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Secretary Rumsfeld Meeting with Troops in Kyrgyzstan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 26, 2002

(Meeting with troops in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much. Gen. Lloyd, Ambassador O'Keefe, the men and women of the United States armed services, and the men and women of the coalition forces from all across the world, I thank you for the welcome, and I thank you for what you are doing.

It is a terrific thing for me to be able to be here and to see you and to have a chance to say personally, how much I appreciate what you are doing. You are doing a superb job for our country and for all the countries in the coalition. It is not an easy job; indeed it's a tough job.

The problems we face as a world are somewhat new, and different. Certainly they are different for the United States. Having had the benefit of two oceans and friends on the north and friends on the south -- to be subjected as we were on September 11 to terrorist attacks that killed thousands of our fellow Americans -- indeed, it was not so much an attack on the United States as it was an attack on the world.

There were people from 80 countries killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in those few hours. There were people of every race and color and religion. The task that you're doing so far from home is one that I am afraid is going to last for a while. It's not something that is going to be over quickly.

People in this camp are used to dealing with armies and navies, and air forces. Regrettably the people we're having to deal with don't have armies or navies or air forces as such, they operate in shadows and caves. They operate secretly; they operate against civilians as opposed to against armies. And the difficulty of that task is real.

We've been very successful in Operation Enduring Freedom thanks to the help of people from so many countries. When I say we I don't mean the armed services alone -- all of the elements of national power have had to be brought to bear: economic power, financial power, diplomatic efforts, intelligence sharing as well as military activity, both overt and covert.

The task is to put pressure on terrorists wherever they are -- in Afghanistan to be sure and you folks are certainly helping to do that in good style, but also to put pressure on them all across the globe. To the extent that they have safe havens, sanctuaries where they can go, then the effort we put into Afghanistan will be for nothing.

There's no question but that the Taliban no longer govern that country. The people of Afghanistan have been liberated. There's no question but that the al Qaeda that had been training people in terrorist training camps, and I might add training them very well. These people are professionals. They spend a great deal of time and a great deal of money getting very good at understanding how they can move around the county, how they can operate with false passports, how they can raise money, how they can recruit, how they can train, and how they can kill innocent men, women and children. And they've gotten very good at it, regrettably.

The fact remains that, as we are successful in Afghanistan and put pressure on them there, that that's not enough. We have to keep putting pressure on them so that they don't reassemble either just in the mountains or over in the bordering countries to Afghanistan. So that they then don't try again to retake that country which certainly they would like to do.

Furthermore, we have to see that they don't move into other countries, which is why we're helping to train forces, for example, in the Philippines so that they can improve their counter-terrorist activities.

We're working with people in Yemen to strengthen their training in counter terrorism. And more recently we are putting some U.S. armed forces trainers into the former Soviet republic of Georgia so that there again they can strengthen in their capacity to keep terrorists out. There are a lot of other places terrorists can go and gather and the networks exist -- for example, just the al Qaeda is probably in 50 or 60 nations across the globe to say nothing of the other global terrorist networks.

People laugh about the fact that I have served as secretary of defense 25, 26, 27 years ago. Dick Cheney, when I was sworn in with President Bush, said we have asked Don to come back and serve as secretary of defense again -- maybe he'll get it right this time.

But it is a long time ago and a lot of the things have changed. Some of the weapons systems however haven't. The B-52's are still here. I was there for the roll out of the F-16. I was the one who approved the M-1 tank and it is amazing to think that all these many years later we see roughly those same weapons systems still doing a wonderful job for our country.

The one thing that has not changed, besides the few weapons systems, are the people. And there is just no question but that the men and women in the coalition forces that are gathered here in this tent, and are spread in other countries across the globe, are people who voluntarily put their lives at risk for their country, for their families. They do it willingly, they do it professionally, and each of you can be enormously proud of the contribution you are making.

We think about what happened on September 11 as really a terribly tragedy, and it was. So many lives were lost, thousands of lives were lost, and mothers and fathers and children were lost. The reality is that with the development of weapons of mass destruction -- and they are being developed, they are being developed in several handfuls of countries around the globe -- and with the development of powerful ways of delivering those weapons, we are living in a notably different time, than we all did previously.

