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Regional Media Interviews with Gen. Pace

Presenters: Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
November 06, 2003

(Interview with Lisa Foronda, KHOU-TV, Houston.)

 

     Q:  General, thanks so much for joining us. 

 

     Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today said that 128,000 troops will be rotated into Iraq to relieve the troops who are there.  Now, many of those troops affected are going to be National Guardsmen and reservists.  How has this call possibly affected some of the recruitment here at home for reservists?

 

     Pace:  So far, recruiting has been very, very good for both reservists and National Guardsmen, but we need to be watchful of that.  We don't want to assume that just because right now the numbers are good that they'll stay that way.  We need to pay attention to a couple of things.

 

     We need to make sure that the guardsmen and the reservists' mission is a good one, and one that they can feel good about executing.  All the folks that I've talked to in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to a man and a woman – have, in fact, felt very good about the mission they're on.

 

     Number two, we need to make sure that we only call upon the Guard and Reserves when we need guardsmen and reserves and we don't have the capacity currently in the active force to do that.

 

     Number three, we need to make sure that we take care of their families and that we respect the absolute right for them to know when they're going to be called up, how long they're going to be on active duty, and when we're going to let them go back to their civilian jobs.

 

     So, I think as long as we adhere to those principles, that we will continue to sustain good enlistments.

 

     Q:  General, we're also hearing today that it's likely that the number of U.S. troops will be reduced by next spring.  But looking at the situation now, it seems they are very stretched trying to patrol the borders and keeping watch over ammunition dumps.

 

     How can we be reducing the U.S. troops there when they already seem to have a great job on their hands with the number there now?

 

     Pace:  Actually, the total numbers of individuals providing security in Iraq has gone up.  We started out with about 160,000 U.S. troops and zero Iraqi troops and about 12,000 non-Iraqi coalition members back in May.  That number now is 130,000 –131,000 U.S. troops, about 24,000 non-Iraqi coalition, and we're over 100,000 -- almost 115,000 -- Iraqis right now performing duties as police, border guards and the like.  So, the total number of individuals helping to provide security throughout that country has gone up and will continue to go up.

 

     Q:  When you talk about that kind of force, you need funding behind it.  Today, President Bush just signed off on an $87 billion package to help fund the military troops there and the rebuilding efforts.

 

     What are some of the immediate needs that this funding will address right now?

 

     Pace:  Well, the Congress has allocated a tremendous amount of money to continue this global war on terrorism.  As you know, since 11 September 2001, we have been a nation at war and we are winning this war in Afghanistan.  We are winning this war in Iraq.  We are winning this war against the global networks and we will continue to do so, but it requires commitments of not only the individuals in uniform who are doing this, but our entire government and, indeed, our citizenry.  Our Congress has voted overwhelmingly that our citizens say that this is a fight that is a commitment to the nation.

 

     Q:  But it's becoming a more dangerous fight, which was evidenced this past weekend with the attack on the helicopter.  We're seeing more of these attacks.  They seem to be getting bolder.

 

     How are these increased attacks and the need to secure our soldiers affecting the mission over there of rebuilding Iraq?

 

     Pace:  We need to go about the mission in a couple of ways.  First of all is the one you allude to, which is the physical security of people on the ground.  There will be days when we are attacked and there will be days when we're attacking and there will be days like last week when we lost soldiers who, it's a true tragedy for the individual families, but we will continue to press this fight on the ground militarily with patrols and ambushes and snipers and all the conventional military operations that you're very familiar with.

 

     A major second piece of security, though, is actually providing for the transfer of governance to the Iraqi people so that they understand and see that we are not an occupying force.  We are there to turn over their country back to them with a constitution that they have written, with a form of government that they have selected, that will allow them to live free and be part of the community of nations.

 

     So, it's a combination of taking the fight to the enemy, which our military will continue to do, and the transfer of governance to the Iraqi people, which will dry up the environment from which these fighters are coming.

 

     Q:  And General Pace, this will be my last question.  That two-fold process you talked about -- security and helping the Iraqis becoming a self-governing country on their own -- it's a long-term process.  A lot of people here back home are worried about their troops over there, overseas.  What kind of messages of reassurance can you give them?

