SECRETARY RUMSFELD: -- worked its way around to an annual Defense Ministerial meeting plus a couple of less formal NATO Defense Ministerial meetings. This is one of the less formal ones. The other part of the [inaudible] is periodic summits where the Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers participate.
The first thing I'd say is on Katrina, that the NATO countries indeed the countries around the world have just been wonderfully forthcoming. I think there's something like this morning it said 118 countries have offered or supplied various types of assistance, which is certainly appreciated.
On Katrina, in communicating with our folks last night and this morning, the flow in has pretty well stopped. We've gone from zero to 71,000 military, a mix of Guard and Active forces and 20 ships, something like 300 helicopters. Just an enormous volume of assistance. And at this stage some of the things that have been done, have been supplied, have been completed. For example, the USS Whidbey Island brought in bridging equipment. They've off-loaded that and they'll be departing. We've been working with Homeland Security, the White House, Tim Keating the combatant commander, on moving assets out as the need declines. We've gotten to the point where most if not all of the search and rescue is completed. Some helicopters undoubtedly can be moved out over the period ahead. We're coordinating all this with Chertoff and Andy Card and General Honore' and Keating. Keating's the one who's working these issues.
We seem to have a very large surplus of hospital beds and I suspect there will be some activity in that area. It's also being coordinated with both Governors, I should add. So nothing is moving out until both Governors and the Northern Command and the Homeland Security Department and the President authorize it, but some of those things will be occurring in the period ahead.
On NATO, the big issues are going to be transformation. As you know, we're in the process of reducing headquarters down from about 20 to 11. And we've got plans and agreements and understandings that the size of the staffs will be reduced. That has not moved as rapidly as the actual headquarters reductions.
There are proposals by the Secretary General to transform the NATO Headquarters staff in ways that will make it more efficient.
The NATO Response Force is the principal mechanism that will be leading the transformation of national militaries and it is scheduled for an exercise in June of '06 I believe at Cape Verde, and an operating capability in October of '06. And we have, I proposed it I think maybe two and a half years ago and we're making good progress on it. It's obvious a military alliance like NATO simply has to have the ability to have a quick response force, a quick reaction force, so you can go do something in a relatively short period of time with all of the enablers embedded so they have the lift, they have the intelligence they have the command structure, they have the ability to literally go do something useful.
Our hope and belief is that to the extent we get NATO countries participating in that they will see the utility of it and the usefulness of it and that their other forces will want to advance and develop and transform to be useful as well, and that it may very well lead to a transformation within the national militaries of NATO nations as a result.
The issue of usability is still there. We've got a lot of countries in NATO that have forces that are not useable for military purposes. And so that's an issue we're working.
Other discussions will be on things like Kosovo. There are some changes in command structure being made. So that undoubtedly will lead to the ability to reduce some of the NATO nations forces in Kosovo.
Afghanistan where NATO is taking on a bigger and bigger role, and one of the issues we'll have to wrestle with is the reality that while a number of NATO nations have been reducing the restrictions that they impose on their forces and the caveats that they require, some nations have not yet done that. Clearly if you're a NATO commander in an area of operations and there are different rules of engagement, different restrictions on national forces, it makes it enormously difficult for the commander to have the flexibility to function. They vary all across the spectrum, the types of restrictions and caveats that they give. I'm very pleased that a large number have been reduced. It caused some problems in Kosovo and Bosnia some time back, and we're hopeful that we'll continue to make progress on that.
The train and equip effort NATO's doing in Iraq will be discussed. It continues to benefit the Iraqis.
There's an issue floating around that's not new, and it's money, a number of the NATO countries are low as a percentage of GDP in their defense budgets, is one issue. A second issue involves money but it's not the percentage of GDP that they're investing. Rather, it's the reality that most countries have long budget cycles. They prepare a budget, they allocate priorities, it goes to the Parliament, it's worked on over a year's period, and it's for the year that follows. So there's about a two year period.
So if the NATO Response Force is going to be responsive and go do something, and countries that have agreed to dedicate forces for that activity, whether it's an exercise or a response, don't have budgets that support that because it's not known when you're going to have a NATO Response Force respond, it creates a problem for countries.
So we're going to have to find some way to increase common funding so that the countries that happen to be in the queue for a certain tranche of NATO Response Force commitments are not unfairly penalized if the need for them, whether an exercise or an actual activity, occurs while they're there. This is something we don't have an answer for but we're considering, thinking about it.
We're having bilaterals with the UK, Germany, Canada, Russia. I was with Jaap de Hoop on a secure video yesterday, I think, or the day before.
Then I plan to return to the United States with most of you
MEDIA: Not all of us?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: [Laughter].
I'll answer a few questions.
MEDIA: Do you have any particular country in mind where you think --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Sure.
MEDIA: -- Would you like to tell us?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No. [Laughter].
