Defense Department Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, before we start, I'd like to take a moment and at least welcome Deputy Minister of Defense Gorski. Minister Gorski and his colleagues are visiting at the invitation of the Department of State. He has an interest in the press, so we expect everyone here to be on their best behavior today. And we certainly welcome a friend and a valued ally to the Pentagon.
I'd also like to take a minute and just say thank you to the Grand Ole Opry and the country music singers who have supported the troops so wonderfully over the past many months, both here at the Pentagon, at bases around the country and around the world. And last weekend, they had a special event supporting the troops, which was certainly appreciated by all of us.
Sixty years ago this month, allied forces fought in some of the fiercest battles of World War II. The outcome of that long and difficult struggle helped to transform much of the world, bringing freedom to new and distant shores, turning menacing dictatorships into peaceful democracies, and turning long-standing enemies into friends.
Today, another generation of Americans and their coalition allies have come to freedom's defense. They're engaged in an assault against terrorist cells across the world; they're helping millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq to transform their countries from terrorist states into peaceful democracies. These efforts will take time, but the coalitions will continue to stand with the Afghan and Iraqi people.
Despite the support for moderation by the -- what I believe to be the overwhelming majority of the people, extremists remain determined to try to turn back the tide. They oppose the freedom and opportunity that Afghans and Iraqis are beginning to enjoy, and which all of us in the civilized world take somewhat for granted. But the extremists will not be successful. Iraqis and Afghans are increasingly standing up to those who seek to return their country to dark times. Our nation remains vigilant against potential threats here at home, and the U.S. military continues to battle extremists overseas.
The president's supplemental request for funding for the global war on terror is needed to aid this effort by assuring that our troops have the support they need to help Afghans and Iraqis battle insurgents, and to provide funds to help Afghans and Iraqis take on increasing responsibility for their own security. Without these urgently needed funds, the U.S. armed forces will find their activities disrupted at a critical time. We're grateful to the Congress for moving forward quickly on this important funding request.
I recently traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries on the frontlines in this global struggle. Everywhere we went, I came across outstanding men and women wearing our country's uniform, volunteers all, who with courage and confidence are risking their lives to confront the extremists before they attack our country and our people again. The debt we owe our military and civilian personnel and their families is immeasurable. They should find comfort in the knowledge that they're preserving a great legacy of freedom and safeguarding it for generations to come, and we thank them for their service.
General Dick Myers.
GEN. MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And good afternoon.
It's been a while since I've been up here, so first I would like to extend my sincere condolences to our service members and their families and friends who have either lost their lives or been wounded throughout the course of this war on terrorism.
As the secretary said, we must remember that every day we have soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Department of Defense civilians who are on the frontline of this war on terrorism.
They are doing a superb job, and our nation is safer because of their sacrifice.
The Iraqi government, with coalition assistance, continues to build the capacity and the capability of their security forces. There are now more than 159,000 trained and equipped Iraqis who are performing a variety of security functions that range from standard law enforcement activities to counterinsurgency operations.
Training and equipping are only the first part, of course, of the equation, where we must also develop leaders and gain combat experience on those units. There are now more than a hundred operational battalions in the Ministries of Defense and Interior, conducting counterinsurgency operations. And several units are conducting operations at the company or battalion level with minimal coalition assistance.
As example of their progress, last week anti-coalition forces attacked a police station in western Mosul. The Iraqi police force successfully drove the attackers away, and only one Iraqi police officer was injured.
Examples like this enhance the confidence not only of the Iraqi security forces but the confidence of the Iraqi citizens. So we're making progress.
With that, we'll take your questions.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Charlie?
Q Secretary and Mr. Chairman, I'd like to ask you both about the sad and politically sensitive shooting of the Italian intelligence agent last month in Baghdad. We understand that all the I's aren't dotted or the T's crossed on the final report on this, but we understand that it does find no fault with American troops, and they will not be punished. And the Italians apparently have major arguments with the -- are you going to issue a joint report? How is this going to work out, sir?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, my latest information is that they have not come to a final agreement on a joint report. And the -- it'll -- whatever is issued will be issued in the period ahead, and we'll know when it's issued. It's an investigation. It was done together, intimately, and I think that we'll just have to wait and see what they come out with.
GEN. MYERS: And I would say it's -- it'll most likely be announced in Baghdad -- that's the plan right now -- when they come to their final conclusions.
Q Has the report essentially found American troops will not be punished in --
GEN. MYERS: It's not final yet. It's not final yet, so we can't say.
Q So it hasn't determined whether or not --
GEN. MYERS: We haven't seen the report. General Casey is -- he's still got the report.