 

     Pace:  I would say, first of all, to the moms and dads and brother and sisters and husbands and wives of the forces over there, thank you for what you have done here at home to support your loved one overseas.  They should be extremely proud of what their sons and daughters are doing right now.  These troops are trained magnificently well.  They are part of a fighting force that is second to none anywhere in the world.

 

     I have a son in the Marine Corps and I am proud of the fact that if he is going to serve his nation in combat, that he is going to do so in a force that is as well trained as the force that we have here today.

 

     Q:  A military man and also a parent at the same time.

 

     Vice Chairman Chief of Staff, General Peter Pace, thanks for joining us.

 

     Pace:  That's very much, Lisa.

 

(Interview with Todd Wallace, KXAS-TV, Dallas.)

 

     Q:  As you just heard, after the cut in the number of troops, once again the Pentagon denying it's a decision to pull Americans from a danger zone in an election year.

 

     Still, instead, officials are suggesting it's part of a gradual handover of Iraq to Iraqis.  For more on these changes we're now joined live at the Pentagon by General Peter Pace, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

     General Pace, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

 

     Pace:  Good evening, Todd.  It's nice to speak with you.  Thank you.

 

     Q:  President Bush today signed an $87.5 billion package for Iraq and Afghanistan.  What will this money allow the United States to do?

 

     Pace:  It will allow us to continue to win the war on terrorism.  We're winning in Afghanistan, we're winning in Iraq.  And we are winning against the global network of terrorists, but it does take resources to do that.  The Congress of the United States voting for the people of the United States are telling the world that we are committed to doing this and we are going to stay the course.

 

     Q:  As to the cut in troops, the U.S. force would drop from about 130,000 or so, to around 100,000 by spring.  And some lawmakers have said that the cuts would leave American troops even more vulnerable.

 

     Can you explain the rationale behind this decision since more American lives have been lost in the past two weeks than at any time since the U.S. occupation began?

 

     Pace:  Sure.  I think if you go back to around the 1st of May, we had about 160,000 U.S. troops, zero Iraqi troops and about 12,000 coalition troops.

 

     Today, we've got about 130,000 U.S. troops, 24,000 coalition troops, and about 118,000 Iraqi individuals who are serving in the five forms of their security forces.   So, the overall number of individuals serving security duties in Iraq has increased significantly.

 

     Plus, most importantly, the commanders on the ground, General John Abizaid and Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez, have been told repeatedly by the President, by the Secretary of Defense, that whatever resources they need to get the job done will be provided to them.  These are the numbers that those commanders on the ground who are working this problem day to day say they need to get the job done.

 

     Q:  I think a lot of people listening may say, but, is this the right time, since the attacks seem to be increasing or at least the death toll seems to be increasing and the kind of attacks seem to be more sophisticated?  So, the timing is a little interesting to me. General Pace?

 

     Pace:  This is November.  The swap-out begins in January and goes until May and there are all kinds of off-ramps.  If the security situation changes, we can change the mix of forces on the ground.

 

     If, in fact, security continues to improve, then by May we'll be down to the numbers you talked about.  If we need to have additional forces either stay or go over, in addition to the ones going, that's exactly what will happen.

 

     Q:  General Pace, we're going to have to cut this interview a little short because we are having some technical problems.  But we do appreciate your taking the time to join us this afternoon.  I know that you have a very busy schedule. 

 

     Thank you once again, General Pace.

 

     Pace:  Thank you, Todd.

 

(Interview with Russ Spencer, WAGA-TV, Atlanta.)

 

     Q:  18,000 U.S. troops have been told that they will soon be sent to Iraq as part of a major troop rotation and 47,000 National Guard and Reserve forces will be activated as well.  Joining us now to talk about the short and long-term challenges in Iraq, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.  General, we appreciate your being with us.  Thank you very much.

 

     Pace:  Thank you, Russ.  It's good to be with you.

 

     Q:  As you know, there are lots of reservists here in north Georgia.  What do you say to them and their families who feel that reservists are being asked to carry too heavy a burden in this war?