You know if you're dealing with conventional weapons and your talking about the lives of hundreds or thousands, you have a certain margin for error, and you can be a little negligent, you can be a little slow, you can be imperfect in your wisdom and your foresight. You can be a little laggard in terms of how you invest. But when you are dealing with weapons of mass destruction -- and you're not talking about hundreds or thousands, you're talking about tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people -- we have a very modest margin for error.

We, as people across the globe who don't believe in killing innocent people, have to recognize that our responsibility and our task is coming to us in a time that is notably different than prior generations. And it calls on us to be wiser, to look around more corners, and to be cognizant and alert to the dangers that exist.

There are a handful of terrorist nations in the world that have very close connections with terrorist networks and those nations have weapons of mass destruction and they are developing weapons of mass destruction. And they are trading among themselves with those technologies. That means, they're testing them and we see them testing them. And one doesn't like to see that -- you like to turn your head and say well that is not really happening, or maybe it is not happening, but the reality is that it is happening.

And that being the case it seems to me that what you're doing is of the utmost importance. You stand against an evil. It is the evil of mass murders that have as their purpose in life, to kill large numbers of innocent people. It is an evil that can't be appeased, it can't be ignored and it certainly cannot be allowed to prevail.

And you are doing a great job at your task. I thank you for that and so does President Bush. The president made a promise to our country shortly after September 11. He said we will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail. You are the ones who are delivering on that promise. And looking at each of you and having a chance to shake some of your hands here today, I know I can report back to him that the promise that he made is in good hands, and that our victory is indeed assured. Thank you very much. (Applause)

(To some troops standing atop a fire truck at the rear of the tent) Don't anyone up there take a step backwards, you're too valuable.

Now I am here and I would be delighted to respond to some questions. I think what I'll do is I'd be happy to answer questions from some of the U.S. folks and some of the folks from other countries, the coalition countries that are doing such a wonderful job with us. And we even have some press people scattered around here that might have some questions. So I just flew all night and I am just getting warmed up so give me an easy one. Yes sir.

Q: How you doing sir? I am SSgt. Lockhart (sp?) from the civil engineering squadron from Seymour Johnson AFB, and I just got a question. How long do you expect the coalition forces to remain in Kyrgyzstan?

Rumsfeld: As long as necessary. (Loud Applause) And I must say God bless the folks here in Kyrgyzstan for being so hospitable and for welcoming these coalition forces. They've been so cooperative in Operation Enduring Freedom and it can't be easy to have a country and suddenly have a bunch of folks from other nations come in and bring weapons and equipment, and to have to take over a portion of their airfield. And everything I've heard is that the cooperation has been wonderful and we're very appreciative. Question?

Q: Mr. Secretary, my name is Major Dawn Stave (sp?). I am from the hospital here in Ganci. I have a question for you with regard to Israel. What does the president hope to accomplish by meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah, a friend of Iraq and an enemy of Israel? Do you foresee the U.S. seeking a clearing stance in support of Israel? And is the U.S. prepared to put troops or observers in Israel?

Rumsfeld: Well, (laughing) she said she had a question and she asked three. I asked for an easy one and she game me a tough three.

I meet with Crown Prince Abdullah yesterday. I flew from Washington down to Houston and got back into Washington about one in the morning having had a couple of hours meeting with him, talking about the world with the vice president and he and the next day he went off to meet with President Bush and I came over here to meet with you so I am very current.

The relationship we've had with Saudi Arabia dates back many many decades -- five or six decades -- most of my adult life. It actually started I think under Franklin Roosevelt. It has been an interesting relationship because our countries are so different. They have been cooperative, we have troops there, we have bases there. We are currently using that facility for some of the responsibilities we have for the United Nations to fly with coalition forces in Operation Southern Watch in Iraq.

