothing.

There's no question but that the Taliban no longer govern that country.  The people of Afghanistan have been liberated.  There's no question but that the al Qaeda that had been training people in terrorist training camps, and I might add training them very well.  These people are professionals.  They spend a great deal of time and a great deal of money getting very good at understanding how they can move around the county, how they can operate with false passports, how they can raise money, how they can recruit, how they can train, and how they can kill innocent men, women and children.  And they've gotten very good at it, regrettably.

The fact remains that, as we are successful in Afghanistan and put pressure on them there, that that's not enough.  We have to keep putting pressure on them so that they don't reassemble either just in the mountains or over in the bordering countries to Afghanistan.  So that they then don't try again to retake that country which certainly they would like to do.

Furthermore, we have to see that they don't move into other countries, which is why we're helping to train forces, for example, in the Philippines so that they can improve their counter-terrorist activities.

We're working with people in Yemen to strengthen their training in counter terrorism.  And more recently we are putting some U.S. armed forces trainers into the former Soviet republic of Georgia so that there again they can strengthen in their capacity to keep terrorists out.  There are a lot of other places terrorists can go and gather and the networks exist -- for example, just the al Qaeda is probably in 50 or 60 nations across the globe to say nothing of the other global terrorist networks.

People laugh about the fact that I have served as secretary of defense 25, 26, 27 years ago.  Dick Cheney, when I was sworn in with President Bush, said we have asked Don to come back and serve as secretary of defense again -- maybe he'll get it right this time.

But it is a long time ago and a lot of the things have changed.  Some of the weapons systems however haven't.  The B-52's are still here.  I was there for the roll out of the F-16.  I was the one who approved the M-1 tank and it is amazing to think that all these many years later we see roughly those same weapons systems still doing a wonderful job for our country.

The one thing that has not changed, besides the few weapons systems, are the people.  And there is just no question but that the men and women in the coalition forces that are gathered here in this tent, and are spread in other countries across the globe, are people who voluntarily put their lives at risk for their country, for their families.   They do it willingly, they do it professionally, and each of you can be enormously proud of the contribution you are making.

We think about what happened on September 11 as really a terribly tragedy, and it was.  So many lives were lost, thousands of lives were lost, and mothers and fathers and children were lost.  The reality is that with the development of weapons of mass destruction -- and they are being developed, they are being developed in several handfuls of countries around the globe -- and with the development of powerful ways of delivering those weapons, we are living in a notably different time, than we all did previously.

You know if you're dealing with conventional weapons and your talking about the lives of hundreds or thousands, you have a certain margin for error, and you can be a little negligent, you can be a little slow, you can be imperfect in your wisdom and your foresight.  You can be a little laggard in terms of how you invest.  But when you are dealing with weapons of mass destruction -- and you're not talking about hundreds or thousands, you're talking about tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people -- we have a very modest margin for error.

We, as people across the globe who don't believe in killing innocent people, have to recognize that our responsibility and our task is coming to us in a time that is notably different than prior generations.  And it calls on us to be wiser, to look around more corners, and to be cognizant and alert to the dangers that exist.

There are a handful of terrorist nations in the world that have very close connections with terrorist networks and those nations have weapons of mass destruction and they are developing weapons of mass destruction.  And they are trading among themselves with those technologies.  That means, they're testing them and we see them testing them.  And one doesn't like to see that -- you like to turn your head and say well that is not really happening, or maybe it is not happening, but the reality is that it is happening.

And that being the case it seems to me that what you're doing is of the utmost importance.  You stand against an evil.  It is the evil of mass murders that have as their purpose in life, to kill large numbers of innocent people.  It is an evil that can't be appeased -- it can't be ignored and it certainly cannot be allowed to prevail.

And you are doing a great job at your task.  I thank you for that and so does President Bush.  The president made a promise to our country shortly after September 11.  He said we will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.  You are the ones who are delivering on that promise.  And looking at each of you and having a chance to shake some of your hands here today, I know I can report back to him that the promise that he made is in good hands, and that our victory is indeed assured.  Thank you very much.



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