DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
(Also participating was Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Slides shown during this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2002/g020124-D-6570C.html.
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
Over the past weeks and months, a good deal of attention has been paid to the various military operations by coalition forces in Afghanistan, and rightly so. They've done a darn good job of dealing with that country's terrorist oppressors.
It's also important, however, to recognize the progress that has been made in some other areas -- progress in helping the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered war, drought, deprivation for a good many years; progress that's resulted in the capture of many al Qaeda and Taliban responsible for that suffering, although there still are a good many Taliban and al Qaeda in various pockets around the country; and progress in securing the information that will enable us to disrupt terrorist acts from occurring in other places around the globe.
First, on the humanitarian effort, it's been very active, of course, since September, but it should also be noted that there was a good deal of activity prior to September by the United States and by some other countries. This represents one of the largest, if not THE largest, humanitarian assistance program in history. It would not have been possible without two things: first, the swift and effective military efforts of coalition forces that dealt with the al Qaeda and the Taliban, so that the delivery of such aid would be possible, and second, the tremendous effort of a variety of government and nongovernmental relief agencies.
Between October 7 and December 21 of last year, some 162 C-17s dropped 2.5 million rations, 816 tons of wheat, 73,000 blankets during the period that they were active combatting the Taliban and al Qaeda forces. We helped to establish a security environment in which various international relief organizations have been able to conduct operations, sometimes for the first time, and we've helped to open -- coalition forces have helped to open some 11 major convoy routes and nine Afghan airfields, which has facilitated the more rapid movement of humanitarian aid and supplies, personnel, and to provide access to vulnerable populations in isolated areas.
To give you an idea of what's been accomplished, these two charts have been gathered from a variety of relief agencies, and they are composite. And they really show a before and an after situation. The before is over here, and the red, as it says, is where people were receiving something like 0 to 50 percent of requirements; the beige, 50 to 75 percent of the food requirements; and the green, over 100 percent -- 100 percent or over of their food requirements. You can see that the green was basically along the Pakistan border. On the other hand, when you look at the December -- last month's chart, the red has practically disappeared. There are still several pockets, three or four, and the green has dominated and the beige has taken over many of the red areas.
So it's clear that a good deal has been accomplished from the standpoint of the circumstance of the people of Afghanistan. That is not to say that there aren't a large number of isolated areas where, notwithstanding, it may show green, there are going to be pockets where people are not getting their food requirements. And that effort is going forward to try to open up those areas in a secure way.
It's improved to such an extent that USAID and the Red Cross and various other relief agencies are now supplementing emergency relief with other kinds of assistance.
Also, thanks to the coalition partners, particularly Jordan and Russia, Spain and South Korea, hospitals have been established, complete with surgeons and supplies. And as I'm sure we know, a number of schools have opened and are now admitting females both as students but also as staff.
The interim government is up and running. The leadership positions have now all been filled. Something like 16 of the 30 provincial governor positions have been named. And the progress is proceeding with respect to their ability to begin to assert governmental control over the country. So a good deal of progress has been made.
Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon everyone. I just returned from a trip to Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, so let me begin by offering my belated condolences to the families of the two Marines who were killed over the last weekend in the crash of their helicopter in Afghanistan. And I also want to send wishes for a speedy recovery of the other five Marines injured in the incident.
On Tuesday we did drop two precision-guided munitions on the helicopter to reduce the opportunity for anyone to scavenge the wreckage. We used this method because of where the helicopter was located, in that it was not easily accessible.
The trip to the Middle East was very good. I had the opportunity to update the leadership of those countries of our U.S. operations in the area and to thank them for all their support. They are obviously solid contributors to our global war on terrorism and are doing good work in that arena.
Operationally, yesterday our time, early today Afghan time, we conducted a raid against Taliban leadership in the mountain region north of Kandahar. Our forces attacked two compounds and detained 27 individuals. There were enemy forces killed in this action, and one U.S. Special Forces soldier was slightly injured. He was wounded in the ankle and has been evacuated. I can't go into any more detail at this time because we still have our eyes on the targets there and there is a potential for further action.
That said, the total number of detainees under U.S. control now stands at 455, 297 of which are in Afghanistan, and 158 detainees in Cuba, and it includes the 27 detained in the recent raid.
