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DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 15, 2003 11:30 AM EDT

(DoD News Briefing. Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Rumsfeld: My goodness. Good morning. I first want to express my sympathy to those U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq who have been wounded in recent days, and to the families of those who have been killed. Our prayers are with them all. I also want to express my sympathies to the families of those that were killed in the terrorist bombings in Riyadh. We're told that possibly seven Americans were killed along with the citizens of several other nations. And we deeply regret the loss of those innocent lives.

While the terrorists are still being hunted, this much is clear. As Vice President Cheney put it earlier this week, there really is no treaty, there's no policy of containment or deterrence that works to deal with the problem of terrorism. The only way to deal with the terrorists is to find them and stop them before they launch more attacks.

With the discovery this week of mass graves in Iraq we have seen still more evidence of the brutality of that regime. The discovery was still another chilling reminder of why so many nations came together to remove Saddam Hussein from power. One looking at that mass grave and the photographs of it cannot help but feel that it's a good thing that a regime with such disregard for innocent human life is gone and will not possess the tools of mass murder.

The liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq were accomplished by large coalitions of nations. And today many nations, those and others, are stepping forward to help the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to rebuild from the rubble of tyranny. There are now 34 coalition partners in Afghanistan helping Afghans build a more stable, secure and free society. The liberation of Iraq was conducted with the support of 65 countries, including some 40,000 troops, 190 aircraft, 58 ships contributed by various coalition partners. Today the coalition continues to grow as nations across the globe come together to help the Iraqis build peace.

Each day I look at a map that gives us the conditions, estimates of conditions in some 27 major cities. It tracks food, water, power, security and various public services. A few areas have challenges, to be sure. But most areas are progressing, and a growing number actually have conditions that are today estimated to be better than prior to the recent war.

Security remains the number one priority in Iraq. The combatant commander will be increasing the number of military police in Baghdad in the days immediately ahead. To strengthen the coalition presence, the commander is bringing elements of the 1st Armored Division into Iraq, as has been planned, I think since last year. These forces were in the queue to flow in at this time. It is not some sudden new decision, as some have suggested.

There are now about 7,000 Iraqi policemen back at work in Baghdad, I'm told. And that number should also increase in the days ahead.

At the moment, 24 coalition countries are providing military support in Iraq. Some are doing it publicly, others are doing it privately. Thirty-eight nations have made offers of financial assistance totalling more than $1.8 billion, and humanitarian assistance continues to flow into the country. Now, let me offer a few examples.

The Czech Republic has deployed a field hospital to Basra and sent aid convoys with medicine, drinking water, tents and blankets.

Greece has contributed some 20 tons of food and clothing.

Lithuania has sent orthopedic surgery specialists to Um-Qasr.

Spain has a 150-person health team in Iraq and is working to repair electrical and water systems in the country as well.

And many more contributions could be mentioned and will likely be mentioned in the days ahead. But to see how much the world has changed, consider that in just 20 months Afghanistan went from an ally of al Qaeda in its war on the free world to becoming a member of the coalition of free nations in the effort to liberate and assist Iraq.

General Myers.

Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I join the secretary in extending my condolences to the families of those killed or wounded in operations and hostilities in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and also to those killed in the terrorist bombings in Riyadh Monday. In Riyadh, these brutal murders of innocent civilians remind us that the world is still a dangerous place, and we must not and we will not relent in our determination to defeat terrorism and achieve stability.

In Iraq today, 4th Infantry Division forces raided a regime safe house south of Tikrit, where it has detained several dozen people.

Also in the Middle East, the Combined Task Force Commander for Horn of Africa, Major John F. Sattler, will turn over command to Brigadier General Robeson, United States Marine Corps, on the 24th of May.