Q Is there the possibility that it might be two separate reports that they are --
GEN. MYERS: Don't know. We'll have to wait and see. And it'll be announced in Baghdad.
Q Mr. Secretary, may I ask about your recent trip? Did you attempt to dissuade or even discuss with the Iraqi leadership the question of amnesty and also the question of possible perhaps trial balloons about purging some of the Sunnis from the Iraqi security force?
And you used just before that trip an ongoing -- a word we haven't heard you use before, which is "turbulence," which, as an old pilot, you know is something you really don't want to encounter. Why did you choose that word? You're very careful about your choice of words.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't recall the word "amnesty" or "purges" coming up in the entire trip, in response to the first part of your question.
I will tell you what I did do, which is different than some of the things that have been reported. I met with the outgoing leadership and the incoming leadership in Iraq, and others. I talked to them about the importance of progress with respect to the Iraqi security forces, principally the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior's forces. And we talked about the fact that they're going through -- first they went through a transition from the Governing Council to the interim government. Now they're going through a transition from the interim government to the transitional government. In December, they will go through a transition from the transitional government to the permanent government.
To have success in the security forces, you have to have several things, and these are the words I used. You need competent people. And I urge that as they are considering people for important positions, whether at the ministry level or below, that they take into account not just the normal political factors that people properly take into account in a political deliberation, but that they take into account competence, because their country's success in defeating the insurgency depends on competence, and it depends on having a healthy chain of command down from the top of their government, Iraqi government, down through to the people on the ground who are attempting to defeat the insurgents.
So we talked about competence. We talked about trying to avoid undue turbulence. In other words, you can have equally competent people, but if you keep changing them every 15 minutes -- I overstate for emphasis on occasion -- let's rephrase it to every six months or so, or seven or eight months, there's slippage, there just inevitably is slippage, and we can't afford slippage. We need to see that there's some stability in -- and I don't mean the same people, necessarily, but we need to see that the -- the Iraqis, in their interest -- and it's in their interest; it's obviously something important to them, that if they want to reduce the level of the insurgency, having competent people and avoiding unnecessary turbulence is a high priority.
Q Question for General Myers?
SEC. RUMSFELD: You bet.
Q General, you said recently in public that the United States had come close to capturing Abu Musaab Zarqawi on at least one occasion. Since then, we've learned a little more how close the U.S. might have come. What can you tell us about that incident? And can you discuss just in general terms whether the intelligence in the hunt for Zarqawi and other high-value targets is getting better as time goes on?
GEN. MYERS: I think in general, the intelligence is getting better. Having said that, we still don't have Zarqawi and other leaders that we are looking for as well. But in general, it's getting much better.
I've told some of you this; from my last trip, which is now six weeks ago, to Iraq, the -- well, I think the best example is the MI-8 helicopter that was shot down. And then a few days later we have, I think, 10 folks who allegedly committed the act. How did the coalition, how did Iraqis arrive at rounding up those people so quickly? And it was through tips from Iraqi citizens who said: Here they are. So, yes, I think intelligence is getting better.
And I'm going to stick with my earlier comment. We were close. And if you go much further into this, then you get into some of the operational methods, which we can't discuss.
Q Well, some of those details, which have come out, is that unhelpful for those sort of details to be widely reported, as they are being now?
GEN. MYERS: Oh, I think it's very unhelpful when you get inside the operational details of an operation like that.
Q Mr. Secretary, General Sanchez has been cleared by the Army inspector general of any wrongdoing with regard to Abu Ghraib prison scandal. And he's slated to rotate out as commander of V Corps in the next couple of months. I'm wondering, do you have any sense where he'll be going from V Corps? And should he be promoted now to a fourth star?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't have any sense yet. Obviously, General Myers and General Pace and the deputy and I meet on this – the subject of military leadership positions frequently, and with the service secretaries and the chiefs and the combatant commanders, and discuss it. But at the moment, I have nothing to announce.
Q But you must have a sense of General Sanchez, how has he been doing. And particularly now that he's been cleared, should he be promoted?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think the answer I gave is the proper answer, that until you have a place for someone to go and you know precisely what it is, you can't answer questions like that.
We've got a lot of pieces on the board, and we're looking at a lot of different moves, and when we have something to announce -- I shouldn't say announce; we recommend to the president, we don't announce.
Q Well, can you at least give us your assessment of General Sanchez?
SEC. RUMSFELD: He's obviously an officer who is serving in an important, responsible position. And he served in an important, responsible position in Iraq before that, and has an excellent reputation.
Q But he was criticized by the Schlesinger panel, for example, even though he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
GEN. MYERS: The only thing I would add here is that you said "slated to leave," and--
Q Rotate out.