Let me also update you on Operation Southern Watch. In the last few days, coalition aircraft have reported being fired upon while flying in the southern no-fly zone over Iraq. In response to this action, coalition aircraft dropped precision-guided munitions on triple-A and surface-to-air missile sites that threatened the patrolling aircraft. This effort involved three strikes, one on Monday, one yesterday, and then one early this morning. We are still assessing the results of those strikes.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
QMr. Secretary, regarding the raids north of Kandahar overnight, was this encounter a surprise at all, or did you know that al Qaeda were there? And there are reports that up to 15 al Qaeda were killed. Could you tell us about that?
Rumsfeld: They were not a surprise. They were planned. And we've not gotten into the business of doing numbers of people that were killed. It's so hard to do. We do talk about the number of U.S. that were maybe wounded or killed in any given activity, but --
Q: How extensive is the al Qaeda presence, and how active is it in that area and Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Well, first we have to be -- straightforwardly admit the reality is that we -- no one can know precisely where all of the remaining al Qaeda and Taliban are.
There are unquestionably pockets of them, and in some cases, not small pockets, but somewhat larger than small. And they are able to move around the country in some narrow, confined areas in the mountains; they are able to hide. And we are finding them, from time to time, and as we find them, we're engaging in direct action, either alone or with coalition forces or with Afghan forces. And we're doing it systematically, and I think you can expect that it will continue for some period of time.
Q: General Myers, can I follow up? Same topic. You described this as a Taliban leadership target. Were Taliban leaders in fact among the captives?
Myers: That's being sorted out right now. As I said, we have 27 detainees, and we have control of the detainees right now and we're sorting through them to find out the level of leadership involved.
Q: Could you describe the leadership? Are you talking about military, are you talking about government?
Myers: This just happened, and so we're in the process of doing that, and I can't give you any more detail on that at this point.
Rumsfeld: Let me amplify on that just slightly. It is a phrase that we use internally, the Taliban or al Qaeda "leadership." And we have a variety of ways that we watch and observe as to what's taking place and characterize things in that way. It is done without knowing precisely who is there, but it is done with the knowledge that when you see certain indicators, why it's likely that they are people who are not simply foot soldiers.
Q: It's primarily a military compound, then, Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: The word "military" is probably not inappropriate. You know, the Taliban and the al Qaeda, they're terrorists. Military is a funny word in that context because -- I would prefer to say what we said, that they're al Qaeda and Taliban leadership of some level that are -- or at least we believe they are when we go in. And it turns out that every time we go in, we find that that's been the case.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: The International Red Cross says the government agency that receives its report on the detainees or unlawful combatants in Guantanamo can release that report as long as it's released in entirety and not excerpted. Have you or anybody else at DOD received a report from the Red Cross, and do you plan to release it when you do receive it?
Rumsfeld: Have we received a report?
I assume by that you mean in writing, such that something would be releasable, and the answer is no, not to my knowledge. No one in the government has received a written report. It's my understanding that we may at some point in the next weeks ahead, after they conclude their process. And exactly who that's submitted to, it's not quite clear to me. I think -- I believe what happens is it's submitted to us, and then, if I'm not mistaken, they have a practice or a pattern at least of reporting back to the countries of the nationals that are being detained about those nationals, as opposed to about other people's nationals.
We have received -- correction, there have been discussions taking place. Obviously, if you have a team of people from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Guantanamo, they do talk to people down there, our people. And they've been in fairly continuous discussion, and I'm sure they are today, because they left some of their people down there.
Q: Mr. Secretary, a follow on to that. I mean, can you say that the suspension of detainee transfers to Guantanamo is purely the result of space concerns or some of the concerns that the ICRC raised? And what were some of those concerns?
Rumsfeld: I had not heard of any concerns by the ICRC when I made the decision to discontinue the flights until more construction took place.
Q: So it's simply space concerns, and that's it?
Rumsfeld: That was what was in my head when I indicated that I wanted the flights discontinued until we completed some more space.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you -- can you or the general talk about --
Rumsfeld: Excuse me. I didn't answer one part of your question, I don't think. You asked would we release a report if and when we get a written one, and the answer is, I assume we would. Sure. I mean, this is the United States, and that's what we do. It'll get -- it'll be out there.
Q: (Well, sometimes?).
Rumsfeld: Oh, come on! Come on! I can't imagine not. I haven't seen it. I don't know what their rules are. See, I don't know that you're correct when you say that their rules permit a release of the report if you release it all. I've not been told that. But let's pretend you're right. If you're right, my assumption is that the --
Q: I'm always right.
Rumsfeld: Yeah, okay. (laughter) But let -- my assumption would be that if you are correct, that they have no problem with releasing reports, and assuming they do in fact submit a report, and assuming it does come into my possession, my assumption is that I would release it, yes.