And finally, I just returned from a trip to the Middle East to visit U.S. troops in Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq, and then stopped in Brussels for a NATO Military Committee meeting on the way back. As I noted in Brussels on Tuesday, although major combat operations have ceased in Iraq, it's still a very dangerous place where considerable difficult work remains to be done. And we're about that work now.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Rumsfeld: Charlie?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that the only way to deal with terrorists is to find them and stop them before more attacks can be made. The White House and the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia suggested perhaps the Saudis didn't do enough in advance of the Monday attack. You announced recently in a visit to Riyadh that the United States was sharply cutting its military presence there, due in large part there no longer was a need for Southern Watch, but that you-all that would keep a fairly small number there for training the Iraqi military and would continue joint exercises. Following these attacks, is there any consideration to perhaps further cutting back the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia?

Rumsfeld: No. First of all, I think what I said was that the reason we can draw our forces down except for the Office of Military Affairs and forces that are involved in training or exercises was not simply because Operation Southern Watch is closed down, but also because Saddam Hussein and his regime are gone. But there's nothing that's changed our plans. We do plan to draw down almost all of those forces and maintain a relationship in training and exercises and in Office of Military Affairs.

Q: Are you concerned, either of you, concerned that perhaps the U.S. forces that remain there might be in some danger because of this perception that perhaps the Saudis aren't doing enough to prevent this?

Rumsfeld: Look. Force protection levels change in country to country all over the world all the time. U.S. forces are in danger from terrorists just as people in the United States are in danger from terrorists from time to time. So, no. The answer is no. We're comfortable that the combatant commander in the region will provide appropriate force protection for forces in that country and other countries -- there's no difference -- and life goes on.

Mm-hmm, yes?

Q: Given the attacks in Saudi Arabia, you haven't really talked about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in some time. When you look at these attacks, what's your assessment -- al Qaeda stronger or weaker?; bin Laden still calling the shots? Was this a new cell that emerged? What's your assessment on this whole thing?

Rumsfeld: I don't think I'm going to get into it. I read the intelligence, and I don't make those assessments; the intelligence community makes those assessments. They communicate them to the senior levels of the government, and it's really not for me to do that; that's what they do. And I think I'll leave it to them.

Q: If I could just press you on one single point, though, you -- in the past, you do have a long record of saying something about bin Laden one way or the other on various days. Do you still have any view yourself as to whether or not you think he's alive? I mean --

Rumsfeld: I do. I think he's alive or dead -- (Laughter.) -- and I just don't know. I mean, what can I say? I can just say the same thing over and over again. He's either alive -- he's alive and injured badly -- or he's dead. And he's -- who knows? He -- if he is alive and functioning and playing a role, which I don't know -- (Chuckling.) -- it is a much more difficult role than it had been previously. It's more difficult in terms of raising money; it's more difficult in terms of moving people and things and weapons and money; it's more difficult to recruit; it's more difficult to retain. And that's a good thing. The pressure that dozens and dozens and dozens of countries across the globe are putting on that terrorist network is having a good effect. We've always said that it doesn't mean that there will not be terrorist attacks; we knew that and we've said that repeatedly from this podium. And I suspect there will be more. But it's tougher for them, and we intend to make it still tougher.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday that you have a plan and you're going to use muscle to restore security to Iraq. Can you be a little more definitive for us? And as part of that muscle, is it shooting looters on site?

Rumsfeld: No. I think everyone who's been asked that question -- I don't know; someone in the press wrote that, and it came out of somewhere in Iraq, and it was knocked down by everybody who's been asked it in Iraq as having never been said or never been the policy. We have rules of engagements; have had; do today. They've not been changed. They permit, obviously, what -- the use of whatever force is necessary for self-defense or for other selected purposes. But that was hyperbole.

Q: What kind of muscle? That connotes something more than you're using now.

Rumsfeld: I mentioned it in my remarks. The combatant commander -- it's not -- those decisions aren't made here. Those decisions are made there, and the combatant commander has a flow of forces that have been put in train since last year. They're continuing to flow in the country. The forces that have been redeployed out of the theater have been, I believe, almost entirely air and sea forces.

Myers: That's correct. That's correct except for there were a couple of Marine units, I think the 25th MEU and the 24th, I believe.