 

     Pace:  First, I say thank you to the individuals that are going to be deploying and to their families for being willing to make this sacrifice.   We should take great pride and they should take great pride in the fact that we have soldier citizens like the National Guard and the Reserve who are willing to serve their country and they are serving their country extremely well.

 

     They are winning this war for us.  We have been at war since September 11, 2001.  We are winning in Afghanistan.  We are winning in Iraq.  We are winning against a global network of terrorists and it's going to take the commitment of this nation, and the patience and the will of this nation, to succeed in this, and we will.

 

     Q:  General, you said yesterday that U.S. forces in Iraq will be reduced from some 130,000 now to 100,000 by next May.  In Newsweek this week, Fariz Zacharia writes, "A drawdown of troops sends exactly the wrong message to the guerrillas.  In the words of one North Vietnamese general, 'We knew that if we waited, one day the Americans would have to go home.'"

 

     You served in Vietnam.  What do you think of the comparison, at least as far as that's concerned?

 

     Pace:  I did serve in Vietnam.  I was a rifle platoon leaders in Vietnam, and Iraq is nothing like Vietnam.

 

     Second, with regard to the numbers.  General John Abizaid and Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez, who are the ones who are responsible for conducting this campaign, have been told by the President and by the Secretary of Defense repeatedly that whatever resources they need to get this job done will be provided to them.  Their assessment is that these are the numbers of troops that they need.

 

     This is not something, though, that is not moveable.  We need to go back to May.  In May, we had about 160,000 U.S. troops on the ground, zero Iraqis fighting with us, and about 12,000 coalition forces.  Today, we've got about 131,000 U.S. forces on the ground, 24,000 coalition troops, and about 118,000 Iraqi coalition troops who are in their police and their border guards and the like.

 

     So, the total number of individuals committed to the security of Iraq has, in fact, increased.  The drawdown that we're talking about, or the replacement of forces which could ultimately result in a reduction, doesn't begin until January and then it goes on between January and May.

 

     So, any time during that time frame that the situation changes or that General Abizaid or General Sanchez believe they need more forces, they are either going to get to keep the ones that are there or we'll send them more.  But we will stay with this in the way that the combatant commanders in the field need to be supported.

 

     Q:  General, let me ask you about an issue of importance here in Atlanta.  A local man, a Lieutenant Colonel Allen B. West, has been charged with assault in connection with something that I know you're familiar with.  He intimidated, threatened with a gun, an Iraqi who was being interrogated about impending attacks on American soldiers.  The Iraqi was not injured but the lieutenant colonel has been charged.

 

     Can you tell us whether he will be court martialed?  And whether you think he should be court martialed?

 

     Pace:  I cannot tell you that.  That's under investigation.  It would be inappropriate for me to make any judgments on that.

 

     Q:  All right.

 

     You said that we're winning the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With specific regard to Iraq, twice as many U.S. soldiers were killed in October as compared to September.  It seems as though, at least from here looking at the reports, that it's getting more dangerous in the Sunni Triangle, not less.

 

     Pace:  There's no doubt at all that there have been spikes in violence, and on any battlefield there are going to be days and weeks that are less productive than you would like them to.  However, when you look at the broad expanse of, number one, security, which is a combination of not only the actions that are being taken by the military.  Yesterday alone, 1800 patrols, over 40 detainees, thousands of pounds of ammunition and caches of weapons that could be used against our troops, were found in one day alone.  So, the security situation that military operations are going well.

 

     The other part of security is getting the governance of Iraq turned over from the Coalition Provisional Authority as quickly as we can in a reasonable manner, speed, to the Iraqi people so that they have their own constitution written by them, they have their own form of government that they have decided on for themselves, and they've elected their own officials.

 

     So, we do have a two-pronged part of security, which we will continue to move forward on.  There will be battles in which we have individuals lost.  But we will stay with this.  We are winning.

 

     The electricity.  The power from various forms of fuel oils.  The export of fuel.  The water supply.  The health supply.  There are 97,000 Iraqi students who have applied to the university system.  That's more than they've ever had in recent times.  There are many, many ways you can measure progress in a country.

 

     This is not to make light of a single death to a U.S. or coalition soldier.  Each one of those is a tragedy.  But we are winning this war.

