MINISTER MUKHTAR ALTYNBAYEV: Mr. Secretary, let me present you to the members of our peacekeeping contingent who were in Iraq.
SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD (shaking hands with each soldier in turn):
Thank you for your services, we appreciate it.
Very good. We appreciate your service.
Good to see you, thank you.
How did you feel about serving there?
A: It was normal for us.
ALTYNBAYEV: This is the commander of the unit.
RUMSFELD: It’s nice to see you. Thank you so much. We appreciate your help.
Greetings. What was your assignment there?
A: Officer interpreter.
RUMSFELD: Between what languages? English to Russian?
A: and Kazakh.
RUMSFELD: Did it work pretty well?
A: Yes sir.
RUMSFELD: Were you working with the Ukrainian unit as well?
A: Yes, sir. And we worked with soldiers of Finland and the United States.
RUMSFELD: Did you run into the Spanish there?
A: No, sir.
RUMSFELD: Well, thank you, very good.
(Minister Altynbayev and Secretary Rumsfeld take their seats.)
ALTYNBAYEV: Secretary Rumsfeld invites you to talk about your experiences in Iraq.
RUMSFELD: I’m anxious to hear their thoughts.
ALTYNBAYEV: Let me ask the commander of the group, LTC Smagulov.
SMAGULOV: While in Iraq, we dealt with two major problems. The first was disposal of explosives, and the second was getting water. During our stay, we destroyed 522,563 dangerous objects. The Kazakhstani peacekeepers proved to be professional peacekeepers and military specialists, ready for any contingency.
During our time in Iraq, we gained from the experience of all the other military detachments that worked with us, particularly with the soldiers of the United States who were our “older brothers,” who were always ready to help.
During our Mission, we received full cooperation from the Americans, and we are ready to work with them any time.
RUMSFELD: Are those your regular uniforms, or did you receive them specially for this assignment?
A: We got these uniforms especially for this mission.
ALTYNBAYEV: This question is one I’d like to answer. I’d like to say that the Kazakhstani Armed Forces will soon be issued these new uniforms. These soldiers were the first to wear them, and to test them in active service.
RUMSFELD: Well it’s a good-looking outfit. Explosive disposal is a terribly dangerous business, as those of you involved in it know. There isn’t a day that goes by in Iraq when we don’t find dozens and dozens, and sometimes thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of pieces of military equipment. It’s pretty clear where an awful lot of that money went, was for buying weapons that now are buried all across the country. So your help in disposal of those weapons and unexploded ordinance was tremendously important.
ALTYNBAYEV: If I may I would like to say a few words. Not only did these guys get serious experience, which demonstrated their high degree of readiness, and in practice they carried out all the tasks set them, and didn’t allow a single infraction of military discipline, nor any lapse of professionalism, and they came back safe and sound to Kazakhstan. Mr. Secretary, this was the first experience of a peacekeeping operation for the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan, for the Ministry of Defense, for the Headquarters (HQ) staff. Considering that we encountered unanticipated problems in the conduct of this mission, we formed a task force in the staff of the HQ that worked around the clock to surmount the new problems. There was a lot of preparatory work required, we were working blind, not aware of what lay in store.
But when we were preparing the second contingent, we were able to work purposefully. And the half of the contingent that stayed on was a great help training the new arrivals. I’m saying this for the benefit of everyone here. It was not easy for us here (in HQ), or me personally as Minister, I had to answer numerous tough questions from journalists, parliamentary deputies. There were many different opinions about whether to do this, or not. I insisted that this experience was necessary, and that we should do this work, and we will continue this work. And their families, and wives, too, bore up well under this challenge, waiting patiently for them for a long six months. Let me take this opportunity to thank you, and through you, the American soldiers in Iraq for everywhere providing security for the work of our people, as well as for logistics and supplies; their work was flawless, and for this I thank you very much.
The rotation of our troops was precisely organized on the part of U.S. transport aviation, the first and second detachments were delivered as scheduled, and the first was returned home successfully. While they were in Iraq, very important decisions were taken here regarding the future of our Armed Forces. I would like to inform you, as well as our soldiers, that we have formed a Committee of the Chiefs of Staff, separate from the Ministry, similar to what exists in America. The President has made a decision to switch over from an army based on obligatory military service, to a professional contract service. We want to have about 70-80 percent such units this year. These first peacekeepers will be valuable and much-needed instructors for training the volunteers of the new force.
RUMSFELD: When you say contract service, you mean these will be volunteers as opposed to people who have been conscripted?
ALTYNBAYEV: Yes, we are moving from universal military obligation to a voluntary army. Contracts will be for 3-, 5-, or 10-year periods. After the initial 3-year contract, volunteers will have the option to reenlist for 5 years, or leave the service. Mr. Secretary, we are also introducing what is for us a new concept, that of an NCO corps, with sergeants of several levels – first sergeant, regimental sergeant, brigade sergeant, etc. By the time we complete the transition to an all-volunteer force, we will also finish a rearming program. Our more professional forces will be able to handle more sophisticated, more advanced weapons. The number of soldiers in our Armed Forces will be smaller, but they will be more mobile and better trained.
RUMSFELD: That’s a good thing. Will the NCOs who have enlisted have the opportunity to become officers, will there be an opportunity for them to move up in the ranks?
ALTYNBAYEV: Yes. We will have enlisted ranks from the lowest grade to the rank of master sergeant.
RUMSFELD: But can they go higher than that to become officers?
ALTYNBAYEV: We have determined the educational level needed for promotion to the next rank. If one has the appropriate level of education, one can move up to officer rank.
RUMSFELD: So someone in this room could someday become Minister of Defense?
ALTYNBAYEV: Yes, absolutely. And most likely it will be one of them (indicating the peacekeepers).
RUMSFELD: I used to be a Lieutenant, and I’m a Minister of Defense.
ALTYNBAYEV: So why do they say you are a civilian; you’re former military?
RUMSFELD: (Laughing) Yes, I was a Navy pilot.
RUMSFELD: Let me ask you a question. The Americans who serve in Iraq end up receiving a ribbon recognizing their Iraq service. Are these gentlemen going to get a ribbon recognizing their Iraq service?
ALTYNBAYEV: I won’t keep it a secret. One hundred percent of them have been nominated to receive from the President medals and decorations. After the encouragement from the President, I’m next in line to do everything I can to recognize their achievement. We’re working now on creating a special medal recognizing peacekeeping active service, to be awarded by the Minister of Defense.
RUMSFELD: Congratulations to all of you in advance.
ALTYNBAYEV: Thank you. (Applause.)
RUMSFELD: We currently have 115,000 Americans leaving Iraq, and 115,000 Americans going into Iraq. I landed in Shannon, Ireland, for refueling on the way over here, and I happened to run into an airplane with 225 Oklahoma National Guardsmen en route to Iraq. They were eager to do it, proud of their assignment, all people who volunteered to do it. I’ll say to you what I said to them. Peacekeeping is noble work. You’ll look back in 20 years on what you’ve done in Iraq, and be proud of it. You will have contributed to the liberation and freedom and opportunity for some 25 million Iraqi people. I thank you for it. Your countrymen should thank you for it. And 25 years from now, the Iraqi people will thank you for it. Thank you.