Rumsfeld: But for the most part, the ground forces are remaining there, and judgments as to how many more will be permitted to flow in and what forces may or may not be allowed to flow out would be recommendations from the combatant commander, which Dick and I would then consider at some point. But at the moment, the intention on the part of the commanders there is to provide security in that country as best as is possible and create a presence, a physical presence in places so that people recognize that there are individuals in the coalition who are determined to see that the environment becomes permissive for the people of Iraq.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday, the South Koreans and our president issued a joint statement saying 'we will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea'. That is such a strong and definitive statement. Can you help us to understand what that means? Does that mean the U.S. is prepared to take military steps to deal with this? Or does this mean we will continue indefinitely consultations, diplomacy?

Rumsfeld: Well, I must confess, I was -- saw early drafts of that statement, but I did not see the final statement. I was in the meeting that the president had with the president of the Republic of Korea, and also in a separate meeting with him. It's not for me to interpret statements by two presidents. I'll -- they obviously -- if that's what they issued, they obviously know what is meant, and I suspect they mean what they said.

Yeah, Bill.

Q: Mr. Secretary? Mr. Secretary, the French government is accusing the United States of a disinformation campaign about France's support for Saddam Hussein's regime. I know you addressed this Friday, but I wondered if you could address that particular charge.

Rumsfeld: I know nothing of such a campaign.

Q: You're -- (Off mike.).

Q: Mr. Secretary, has there been -- following up on that question, has there been any --

Rumsfeld: Certainly there's no such campaign out of this building. I can't speak for the rest of the government. But I have heard of nothing like that.

Q: Has there been any change in the military-to-military relationship with France as a result of the position it took prior to the war in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: There's so many linkages and connections between the United States and NATO allies that I wouldn't want to say yes or no. It may very well be that things are -- I just can't answer the question, because people make judgments at a whole host of levels. And what we've been trying to do in our security cooperation engagement relationships that involve the combatant commanders -- it involves the services, it involves the people in the Office of Secretary of Defense -- is to work closely with those countries that want to work closely with us. And that logically leads you to countries that are of a certain relationship with us. So they would more likely be countries that we would make port visits to. They would more likely be countries that we would invite to exercises or things like that. But these things are scheduled so far in advance I suspect that there's just as whole series of things taking place with all kinds of countries. But --

Q: But at your level has there -- you know, have you taken any decision, or are you inclined to scale back that, you know, military --

Rumsfeld: The only thing I can remember at the top of my -- off the top of my head was I -- there was some discussion about the Paris Air Show that's come up. And I don't know precisely -- but it's not as though people won't be going from the United States. It may be at a certain level. But -- no, I mean, it --

The United States is really about wanting to work closely with other countries. We do that. It's terribly important from a military-to-military standpoint. And -- but you -- to the extent you have so many open slots for an exercise, or for a -- oh, I'm trying to think what -- some activity, you would tend to look at countries that have been -- in fact, for example, helpful in Iraq or helpful in Afghanistan. And I suspect that you're going to see that as a pattern because those are the people you're working with. But it's not a matter that you're anti something, it's that you're -- you want to look forward and be engaged with people that you're likely to be doing things with.

Q: It shouldn't be seen as a signal of displeasure or --

Rumsfeld: Oh, gosh. You know, I guess it's a reality, is all, is the way I would characterize it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, North Korea. I want to go back to McWethy's question.

Q: General Myers?

Rumsfeld: Go to General Myers.

Myers: (Chuckles.)

Rumsfeld: I'm going to have a drink of water.

Q: General Myers, you briefly mentioned that 4th ID raid. Can you talk about -- well, possibly provide more details; why it was initiated, was it successful, did you get anybody? Anything more on that raid?

Myers: We're trying to find out the details right now. What I gave you were first reports. I think some of the early reports said there were maybe a couple hundred people that were detained. We think it's maybe several dozen, we don't know for sure. It's possible they got one of the people on the black or the gray list; we don't know yet, but we're trying to run that down. So, to be determined.

And I'm sure they were -- not sure -- most probably they were tipped off by some sort of intelligence that this is where they ought to go look. And that's -- you know, that's happening all over Iraq. One of the things that we've said, and I think is coming true, is that a lot of our intelligence is from Iraqis who inform us -- it was true during the major combat operations as well -- you know: That's where the Ba'athists are holed up, that's where the paramilitary are congregated. And it allowed us to take action against them. And my assumption would be this would be right along that line.