Q: (off mike)
Rumsfeld: Well, it has to be.
Q: Sir, were you -- either you or the general, this question. Were you -- you've presumably been watching this compound that was attacked closely for some time. Can you talk about how long you've been watching it? And can you discuss at all the timing of the attack? For example, were you watching it in hopes that it would become sort of a coalescing point for leadership that you could then pounce on?
Since you decided not to do it now and not wait, had you reached the conclusion that you -- you know, you were going to get what you were going to get, and it wasn't going to attract any more leadership types? Does that make sense?
Rumsfeld: The question's a good question. The problem with answering it is that it kind of characterizes how these folks out there do their business. And since there's a whole lot more of these compounds, I don't know that that's a useful thing from their standpoint.
I think the long and the short of it is, there are a lot more of these pockets. We are going to pursue them. We are pursuing them now. We pursue them alone. We pursue them with coalition forces. We pursue them with Afghan forces. And we're going to keep at them until we get them.
And the specific decisions as to when they decide to do what really is a decision that's made at the very lower level, near the ground, where people have the maximum of information and decide they want to make a judgment --
Myers: And on many, many factors, not just the ones you mentioned, but a whole variety of factors. And as the secretary said, it is a tactical level decision.
Q: Well, another way to go at this is to ask you about the intensity of the firefight, number one. Can you, General Myers, describe for us -- was this a heavy firefight? Was it over in minutes? Did it go on for hours? Was there bombing before or during this operation, or was your intent to take people alive, as opposed to bombing them?
Myers: Let me say that the intent, if we think they have intelligence, of course, which you would presume these people would, is to take them alive, so you can garner the intelligence. So that would be the first part.
In terms of the intensity, I hesitate -- I mean, we don't have a lot of the detail on exactly how long it lasted. Those are not the kind of questions that we routinely ask. But it was -- any firefight's intense. This one was. Obviously we had a soldier wounded in the middle of it. So, I mean, it was -- I -- what's the point? I mean --
Q: Well, just descriptively, to try and understand, was this a walk in the park or was this heavy resistance?
Myers: I don't think anything --
Rumsfeld: No, a number of people were killed.
Myers: I don't think -- we told you that enemy were killed in this, and I think this would never be described as "a walk in the park."
Q: Just to clarify, is there a distinction between Taliban leadership and al Qaeda leadership? General Myers, you said this raid was against Taliban leadership. Mr. Secretary, you said it might have been a mix between al Qaeda and the Taliban, first of all.
And second of all, was there a suspicion that Mullah Mohammed Omar was anywhere nearby?
Myers: I think we initially thought -- I mean, the initial word, I think, that was put out said al Qaeda leadership, and I think once the compound was raided, found that it was mostly of Taliban nature. And I think -- but we're still sorting that out. I mean, the detainees are just in our hands and we have to sort that out.
Q: And as far as the Omar angle?
Myers: I don't want to go into -- that would give away lots of stuff that we don't --
Q: Do these people appear to be foreign fighters, which would make them al Qaeda as opposed to Taliban? Or do you know? The people captured. Do they appear to be foreign fighters?
Myers: Most of them appear --
Myers: Afghan fighters.
Q: Can I ask you a budget question? The president yesterday came out with --
Q: -- a $48 billion increase for '03. That's $83 billion more that we had in '01, $296 billion. What conditions of the world justify a potential increase of that magnitude? And two, are the financial management systems in this building organized well enough to even effectively use that kind of money or process that kind of money?
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, as we all know, the financial management systems in this country -- in this building, in the Department of Defense, are imperfect. (Pause.) That's a euphemism. They need to be fixed. The estimate is it will take years. There's been a good number of years already invested in fixing them. Our predecessors were working on it quite hard. It is a subject we discuss with the Congress every year.
The financial systems are not defective in terms of knowing what you're spending on. They are defective in the sense that it is -- the way they are designed, it's very difficult to track each transaction and connect it. That is not to say that they don't know that there was a bill and a payer and for a specific thing. They do know that. It is a different set of problems, and that is, in general I'm advised by the experts that the systems have in large measure been designed to report to the Congress rather than to manage from a financial standpoint the operations of the institution. There are so many little pockets that are required, and earmarks, thousands of them, that it makes it very difficult.
