Secretary Rumsfeld Enroute to Pakistan
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: ...those of that faith who are opposed to the people who cut off people's heads and cause 3,000 deaths in the United States and engage in violent extremist ideas. I'll leave it to the historians to say what happens, but certainly as a friend and a partner in this effort we're pleased to be working side by side with President Musharraf and with the Pakistani military to try to do whatever can be done to reduce the suffering of so many hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.
MEDIA: [Inaudible] said you believe Osama bin Laden was in the Afghan/Pakistan region, that border region. You've said that before. Do you still believe that? And do you think that because you haven't heard from bin Laden since December of last year that that means something?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't know that I've ever said that's where I think he is.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Is that right? Well, let's pretend I did. It's a reasonable assumption. If you don't know where he is, then you don't know where he is. But if you want to guess, he has in the past operated in those areas. He's operated in other areas as well, but I think it is interesting that we haven't heard from him for a year, close to a year. I don't know what it means. I suspect that in any event if he's alive and functioning that he's probably spending a major fraction of his time trying to avoid being caught. I have trouble believing that he's able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al-Qaida operation. But I could be wrong. We just don't know.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: If he's not around, we know he has a fondness for talking on tapes and videotapes. And he has, he's not seemed to be terribly fond of it for the last period of months. But I just don't know.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Yes.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We're interested in capturing those people who are determined to kill innocent men, women and children in our country and in the nations of our friends and allies.
MEDIA: Is there a resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaida on the border, in Afghanistan, on the border with Afghanistan in Pakistan?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The levels of violence and incidents fluctuate over the past several years. They tend to go up during key political periods, and they tend to go up prior to the beginning of winter, and they tend to go up after the winter period ends. They also tend to go up as a result of Coalition activity against them. In other words in some instances the incident is a result of Taliban or al-Qaida activity against the Afghan government or Coalition forces. In other instances the incident that would be characterized in a report like that would be a result of just the opposite. It would be from the Afghan forces or the Coalition or U.S. forces putting pressure on the Taliban and the al-Qaida. We don't disaggregate those things.
So my impression is that there is a good deal of Afghan, Coalition and U.S. counter-terrorist activity taking place in the country and that could be at least part of the reason for the fluctuations.
MEDIA: Can we get you on camera about the statement you made earlier about troop levels in Afghanistan, your decision there, and --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: You're talking about --
MEDIA: You made it over there. We thought maybe on the record for TV you'd like to make a statement about troop levels in Afghanistan. Since you made it earlier.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The United States government has, as the President has indicated, been periodically assessing the situation in Afghanistan and assessing the conditions on the ground, and then making judgments about our arrangements and our numbers and our activities in Afghanistan. We do this with the Afghan government, we do it with our Coalition partners, and at various points recommendations come up from the, in this case General Eichenberry and General Abizaid. They've recommended that we modestly reduce our force level in the country by 2,000 or 3,000 in the period ahead. All the political benchmarks have been being achieved. The new parliament has now been sworn in and seated. NATO is arranged to come in and take on an increased responsibility, having previously operated the ISAF in Kabul, then the International Security Assistance Forces in the north, then in the west. Next year early they will be taking over the area in the south down here at Kandahar.
The Coalition will continue to operate the area along the Pak border, the east. We will continue to be doing the heavy lifting with respect to counter-terrorism. We will continue to assist the Afghan government with respect to training and equipping of their security forces. And as a member of NATO we will be participating in the NATO activity in the north, the west, and the south. So our role will continue at a very high level. Indeed, we'll end up even after a reduction. If we're at 19-plus now we'll probably be at 16 or 17 after the transfer of responsibility takes place. And we're a strategic partner with Afghanistan. We work closely with them. It's a very new, moderate Muslim nation that's on a path towards democracy which is a good thing.
MEDIA: [Inaudible] for Iraq. It seems like the kind of thing you would want to do in Iraq, is to have the local forces take over and then generally reduce U.S. forces either by leaving them at home or pulling them home early. Is that how you'd like things to go in Iraq?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well that's what we've been doing in Iraq in fact. We bulked up for some major political events like the January elections, the October referendum on their new constitution, and most recently for their December 15th election, we went up to size 160,000 troops in Iraq. We've announced that we're going to be going back to our baseline of plus or minus 137,000 at some point after this.
Rather than bring people over and then bring them back early, our preference would be to not bring people over as we are able to make assessments and the conditions on the ground permit adjustments in force levels, but we could do it either way.