Q: Mr. Secretary, today an Iranian opposition group is out with some details about what they believe to be Iran's weapons of mass destruction program. What's your assessment of the status of that program, not only the nuclear, but perhaps biological and chemical weapons in Iran?

Rumsfeld: Who came out with a report?

Q: There is an opposition -- an Iranian opposition group today.

Rumsfeld: I haven't seen it.

Q: They say that Iran has weaponized anthrax.

Rumsfeld: I haven't seen the report. I think that it's -- it's widely accepted that Iran has been -- has had a program in the nuclear area that has been proceeding over a period of years.

Q: And biological or chemical, do you know?

Rumsfeld: I'd have to go back and refresh myself on the latest assessments on that. I just don't have it at the tip of my tongue.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on North Korea, can I ask a follow-up? President Roh also suggested at the White House that this might not be the best time to start reducing U.S. troop levels over there, as he suggested last year when he signed a declaration on coming into office. You've also suggested maybe it's time to relook at the 37,000 U.S. troop level over there. In light of the threat North Korea poses with its nuclear capability, what's your view on whether U.S. force levels should remain at that level, at the current level for the foreseeable future?

Rumsfeld: I think it's a mistake to look at it that way, the way you've characterized it, the way your question characterizes it. As I say, I was in the meeting with both presidents and then I left when they went outside and made a statement and may have said something. I just am not knowledgeable of what they said and I'm not going to comment on what they said.

Our position has been that the existence of nuclear weapons in North Korea is, at the minimum, probable. They have been assessed to have a small number. It has also been assessed that in the event they reprocess, they could have a handful more in a relatively short period of time; not weapons, but the materials for weapons.

That fact, to me, does not make a notable difference in the -- it's a bad thing. It's unfortunate that that's the case. We wish it weren't the case if, in fact, it is the case. And the president and Secretary Powell have worked very hard and continue to work very hard, with Japan and South Korea and with the People's Republic of China, to try to follow a diplomatic path to find a way that the peninsula, the Korean peninsula be nuclear-weapon free.

I personally -- and Dick, you might want to comment on this -- in trying to think about it, I don't think that that issue necessarily affects the kinds of things we've been discussing with South Korea about how our forces are organized, how they're arranged there. And it seems to me that so many things have changed in the world since those forces were put there. They're now spread out over dozens and dozens of locations in the country, which is not efficient. It's not helpful from a force protection standpoint. It tends to be somewhat intrusive in terms of the people who live there.

And General LaPorte was asked, when he took that post, by me, just as I was asked by the president when he was elected, to look at our arrangements around the world and see if we can't modernize them, see if we can't arrange them so that they fit the 21st century, instead of the end of a conflict 50 years ago, in that case, or in Europe. So, we're looking all over the globe.

And General LaPorte has had good discussions with the Republic of Korea's civilian and military leadership. We certainly consider them a very close ally. We certainly would do whatever makes sense in very close consultation with them. But if you think of the changes in warfare -- just most recently, Iraq and Afghanistan -- it's rather clear that there are enhancements that can be made to that force, and capabilities that can be arranged that would considerably strengthen the deterrent, even though it might change how forces were arranged and what kinds of forces were there. So --

Q: (Off mike.) -- forces?

Rumsfeld: It -- the ultimate test is how capable, how lethal, how effective is what you have? And it does not necessarily, as we learned in Iraq, go to the total number of forces. I'm not going to get into what we might or might not do with the Korean government, other than to say whatever we do, we do in very close consultation with them.

Q: General Myers, are there lessons from the Iraq war that kind of -- are starting to shape the way you're viewing U.S. force structure and --

Myers: I'm sure there will be. And it's probably too early to tell.

But let me -- there are three points of what the secretary said I think are really important.

One is any changes on the peninsula are being worked very closely between the two militaries, between the two governments. So, there's no surprises here.