 

     Q:  All right.  General Peter Pace, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Sir, we appreciate it.  Thank you.

 

     Pace:  Thank you, Russ.

 

(Interview with Guy Gordon, WXYZ-TV, Detroit.)

 

     Q:  General Pace, we know it's been a difficult week for your people on the ground in Iraq, so we do appreciate you being with us this evening.  It's good to have you here.

 

     Pace:  It's good to be with you, Guy.  Thank you.

 

     Q:  We know that you've got a major rotation coming up.  You're going to be deploying some new units and the National Guard will be involved.  How many units from Michigan will be deployed?  Do we know yet?

 

     Pace:  Guy, we do know, but if I could ask you to understand that what we want to have happen here is the individual unit commanders have the opportunity to be notified.  That has happened last night and today.  Then we want those commanders to have the opportunity to call their individual soldiers so that they get the word through the chain of command.

 

     So, there will be people from Michigan that will be called up, but we'd like them to be able to be notified by their chain.

 

     Once they've done that, the commanders on the ground know that they have absolute freedom to speak with the press.  But if you'll allow me to, I'd like to let that chain of command function properly.

 

     Q:  We certainly respect that.  Do we know how large this deployment might be?  Can you tell me that?

 

     Pace:  From the Michigan area?

 

     Q:  Yeah.

 

     Pace:  I think it's in the neighborhood of about a thousand total troops from Michigan.

 

     Q:  Okay.

 

     Does this rotation signal a drawdown in forces?  Will we have fewer people on the ground in Iraq, -- say, next spring -- than we do now?

 

     Pace:  If you're talking about U.S. forces, the potential answer to that is yes, and I'll explain that in a minute.

 

     In May, we had about 160,000 U.S. forces, zero Iraqi forces fighting with us, and about 12,000 coalition forces from other nations.  Today, we've got about 131,000 U.S. forces, about 24,000 coalition forces from other nations, and significantly, about 118,000 Iraqis who are in their police force and in their border guard and the like.  So, the total number of individuals providing security in Iraq has gone up and will continue to do so.

 

     What will happen with this rotation is that, beginning in January, the units that are there now will be replaced by the new units and that will take place between January and May.  If, any time during that rotation, General Abizaid or Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez, who are the commanders responsible for this campaign, if they signal that they need more troops or they need to keep the troops that they have, that will be done for them.

 

     The President and the Secretary of Defense have repeatedly told the commanders in the field the resources that they need to prosecute this campaign will be provided to them.

 

     Q:  One of the things I know that people are concerned about is the level of manpower that's going to be there, and obviously the level of hostility they face as well.  But, because of this call-up, they're being told that, perhaps, as long as 18 months. We're looking at at least a significant U.S. military presence in Iraq for perhaps two years out from now, correct?

 

     Pace:  Well, we want to make sure that the individuals -- like those from Michigan, in fact -- have at least a 30-day notification that they're going to go.  Then we want to train them properly.  And for those that are in the infantry units or those that might be in immediate harm's way, we want to make sure that we train them to the absolute best possible standards so that they know when they go into this situation that they are well prepared for it.

 

     Then, when they get in-country, they will serve potentially up to, but no more than, 12 months on the ground.  Then, they'll come back.  They will have earned leave of upwards of 45 days.  They can take that leave at home station.

 

     But when you add together being mobilized for training, then deploying for one year, then coming back and taking leave at the end, that potentially could be as much as 18 months for some units.

 

     Q:  Okay.  All right.  General Pace, thanks for explaining all that.  We will look forward to see which one of our Michigan units will be called.  We'll be in contact with your people.  Thank you very much.

 

     Pace:  Thank you, Guy.

 

(Interview with Don Porter, KING-TV, Seattle.)

 

     Q:  General, I wonder if you could give us, I guess you'd call it the theory behind the new rotation plan that we're hearing about today that would actually end up in a net reduction of American forces on the ground in Iraq by spring.  Could you tell us the operating philosophy behind how that's going to work?