GEN. MYERS: Yeah. Rotate out. That's not necessarily accurate. I mean, people stay in their jobs until they're given new jobs or asked to retire. So, he's the V Corps Commander and will be until --
Q Do you think he'll stick around for longer than --
GEN. MYERS: Oh, no, I don't -- well, there's a process we go through in the building, as the secretary said, where we look at candidates for the positions that are opening up due to retirements or movements. And he's done -- you know, I've said in the past that General Sanchez did a terrific job, I think, inside Iraq. I'm on the record for that. The Army inquiry -- IG inquiry cleared him of any allegations of wrongdoing in terms of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. And he's a very attractive officer.
Q Is there any reason why he wouldn't be recommended for a fourth star?
GEN. MYERS: There's a process we go through to do that, so that's -- you know, we can get into the what-ifs here. It's just not very useful, I don't think, to go into that.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I mean, everyone does not go on to another post; it gets tight at the top. And he is clearly a person in an important position at the present time; has been in the past, and he's a person who would be considered in the future.
Q Just to follow, how would you answer critics who say that the Army IG investigation, the results of that show that the Pentagon is not capable of investigating itself and isn't holding senior leadership accountable? How do you answer that criticism?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I haven't read the investigation yet. It hasn't been presented to me. I don't have a copy of it.
Q Well, General Myers just stood next to you and said that the IG report cleared General Sanchez of any wrongdoing. And there's criticism by members of Congress, editorial pages across the country, human rights groups -- it's been repeated over and over again. I'm just wondering what your response to that general criticism is.
GEN. MYERS: I'll give you one response. There was an editorial today in the Early Bird -- I won't mention the paper -- that had a lot of their facts absolutely wrong. The facts have been presented to that particular news organization, and we're happy to present them again.
Q General Myers, you spoke about -- about Iraqi security forces at the beginning; more than a hundred battalions doing counterinsurgency, and that we're making progress, in your words. But of course, sir, what you haven't talked about is over the last 10 days or so, by every account, attacks in Iraq have grown, and the Iraqi government says that dozens and dozens and dozens of Iraqis have died in many attacks, although you mentioned one successful place in Mosul, of course, there was the attack in the police station in Tikrit, and so many other attacks. Given this, what is your current assessment of the insurgency? Are they targeting Iraqis more? And we've seen a couple of coordinated, although failed attacks. Do you believe that they are becoming more coordinated, better able to launch, if not carry through on their attacks?
GEN. MYERS: Well, one of the things we have noticed this month in particular, if you would just look at it in a monthly snapshot, but the month of April, is the -- they've been using more vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, which are obviously very deadly, and they've used some of them in tandem.
They do target -- and they have been; it's nothing new that they target Iraqi civilians. I mean, that's the definition of these violent extremists or these terrorists, they go after the innocent.
And they've been doing that since essentially day one. And if you look at the incident trends and you look at who they're attacking, quite often it is the innocent that they attack. So that is not a new phenomenon.
We track the incidents that are reported over time. And if you look at those, we're nowhere near any of the spikes that we've had during elections, during Fallujah, during An Najaf. It's up a little bit, from 40 a day to 50 or 60 a day, so it's up a little bit here in the last week or so, but I don't think you can take a snapshot on one week and say here is the situation.
I think their capacity is still pretty much what it is. We're seeing that. We've seen a slight change in their tactics. Going after innocent Iraqi men, women and children is not going to be a successful strategy for them, and it will result in -- as one of the earlier questions said -- more intelligence coming our way. So –
Q May I ask you to clarify what you mean when you say their capacity is what it is? Unless I am misunderstanding you, it suggests that you haven't reduced their capacity.
GEN. MYERS: I think their capacity stays about the same, and where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago. And it's nowhere near the peak we saw. I mean, they have the ability to surge, and whether we're seeing a surge now or not, I don't know.
But here's the essential point. And the secretary hit this early on. The essential point is that for things to work in Iraq, you got to work against -- what we said, all these lines of operation, of which good governance is one, which means the political process must go forward. We must have a cabinet appointed here very quickly. The ministries must continue to work. People must focus on two things, developing a constitution and developing their ministries into functioning ministries that continue to help. Without that – and that's what will give the disenfranchised, the various sects, hope. And that's got to be part of the strategy. So to focus on any one part of this and say -- to draw conclusions, I think, would be wrong. You've got to look at the total picture.
Q But you're saying that the insurgency is where it was a year ago.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think follow-up questions are fine, but four or five is a lot. And there are other folks --
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: I know he did, and I would --
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Are you saying -- to make sure I understand -- that the insurgency is where it was in Iraq a year ago?