The circumstance that the country finds itself in is essentially this. The Cold War ended. A drawdown on U.S. military forces, budgets and capabilities began, and with good reason. The Cold War ended, our circumstance changed, the nature of the threats in the world were somewhat different, and the process began. The problem is, it overshot. It went too far. And there was a procurement holiday that was way too long. The funds for infrastructure, for hangars and housing for the men and women in the armed services, and roads and sewers and all the things that you have to have, they were underfunded, and they were underfunded not a little bit, but a lot. And it wasn't for a year or two, but many years.
And as a result, instead of having infrastructure recycled and refurbished on a regular basis of something like 40 years, 40, 50 years, which is normal in the private sector, it's up at 190 years. And that's unacceptable. So there's an awful lot that needed to be done.
And the short answer to your question is you bet, there are important needs that need to be met. And the pay needed to be increased for the men and women in the armed services. We needed to begin moving out some of the older pieces of equipment that are -- aircraft and various things that require so much upkeep and maintenance and so much on spare parts, that it is unwise to continue to try to maintain them. And the reason they were doing that is because people weren't buying new weapons to replace them. So you end up trying to take a 1934 Oldsmobile and prop it up for another five, six years, and there's a point beyond which that doesn't make good sense. We don't get rewards for having antiques in the military.
Q: Most of this is not for new weapons, though. Isn't a lot of this -- most of this for personnel and health care and operations and maintenance?
Rumsfeld: Well, that's another point. The health care bill was passed without any funding for it, and it added billions and billions of dollars life-time health care for the men and women who retire from the armed services.
The other thing is research and development. We have been systematically increasing R&D.
Now, I'm not going to preview the president's budget -- or correction; I just did. (laughter) I should not have previewed the president's budget. He releases that in February, and he'll do it. It's his budget and he has every right to do that. So let's pretend that was all off the record! (laughter)
Q: Two questions. One real quick. The attorney for John Walker Lindh claims that his client received no medical attention during the period he was held at Camp Rhino, and didn't receive necessary treatment till he was transferred to the Peleliu. Is that true or fair? Or is there more to that story?
Rumsfeld: I don't know his attorney and I don't know what he said, so I don't want to comment on what he said.
Q: Did Walker get necessary medical treatment while he was at Camp Rhino?
Rumsfeld: I am -- my recollection is that I was told that he did. And I have no knowledge that would suggest that within the constraints of where he was -- he was in, as I recall, the Mazar-e Sharif prison during the uprising, and at some point he was moved to Kandahar, I think is correct, and then at some point -- or Bagram, and then, eventually to the ship.[From Mazar-e Sharif, he was moved first to Camp Rhino and then to USS Peleliu.]
There is no question but that he received medical attention along the way. How much -- what the lawyer is talking about, I just am not in a position to know. And I'm sure all of those things will be fully aired with the criminal prosecution that's now underway, and I don't intend to get into it, and I haven't done the research on it.
Q: And my other question is about the larger question of U.S. basing around Afghanistan. Could you share with us a little bit of the thinking about these deployments in countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where we're putting bases? How long do you expect those deployments to be? How big? And do they have any purpose other than the immediate battle against terrorism in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: That is a subject that we're looking at; we're considering. The countries on the periphery of Afghanistan have been just terrific. They have -- in many respects, some of them have stepped forward and cooperated with air rights, they've cooperated in many other ways. We do have some basing in the region. What the needs will be as we go forward remain to be seen, and we'll be thinking those things through as we go through the coming months.
Q: Are you concerned that any long-term presence there might become a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment in the region, if you were to stay -- overstay your welcome?
Rumsfeld: Look, a lot of these countries are NATO Partnership for Peace countries. They're countries we have relationships with, they're countries we had relationships with before the war in Afghanistan. It is not as though suddenly everything's changed. We've been working with a number of those countries fairly consistently, and very likely will in the future.
Q: Three quick things to --
Q: They're short. Jamie asked like 10, and they were essay questions. (laughter)
The ankle injury of the Special Forces soldier, was that shrapnel or gunshot wound, or did he like twist it? The compound that you raided, was an above-ground structure, a cave complex? And could you explain the significance of the three red areas on the map? Are they unable to be reached because of geography? Is there fighting up there? Is there some political problem with local tribes?
Rumsfeld: We'll start in reverse order.
Q: All right.
Rumsfeld: They are simply areas that were somewhat remote and inaccessible. And as people work through the red areas providing food, and the beige areas, you have to start someplace and you must end someplace, and this clearly is the end.
Q: So it's geography, basically?
