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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability at Honor Cordon

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 22, 2004 5:30 PM EDT
Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability at Honor Cordon

(Also participating Colombian President Alvaro Uribe)


SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  We had good discussions and had a chance to review the progress being made and I must say that I find the progress being made in Colombia to be impressive.  The leadership there is focused and determined and courageous and has my respect and admiration.


Q.  Mr. Secretary could you comment on the importance of increasing the number of military personnel in Colombia?


RUMSFELD:  Well that is a question being considered by the Colombian government and the United States government and the Department of State and the Congress.  There are a lot of people in discussions now and we’ll see what finally comes out.


URIBE:  And I want to thank Secretary Rumsfeld for your continuing help to Colombia.


Q. Mr. Secretary others in the administration spoke out today [inaudible] the very beginning this administration did not understand or fully address the threat from terrorism or al Qaida.  How would you answer that?


RUMSFELD:  Well I think that any number of people in the administration responded to that and have answered it.  Clearly having been the Middle East Envoy after the Marines were killed in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1980’s I’ve been interested in and concerned about and involved in one way or another in the problems of terrorism and you should remember that above all when we came into this Pentagon three years ago we began the process of helping the department move from being capable of dealing with just armies navies and air forces and focusing more on the asymmetrical threats including terrorism.  That has been a focus of ours from the outset. 


The work, as Condi Rice mentioned this morning, the NSC began the process of working through a plan to deal with al Qaida from the early days of the administration and so it seems to me…the comments that struck me as unusual are the ones about Iraq.  Because if you think about it, we were having our planes shot at on a regular basis in Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch.  We’re concerned about the fact that that was the one place on the face of the earth where a country, in this case Iraq, was firing on the aircrews of the United States and the United Kingdom that were enforcing UN resolutions.  So there’s no question that there was discussion about Iraq and it was in that context. 


Q. Mr. Clarke alleges that you were pushing to bomb Iraq immediately after 9/11 in response to that attack.


RUMSFELD:  I think you’re mistaken.  I can remember, in fact I said publicly in a press briefing, that – I think the way I put it was – someone asked about targets in Afghanistan and I said: “we’re not running out of targets, Afghanistan is.”  I think I said something to that effect.


The problem was that if you think about Afghanistan is that it had years of being damaged through civil war, through occupation by the Soviet Union, through drought and there were relatively few terrorist targets that one could go after from the air.  That’s why we immediately began the pressure to put forces on the ground and I can certainly remember saying that Afghanistan did not have many targets because at some point when you dealt with the terrorist training camps you begin to just go back at them and bounce in the rubble and that doesn’t accomplish much in fact the cross benefit of that is notably adverse to the United States.


RUMSFELD:  I’m a little cold.  I’ll take one last question.


Q [Inaudible] Mr. Secretary others in the Administration have spoken out today -- [blank spot] -- from the very beginning this Administration did not understand or fully address the question of terrorism and al Qaida. How would you answer that?


RUMSFELD:  That’s just not true.  I mean the fact of the matter is the President decided to go into Afghanistan, we did.  It was an enormously successful activity it took a relatively short period of time.  The al Qaida training camps were destroyed, pressure was put on the al Qaida and the Taliban was thrown out of power and we now have a success story in Afghanistan with a new government, a new constitution and elections to be held later this year.  That’s obviously what took place.  I can’t speak for everyone in the building, it is true we were talking about the fact our planes were being shot at in Iraq but in terms of connecting it the way some seem to want to do it seems to me would be a misunderstanding of the situation.


RUMSFELD:  I said only one more.

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