Two, no change will make the capability on the peninsula in South Korea less than it is today; it will only improve it -- only improve it. And as the secretary said, that does not necessarily mean more people. It's just capabilities we're talking about, so we're talking about technology, as well, and how we might be organized.

And the third thing I'd say is that this is not going to happen next week. Anything that happens happens over time, so we're taking a long view, not a short view. And therefore, you can't connect it with what's going on in the north or south. I mean, it's -- the security of the peninsula and of our ally in South Korea is paramount, and it obviously won't be compromised.

Q: Mr. Secretary, going back to Riyadh for just a moment, as you have stressed when you are there, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia continue to have close military ties. But I'm wondering, is there any concern about Saudi Arabia's military failing to protect the compound? And also, since most of the terrorists are known to have come from Saudi Arabia, any concerns about Saudi Arabia cracking down on terrorists?

Rumsfeld: The -- I'm not intimately knowledgeable about who protected what or whatever. I'm aware of the general intelligence that led to the visit. I'm aware of what was communicated. But what took place on the ground, I think we'll let the embassy discuss and describe, not me.

There -- we're finding terrorists from all over the world, from almost every country you can name. And there's no question but that the Saudi government can play an important role in working with the United States and with other countries in attempting to bring all elements of national power to bear to reduce the threats of terrorism, whether it's the money piece or the transportation piece or the movement of people piece. And they have had a helpful and cooperative role in this global war on terrorism.

Q: Mr. Secretary, back --

Q: Getting --

Q: Mr. Secretary, back in 1994, the U.S. drew up options for an airstrike to take out the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Rumsfeld: I recall.

Q: Have you, as a matter of prudent military planning, updated those plans to give the president the full range of options as he decides how to deal with North Korea?

Rumsfeld: We do not discuss war plans or contingency plans or options or excursions.

Q: Could I just ask you then about another sort of historical note? Back in 1996, the attack on the Khobar Towers. At the time, many officials here in the building indicated they suspected Iran might be behind that attack. With the benefit of the intelligence and hindsight now, have you come to the conclusion that that was in fact an al Qaeda attack in 1996?

Rumsfeld: I would have to go back and refresh myself, but -- you -- do you have anything to say on this?

Myers: No, I don't. Nothing that would -- (Inaudible.)

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: I thought the Justice Department --

Myers: In fact implicated Iran. There were several --

Rumsfeld: I thought they implicated or at least referenced Iran in an indictment that it -- maybe I shouldn't use the word indictment -- in an announcement they made, which may or may not have been an indictment, this is a couple of years ago, three years ago, I think.

Q: Yeah, I was wondering if your thinking the -- (Inaudible.)

Rumsfeld: And in the process of specifying some people in another country, which I can't recall which it was, they referenced -- it was -- they referenced Iran. But someone would have to go back and look at the history of that. I'm not an expert on that.

Q: But, Mr. Secretary, given the attacks in Riyadh this week, how would you assess the U.S. efforts to find the terrorists and stop them?

Rumsfeld: I would say that if you go back to September 11th and think of what's taken place in the intervening period, there have been notable, significant accomplishments. There have been the denial of Afghanistan as a haven for the al Qaeda and training camps for terrorists that were then spread around the world. More recently, Iraq is no longer a haven for the terrorists that were operating in -- some in Baghdad, and some in the northeastern portion. Third, I haven't looked at a number in several months, but something in excess of 2,000 people have been arrested who have terrorist linkages and relationships across the globe.

(To General Myers.) Do you know a better number than that?

Myers: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: That's -- that's the last I heard.

Myers: It might be higher than that, but I don't -- don't want to --

Rumsfeld: I wouldn't doubt for a second but that it is higher.

Countries that have served as havens in some instances have become more careful. Let me put it that way. They have -- they have not necessarily stopped doing everything, but they have modified their behavior. And --

Now, is the problem over? No. Has everything been accomplished that one would want? No. But is it harder to raise money? You bet it is. Is it harder to get from one country to another? Yes, it is. There are an awful lot of countries that are -- have watch lists, where they're looking for people. So it's much more difficult for them to function. I would say that the progress has been quite good. And -- but that it is a difficult problem, it's an unconventional problem, it's a problem that is not symmetrical with the way the capabilities of the world have previously been arranged. And it's something we have to continue to evolve and adapt our forces to deal with. And it's particularly important that we share intelligence and have close, cooperative relationships with other countries.