GEN. MYERS: I think the analysis is that it -- yes, it's about -- in terms of number of incidents, it's right about where it was a year ago. And weeks will differ. We'll have -- and months will differ a little bit. But if you look at the scope of this over time since May of 2003, that's the conclusion you draw.
Q General, what do you think about --
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Inaudible) -- down, and then it goes up for a spike in An Najaf, and then it's down to a lower level, and then it goes up for Fallujah. And then it spiked up for the elections, and now it's back down. And it's up slightly in the last week. But what you have is a relatively small number of people who have weapons and who have money and who are determined to try to prevent democracy from going forward. And it does not take a genius to go out and kill innocent men, women and children. That's a perfectly doable thing in a society.
What's changing, and which is very important, is that as Dick said, we're getting better intelligence from Iraqis and we're stopping things. And as the political process goes forward and as the economic progress goes forward, there's going to be more intelligence coming from Iraqis, and their insurgency will have a more difficult time and it will be losing more people; which is not to say that it will suddenly not be a violent country, because it very likely will.
Q Secretary, for those recent attacks, what percentage do you think are linked directly to Zarqawi and his network? Do you think -- do you have a sense of what role he's playing in the recent surge in attacks?
SEC. RUMSFELD: In terms of lethality, I would rank him quite high. He may be doing it through proxies, through criminals, on some cases. But there have been quite a few suicide attacks in Iraq, and that is not something that criminals tend to get up in the morning and say, "Gee, I think I'll go engage in a suicide attack." And it tends not to be something that the Sunni insurgents, who want to take back the country for the leftovers of Saddam Hussein, are likely to get up in the morning and say they want to go out and kill themselves.
It tends to be extremists and jihadists coming in from other countries, in large measure, we think.
Q But Mr. Secretary --
SEC. RUMSFELD: And in terms of the entire insurgency, you've got to remember the Zarqawi thing, numerically, is relatively small. It just happens to be the most lethal element.
Q From this podium, you have drawn a line between Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden previously, separating the two. Have you learned in recent weeks, perhaps months, more of their interaction together?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't think I drew a line between them. I think I more correctly probably didn't connect them.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And --
Q How about -- is there a connection now?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. No question. Zarqawi is now an al Qaeda -- there's enough intelligence to show that -- the intelligence experts in our government and, I believe, in other governments believe that they have engaged in a process and become connected in a variety of different ways. And --
Q Communications between the two?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, maybe other things. Maybe people. Maybe money. Maybe communications. Maybe an oath of allegiance. Who knows?
GEN. MYERS: Instructions --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. But probably not detailed instructions, but broad direction--
GEN. MYERS: No -- (off mike) -- broad -- (off mike).
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah.
Now, is that Rumsfeld saying that? No. I'm simply passing along information that seems to be generally believed in the government.
Q But Mr. Secretary, if the intelligence on Zarqawi is so much better and the perception is left that he is on the run, how does he continue to be able to operate, to conduct these attacks of high lethality?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think he is on the run. I think life for a terrorist, extremist, in that country is hard. There's a lot of pressure put on them, on their funding, on their recruiting, on their retention, on their movements. And we keep -- our folks keep scooping up people who are engaged in various aspects of their work. And the more they scoop them up and the more they visit with them, the more they learn. And the more they learn, they more -- go out and scoop up others.
Now that certainly doesn't make life easy for them. On the other hand, a terrorist can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique. It doesn't take a genius to kill innocent men, women and children, and there's plenty of weaponry around.
So the fact that violence continues at some level ought not to be a surprise, because there still is an insurgency taking place in the country.
Q But Zarqawi specifically -- where is he getting his money? Where is he getting his support? Where is he getting these suicide recruits?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, he's getting -- I'm going to speculate here that a non-trivial portion of his finances and his recruits come from outside the country. And they undoubtedly come through Syria, and they come through Iran, probably, and through other countries, to be available for tasks that he has in mind. And money comes in as well.
GEN. MYERS: For people bent on jihad, for people who believe in the cause, the Osama bin Laden cause, the Zawahiri cause, the Zarqawi cause, which is all the same cause, they can get money to them, and they can get people bent on jihad.
And they're coming into Iraq. Zarqawi is, by all accounts, pretty well financed, and he has a number of young folks bent on jihad that he puts right into the fight and right into the suicide vehicles.
Q Is that why there is an increase, sir, in the suicide vehicles?
GEN. MYERS: I can't tell you that, Jim. I don't know that.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Pam?