 

     Pace:  First of all, the commanders on the ground -- General John Abizaid and Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez -- have been told several times, Don, that whatever forces they need, they will get.  So, the plan that is going to be executed between January and May of next year is based on the needs of the commanders on the ground.  If those needs change, so will the numbers of forces that are provided to them.  But if the needs stay the same, then beginning in January, the forces that have been over there the preceding year will begin coming home and by May they will have swapped out.

 

     But, it's important to note that although the total number of U.S. forces that are there may come down, it is in an environment where the total numbers of Iraqis providing for their own security has increased.

 

     In May, there were zero Iraqis with us.  Today, there are over 118,000 that are in the police forces and the border guards and the like, and it's projected by May that there will be close to about 170,000 additional total Iraqis that will be working for their own security.

 

     So, the total number of individuals in Iraq will have increased, not decreased.

 

     Q:  We have heard quite a bit about these Iraqi security forces.  Critics of that idea take note that these are, for the most part, people you're taking more or less from scratch and you're going to pit them against the same ex-Saddam thugs and killers and assorted terrorists who have come in from other countries.  The same people who are killing American forces at a regular rate.  People wonder whether that's really going to give you the same effective counter-power to that kind of assault that's out there constantly, that kind of potential assault that's out there constantly.

 

     Pace:  Don, thanks for asking that.  There are several different ways that security forces right now are being used in Iraq.  Border guards that check vehicles as they come through; protection of fixed sites like schools and hospitals and museums and oil refineries and the like.  Those are the kinds of security positions that the Iraqi forces will be replacing coalition and U.S. forces.  There will still be three very, very capable, competent U.S. divisions on the ground in Iraq.  There will still be two very capable and competent coalition force divisions on the ground.  So our capability to take this fight to the enemy will be sustained.

 

     Q:  Senator McCain said today it makes him nervous to think about going down to around 105,000 American forces on the ground by May.  He said, to him, that doesn't even sound like enough to play defense, much less go after the people who are going after the U.S. forces.  How do you counteract that kind of criticism?

 

     Pace:  We're going to stick with what the commanders on the ground need.  If they need more, they're going to get more.  If they can reduce the size of the commitment of U.S. forces and get the job done with coalition forces that include Iraqis, that's what we're going to do.

 

     We are winning this war.  We are going to continue to win this war.  And we're going to commit whatever resources are required to do that.

 

     Q:  Did you think the resistance would be this strong for this long, sir?

 

     Pace:  The battlefield is fluid, for sure.  Some days there are more actions than others.  But you must expect in a country that was under such a brutal regime and where there are still some who would prefer to have it return to its former self, that there will be those individuals who do not want to see the Iraqi people write their own constitution.  They don't want to see them vote for their own representatives.  They don't want to see them have their own judicial system.  They're not happy to see the schools being filled up.  They don't like the fact that electricity is flowing.  They don't like the fact that oil is flowing.  They just don't like the fact that these Iraqis might just become free and independent as they should be allowed to become.

 

     So, there are going to be those who we're going to have to fight, and we will fight them and we will win.  We are winning in Afghanistan.  We are winning in Iraq.  We will stay this course.

 

     Q:  The message that we are winning seems counter-intuitive to many Americans when they see the accounts of what's gone on in Iraq in the past ten days, in fact in the first four days of this month alone, we counted 23 U.S. casualties.  How can you reconcile those two impulses?

 

     Pace:  It is certainly understandable that the press would be reporting on casualties in great depth.  It is also not at all to make light of a single U.S. or coalition casualty.  Each of those individuals who has died has made a tremendous sacrifice for our country and their families have made a tremendous sacrifice for our country.  So this is not to make light of that at all.

 

     But when you look at the totality of what is happening on the ground, all that I've already mentioned with regard to the schools and the judiciary system and the fact that the Iraqis are beginning to turn over their own people to us for prosecution.

 

     As you look at all of those things, it is clear that the tide is inexorably turning in favor of the Iraqi people. The price that is being paid by some of our soldiers is enormous, but the gain for our own country and for the Iraqi people is significant.

 

     Q:  General Pace, we're out of time.  I want to thank you very much for spending some time with us today.  Thank you very much.

 

     Pace:  Thank you very much.