Rumsfeld: That I don't know. It may have been just decision-making. Someone might have said, "I've got all these things to do. I'm going to start here and work my way that way."
Rumsfeld: Now --
Q: The ankle injury, the Special Forces?
Myers: It was briefed to us as a result of enemy fire.
Now whether it was a ricochet or shrapnel, I can't tell you that. But it was enemy fire. It was more than sprain.
Q: And describe the complex, please.
Myers: Mainly an above-ground complex. But like all those complexes, there's lot of other pieces and parts to it.
Rumsfeld: What do you say we not consider that a precedent -- that everyone does three in a row? It that fair enough? (cross talk, light laughter)
Be back in a minute.
Q: You mentioned that it's hard to consider terrorists military. That's a theme that you've mentioned several times. In view of --
Rumsfeld: It's also a fact.
Q: Right. Right. I'm not questioning you.
Q: In view of that, what do you see as the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to this conflict? Are they still relevant? And if they -- if you see them as relevant, do you anticipate taking any steps in Guantanamo to bring the situation there more explicitly into line with international law -- for example, allowing the establishment of a tribunal to clarify the legal status of the combatants, for example?
Rumsfeld: The issue you've raised is one that I have addressed at great length here the other day. It is something that the lawyers are addressing. I think it is important to remind all of ourselves that the Geneva Convention had a very good purpose, and it was in part to distinguish between people who behave like soldiers, dress like soldiers, carried their weapons like soldiers, were part of a military operation, as opposed to people who did not and looked like civilians, and therefore put in jeopardy other civilians. And they said, "Let's give a higher standing."
Now that is the thing that is being considered, and there will be a decision, and everyone will know what it is. And it is at a level of legal complexity that has implications well beyond this. And it will not take much longer. And it is not critical -- it is interesting, from a legal standpoint, it is not critical or even relevant to their treatment, because they are being treated in a manner that's consistent with the Geneva Convention, and in a humane way. And that is a fact.
So when this legal decision gets made, it will be made. It will be announced. It will be publicized. And it seems to me that that's all I can say in answer to the question.
Q: What -- (off mike) -- are you talking about?
Rumsfeld: The question as the -- the thing that will be ultimately answered, one would think, would be the issue as to -- that we've been discussing with respect to lawful combatants, as opposed to unlawful combatants; that is to say, people who clearly fit within the Geneva Convention because they behaved in a manner that the participants in the Geneva Convention felt ought to be rewarded with a certain level of treatment, as opposed to people who systematically did not behave in that way and therefore ought not to be rewarded with that same level of handling.
That's the critical thing, I think, in the Geneva Convention.
QGeneral Myers --
QEarlier today, John Walker's legal team said that in fact Walker asked for an attorney just a couple days after he went -- he was under U.S. control, December 2nd. To the best of your knowledge, do you know if that's true, if that's false? Are you in a position to discuss that?
Rumsfeld: I'm not in a position to discuss it, and I could not knowledgeably even if I were in a position to discuss it. I just don't know.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on Iraq, and maybe, General Myers, if you can clarify, it seems like about every other week or so, Iraqi surface-to-air missile sites or radar tries to paint coalition aircraft and it provokes a response. Was that sort of what led to the airstrikes this week, or was this more of a -- have you seen a departure from that, or any indication that Iraq is trying to reconstitute some of their SAM sites?
Myers: I think what we see is actually what they've been doing over some period of time, and that is that aircraft that patrol both in the north and the south supporting U.N. resolutions are fired upon by Iraqi air defenses. And sometimes it's triple-A and sometimes it's missiles. And all I was saying is that while at the same time we're looking at Afghanistan, that in the last three days we've reacted, as we will -- any time we can ascertain where it's coming from, we'll react to those threats to our patrolling aircraft.
Rumsfeld: We'll take two more questions. Right here, and then there.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the budget that was outlined yesterday includes a $10 billion war contingency fund. Obviously, contingency just means it's a possibility. But that appears to have spending at about the same pace as has been going on throughout the war, about a billion dollars a month, a little less. Can you talk to us about your expectations there? Is that a likelihood or is that merely a more distant contingency. You've talked about a long war to come.
Rumsfeld: Well, I think the issue that was faced by the president was that we are engaged in a conflict, it is clearly far from over, and it is -- it doesn't lend itself to precise calibration as to exactly what it will cost and how it might be conducted and how long it might take. These are the kinds of questions when you're in this sort of a situation that are difficult to respond to. So what the president properly did was, he said, look, we know it's not nothing and we know it is something, and we know it is not knowable at the moment; therefore, let's put that in there so that there could be some appropriate planning -- replenishments of various types of munitions, for example; expectations with respect to flight hours; expectations with respect to the movement of ships; replacements of Predators that are shot down; a series of calculations that are perfectly reasonable.