Myers: Can I add, it's also much more difficult for the al Qaeda organization to communicate with one another. I mean, that's -- it's been severely restricted. Their freedom of movement of their leadership is also very restricted. And as the secretary said, the money flow has been severely curtailed. That does not mean that there are not going to be attacks in the future. And the effort continues -- has continued, and will continue to put the pressure on them.

I think one thing that the bombings in Riyadh remind us of is that one thing that has not changed is the intentions of this terrorist group. I mean, they went into that compound at 11:00 p.m. at night. Why 11:00 p.m.? Because that's when they hoped to have maximum occupancy. And these were compounds that had women and children present as well. So one thing is, their motives have not changed. And we'll continue to deal with them.

Rumsfeld: Well take a last question here.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on the Riyadh attacks, is there -- are you giving any thought to the possibility of a U.S. military role for improving security at compounds where there are civilians, American, foreign civilians?

Rumsfeld: The force protection issue is one that is looked at by the combatant commanders. The civilian issue is one that the Department of State addresses. And I've not seen anything in the last 48 hours, since the attack, on that subject, other than an announcement by the Department of State, I believe, that they were changing their guidance to families and civilians, if I'm not mistaken.

Q: Is Saudi Arabia still a friend of the United States?

Rumsfeld: The United States has had a relationship with Saudi Arabia for decades. We do today. They have been very helpful in many respects. We've been helpful to them. It's -- I think the answer to that question is self-evident. We have diplomatic relationships, we have a military-to-military relationship, we have economic relationships.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is France still a friend of the U.S.? (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: Ally as well!

Q: Mr. Secretary, these 2,000 -- more than 2,000 people, which you said have been arrested, do they include the 600-plus that are being held in Guantanamo or --

Rumsfeld: No, no, no.

Q: -- this is aside -- this is aside from those?

Rumsfeld: No, no. These are different.

Q: And why can't the U.S. find Osama bin Laden? (Laughter.)

Rumsfeld: Yeah, that's a good question.

Q: No, seriously.

Myers: No, it is a serious question. And it goes back to the answer a little bit earlier and that the restricted freedom of movement of some of the senior al Qaeda leadership is one of the effects we've had. And, you know, communications, freedom of movement -- they are -- if they're -- our suspicions are they're living in areas where they can bribe the local -- the tribals that are inclined to support them and protect them, and they're in very difficult areas on this earth. And that doesn't mean we don't have people out this very minute looking for them, matter of fact.

Q: That suggests you think he's alive.

Myers: We look -- we're looking at every place. You know, we don't know if he's alive or he's dead. So -- but that doesn't mean you stop looking for the leadership. If we think there's leadership holed up somewhere, that's where we go.

Rumsfeld: I'd say two things in additional answer to your question -- Why haven't we found him?

One is, it's very hard to find a single individual in the world. It's a big place. And it isn't easy. And our government didn't get up one morning, 10, 15, 20 years ago and say, "Gee, let's organize, train and equip so we can do manhunts." We just haven't gotten -- we have not focused our capabilities in doing that until more recently.

The second thing I would say is that there are ungoverned areas in the world, as the general said, and that is a problem. That makes it easier for people who are trying to evade attention and capture to continue to function, because -- literally areas that no one is governing. And that makes it more difficult.

Third, there are still countries that are harboring terrorists. I mean, we know there are senior al Qaeda in Iran, for example, presumably not an ungoverned area.

So it's the combination of those things that make it difficult and challenging, but not impossible. And we've had a lot of good luck.

Myers: We've had good success. We've picked up a lot of senior al Qaeda leadership, U.S., our coalition partners in this fight. And let there be no doubt: I mean, we're continuing to move on that problem. There will be more of them rounded up. None of them should feel secure at all, no matter where they are.

Q: Thank you.

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