Q Earlier, the two of you said that the level of the insurgency is about the same. Listening to that --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Down from the spike, but up slightly in the last week.
Q Sure. But about -- I mean, it's about the same as it was this time last year. So listening to that, that sounds like the U.S. -- U.S. forces there and Iraqi security forces are not making any progress against them; that it's sort of reached some sort of stasis. Is that a reasonable conclusion to draw? And what's going to change it?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The implication of the question is that there's only two things going on; the insurgency and the counterinsurgency. And in fact, there's lots of moving parts. You can have – the insurgency could be actually increasing and our capability to deal with it increasing, in which case the level stays about the same.
In fact, we are focusing a reasonable portion of our efforts at the present time not on the counterinsurgency at all; we're focusing it on training Iraqi security forces in increasing amounts. So you could make a case that, gee, if the level's about the same, then the insurgency must be down because we're paying less attention to it and encouraging Iraqi security forces to pay greater attention; and we're paying a greater attention to developing them.
There are a lot of moving parts. And there are porous borders; there are people coming in from outside. I think it's a mistake to reach into the middle of this complicated circumstance and pull out the question of the insurgency and the incidents and relate it to counterinsurgency efforts.
GEN. MYERS: Or to progress in Iraq. It's just --
SEC. RUMSFELD: It's political, it's economic. There's all -- all aspects of that are affecting that.
Q I think the question that keeps coming up is are we winning. And it's -- when look at --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. The United States --
Q -- when you're trying to take a test here, are we winning?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The United States and the coalition forces, in my personal view, will not be the thing that will defeat the insurgency. So therefore, winning or losing is not the issue for "we," in my view, in the traditional conventional context of using the word winning and losing and of war.
The people that are going to defeat that insurgency are going to be the Iraqis. And the Iraqis will do it not through military means solely, but by progress on the political side, and giving the Iraqi people a sense that they have a stake in that country; that they're going to be protected by a piece of paper called a constitution, for the first time in their lives, and that that paper will protect them and, therefore, they are willing to stay together as a single country and have reasonable confidence that their rights and their circumstance will not abused by any of the other elements in the country.
The insurgency will be defeated by virtue of the fact that the economic progress will take place and people will begin to see very clearly that the insurgency is harming the lives of Iraqi people by retarding the economic progress; by preventing sewers from getting fixed, and water supplies from being fixed; making it more difficult for kids to go to school.
The insurgency -- the Iraqis will prevail in the insurgency also because over time, it will become clearer and clearer that the insurgents have no plan; they have nothing other than killing people. They have no philosophy other than power and turning that country back to the Dark Ages.
Fourth, the Iraqis will prevail in the insurgency because the insurgents are a mixture of unlikes. The Ba'athists don't have the same views that the Zarqawi types have, and the criminals don't have the same view that either of those do. And at some point, there will be a division.
They have been trying to start a civil war and they've failed. They've tried to incite one ethnic group against another ethnic group, and indeed what we've seen is not hostility among ethnic groups or religious factions in that country; we've seen just the opposite. We've seen them reaching out to the others, trying to be inclusive. We've seen it in the political process. We've seen religious leadership in that country argue do not retaliate, that is not in the interest of us or our country. We've seen exactly the opposite of what the worst fears would have suggested.
So there are good things happening in that country.
GEN. MYERS: I'm going to say this. I think we are winning. Okay? I think we're definitely winning. I think we've been winning for some time. And if you pull out -- if you look at the attacks, the number of attacks that we track -- I think this is a poor measure of whether you're winning or losing, by the way. So if you pick out the attacks, half of them have no effect. So when we say 60 a day, 30 had no impact on anything, meaning no building or person was damaged or injured. That's the level we've been dealing with. It is as complex as the secretary has just said.
But if you look at where we are, we've had elections. They're about ready to form a government, albeit slower than perhaps some would have hoped, forming the cabinet and so forth. It, by all reports, looks like it's going to be one that involves all sects and ethnic groups in Iraq, so it will be a balanced government, which gives you some hope that when they get into the development of their constitution, that that's going to be a good process.
The insurgents have very little stock in the country anymore, just by virtue of the intelligence reports and the reporting that's coming. I'd go back to my MI-8 helicopter downing example, and there are many more than that. Almost any indicator you look at, the trends are up. So we're definitely winning. However, there will be a lot of challenges ahead. Like any insurgency, we’ve become impatient. And in the end, the Iraqis must do this for themselves. The secretary covered that very well.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.
Q Thank you for choosing Pete Pace. Nobody can replace Dick Myers, but you've made a good choice.
SEC. RUMSFELD: The president made the selection, I didn't.
Q But you recommended him, sir.
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