And it is that that was done in terms of the top line and the contingency.
Q: And if I could follow up, just would that mean you're not going to be seeking additional funds for 2002?
Rumsfeld: No. It doesn't mean anything other than what I just said. As events unfold and as circumstances evolve --
As you know, we're still being asked to do a whole series of things with respect to homeland security. And that all costs money. Now there are proposals around with respect to border activity and the like. So it -- until one looks at all of those requirements that are imposed -- we don't know, for example, how long these combat air patrols, which cost a lot of money in terms of -- all the aircraft that are flying around, all the strip alert activity, all the AWACS that are up there, these things all have costs. And until we get further along and continue to be able to evaluate threats and intelligence information, get a better grip on that, it's very difficult to know how those things can be adjusted.
Q: General Myers, this relates specifically to your trip, but if you, Mr. Secretary, have a broader comment I'd be grateful. During the trip did any of the three countries, the officials ask you when you thought the U.S. might slow down its operation in Afghanistan? In other words, is there any sense from the allies that maybe it's time for you to wrap up and go home?
Myers: We talked about many aspects of the war in Afghanistan. And, in fact, they didn't ask that question. I think the allies that I talked to understand that we've got to be patient, this is going to take some time. They know Afghanistan is a very dangerous place. We did talk about some of the things that the secretary talked about today in terms of humanitarian relief, what follows next in terms of medical care, a stabilization security force that follows the British force in there, we talked about all those things. But I think all our partners for the most part in the region understand this is going to -- it will be over when we achieve our objectives, which we've gone through many times right here in front of you.
Rumsfeld: Let me add some things to that. It's an important question and, needless to say, all of the elements of it have not been resolved. But we do know that there are still a number, a non-trivial number of pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban. They're there. And we keep finding them, and we intend to keep doing that. That takes presence. You can't do that from Chicago. We have to be in there, and we have to be present, and we have to be ready to do that.
Second, we know we have not satisfied ourselves with respect to the rounding up of the requisite number of senior Taliban and al Qaeda leadership that we feel we want to continue to put pressure on and capture if we can to keep them from conducting additional terrorist acts, on the one hand, and to keep them from turning Afghanistan back into a haven for terrorists.
Third, you have an interim government. Now here you have a country that's just been damaged terribly. In area after area, it's rubble and has a food problem and has a clothing problem. And it's winter. And their schools have been destroyed. Their infrastructure -- governmental infrastructure has been destroyed. Expecting an interim government to go through a -- whatever it is -- let's assume it's going to be the requisite six-month period -- and then successfully transition to a permanent government -- in that kind of an environment, expecting that to happen smoothly, I think, is unrealistic.
And I think that we do feel -- certainly the president of the United States feels and the members of his government feel -- that we want to do what is appropriate for us to do to help them to get through what is clearly a difficult period -- a hard period. And so that is why that we were one of the co-hosts of the conference in Tokyo. That is why the -- Zalmay Khalizad is serving as a special envoy. That's why we have the beginnings of an embassy. That's why we have military presence there to work with these folks.
They're trying to figure out how -- what do they do about their military? They have all of these separate militaries. Now how's that going to fit with a new government? What gets done about that? And Fahim Khan, the interim defense minister, is thinking about that and worrying that through with Mr. Karzai. The fact remains that this government ends at a certain point in the immediate future -- three or four months, five months -- whatever it is. And the new government comes in and what their views will be and will they do it the same way the interim government did, and how that's going to work out -- these are open questions.
So the coalition forces are doing things like I talked about. They're helping with hospitals. They're helping with medical assistance. They're helping with food and blankets and what have you. They're also working with the interim government to try to be helpful to them to provide -- contribute to a security environment that enables decisions that -- of the kind of I just characterized to be made in a non-hostile environment. The International Security Assistance Force is in Kabul. It is a big country beyond Kabul. And we do have presence in Mazar. We do have presence in Kandahar. And we do have other places where we are visible and contributing to the security environment.
Now -- you know, how long it will be, I just don't know. You can be sure we're not going to stay there a second longer than we have to, but we also feel an obligation to be a responsible nation and participate in this process and help them navigate through what has to be an enormously difficult thing to do.
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