MEDIA: [Inaudible] any better on [inaudible] issue?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't think I want to characterize it. I'd want to sit down with Jim Jones and see -- There's something like 17 pages of different nations' circumstances. Some are constitutional, some are by statute, some are by Ministry of Defense or Ministry of Foreign Affairs edict, and they're all across the lot. Obviously the ones that are constitutional are much more difficult to address. So we just have to work on them.
MEDIA: Which ones are more troublesome or the most troublesome?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Put yourself in the position of a battlefield commander with a NATO force of 12 countries under him. If you've got six different sets of rules and they're not allowed to leave a certain area, or they can only fire in self defense in an engagement, or they can only be located certain places or they can only perform certain kinds of functions -- humanitarian functions as opposed to military functions. Trying to manage a force like that with all those different countries and to get them arranged so that you can do what you need to do, and suddenly there's a problem in a bridge. You go to Kosovo and certain groups are on duty but they can't do anything. That's a problem. You can't run your business that way. It [inaudible].
MEDIA: Can you talk about how you'd like to see NATO take on a larger role in Afghanistan over the next year, and whether you want them to be fully involved in a full range of issues including counter-insurgency? IS that something the U.S. wants to see and will be lobbying for over the next [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't think of myself as a lobbyist.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Now you're talking.
I don't know. Certainly we'll be discussing those things, but if you think about it, they started out in ISAF, the International Security Assistance Forces started in Kabul. It was taken as a NATO mission. We've rotated the heads of it every six months. We have am MOU to provide all kinds of enablers so it would work. We then got some PRTs going. NATO countries and other countries have taken over some of them. Then we gave NATO the northern region and the PRTs, then the West. The next talks would be the south. The more difficult area, obviously, is along the PAK (Pakistan) border. At some point they would be capable, NATO would have enough troops capability who have experience to take over the eastern [inaudible].
That leaves the counter-terrorism issue which one would think for a period the Coalition would continue to manage. Over time it would be nice if NATO developed counter-terrorist capabilities which don't exist at the present time as a NATO function. They do exist within NATO countries. But it seems to me that problem will most likely be the last that they would take.
The big issue, of course, is counter-narcotics, and that is a perfectly appropriate thing for NATO to do in support of the Karzai government. The drugs that come out of Afghanistan go into Russia and Europe. And it has to be an overall plan by the Afghan government that includes all of the elements, public information and criminal justice system to punish people, crop substitution, ways to interdict, ways to penalize, ways to persuade, and NATO's role would be in support of Afghanistan. So that's an element of it.
MEDIA: [Inaudible] U.S. troops? As NATO gradually takes on the roles, the counter-terrorism role, and if they do in fact [inaudible], will U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan reduce over time?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, it's condition based. It depends on what's happening on the ground. Certainly we continue to increase the size and capability of the Afghan security forces. We're increasing the size of the NATO forces. Although we a part of NATO, and certainly we would be involved with NATO in doing the NATO function as we already are. We started from the very beginning with that Memorandum of Understanding that we negotiated with the ISAF.
So sure, if the situation improves in Afghanistan one would think that all foreign forces would be reduced over time.
MEDIA: I'd like to ask a question about Iraq. Yesterday Ambassador Kalilzad had some pretty strong words about Syria, [inaudible]. And it had an operation on the border where the reports are that when U.S. and Iraqi troops went into Talafar the rebels had moved out, presumably some of them across the border.
What can you do about it? Are you reaching a point where you would contemplate cross-border type operations [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Our forces already have the authority to fire back across the borders in the event they're attacked.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Those are issues we [inaudible]. [Inaudible] discussion [inaudible] battlefield [inaudible].
It's a serious problem, Zal's correct. Syria's behavior is harmful. There are large numbers of Syrian fighters that we've captured and killed -- Syria ranks right up there among the top two or three countries of people that have supplied foreign fighters that are in there killing Iraqis. Killing Coalition people. We don't like it.
MEDIA: Do you think there are training camps in Syria?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into that.
MEDIA: How concerned are you about recent developments from Germany that the U.S. should take the military off the table, vis-à-vis Iraq. They seem to be [splitting] the unity that the U.S. had with the EU.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Goodness. The President said what he said. Our President. And I agree with our President. Some of the other folks have political campaigns going, they may say things.
MEDIA: [Inaudible] the German [inaudible]?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't know. I don't have any idea. I haven't thought about it. I figure that's politics. There's a political campaign going on. I don't want to get involved in the German election so I'm not going to [touch that]. They'll have their election and they'll vote for who they want to vote for and that's not our business, it's their business. They debate the issues they want to debate, and I doubt that I'll [inaudible].
MEDIA: [Inaudible] the President should not approve the [inaudible] recommendation?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: On that subject I give my advice to him.