When you say they are friends of Iraq, I think that it is kind of a love-hate relationship. They fought alongside the United States against Iraq ten years ago in Operation Desert Storm, and they have a lot of people in their country that are very supportive of the Palestinians. As a result of that, in most of the moderate Arab countries the so-called street, the populations of those countries are very sympathetic to Palestine and anti-Israel.

The United States of course has historically been very closely related to Israel, not surprisingly -- it is a democracy as we are in that region, probably the only real democracy as such. A number of the Arab states have developed good relationships with Israel -- Jordan has, Egypt has -- and interestingly Prince Abdullah himself has come out with a proposal within the last period of weeks indicating that the Arab countries, in exchange for land from Palestinian people, ought to allow Israel to live in peace.

It is a -- first of all it's a subject matter that is not in my lane. It's the Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the president that are wrestling with these issues. We are interested needless to say because we have military-to-military relationships with many of those countries. But it is not a DoD front-and-center issue as such.

My impression is that the talks that are taking place, and the talks that Colin Powell has undertaken reflect an interest on the part of the United States to have them settle their clear difficulties peacefully. Needless to say, Israel has a very small margin for error. They have a very small country that they can't make very many mistakes and still have something left. So they're in the process of trying to make those calculations.

With respect to U.S. troops, I have not heard any proposals to that effect. There have been a couple of international people who have opined about the possibility of some observers. And what will, the only reason you would ever have peacekeepers or observers is if you have a peace to be observed. And it does not yet exist. There are still suicide bombers strapping explosives to themselves and going into Jerusalem and blowing up pizza parlors and shopping malls and what have you.

So it is not timely yet for that type of a solution it seems to me, and I have no idea what the president's judgment would be if and when we arrive at a point where the conditions for a peace process is such that an observance might be appropriate.

Now for a non-diplomat, that was a pretty diplomatic answer. (Applause)

Are any folks behind me raising their hands? Questions? Yes sir.

Q: Sir, Captain Brian Hargas (sp?) in the Royal Australian Air Force, I am the operations group commander. Hopefully I can give you an easy two questions, closely related. Here at Ganci, we don't just have a number of nations operating from the same base, we [are] trying to create an integrated force working together to achieve the air power aims. Do you believe that this model is successful and do you see this model being applied in the future for other operations?

Rumsfeld: Thank you so much. I do indeed see the model being successful and I see it being used for other operations. We are working with coalition forces literally all over the world today.

I asked General Franks not to long ago how many ships we had in his command area down in the Gulf, in the Arabian Sea. He said there are 101 ships, and I asked how many of them are U.S., and he said less than half. So he had something like six nations working with the U.S. in maritime interception activities to try to stop terrorists from moving from country to country and terrorist weapons and equipment from moving from country to country.

And it seems to me that the world is so big and so complex and a number of skills and talents and capabilities that are needed, and relationships that are needed, that it makes all the sense in the world for there to be coalitions developed that can then go about their business. And to the extent that they can function together and be interoperable, and communicate with each other, which are critical things -- I don't mean just speaking the same language, but having the equipment that actually interacts -- then we can be vastly more successful. And to the extent that we don't exercise that way, and train that way, and have experiences that way, the likelihood of our being able to do it that way is very small. So I think this is a good model for what is going on, what ought to go on.

Do you agree with that? I mean you are right in the middle of it you know better than I do.

(Australian forces member shakes his head in agreement.)

Questions? Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, SSG William Kelly (sp?), from Ft. Lewis, Washington.

Rumsfeld: Could you speak up just a little?

Q: Yes sir, Staff Sergeant...

Rumsfeld: I am seventy years old with an aviator's ear.

Q: Not a problem, yes sir, I am Staff Sergeant William R. Kelly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ft. Lewis, Washington. I operate a power plant here at Ganci Air Base. I was just curious -- from what you see with the amount of funding that is going into a much needed effort here, how could you see that possibly effecting our future funding for our bases, personnel and training?

Rumsfeld: I was in Ft. Lewis last Thursday and they asked me to say hello to you. (Laughter) Or at least if they had known I was gonna be here they would have.

The resources are finite, there is never enough, somebody always wants more of something. And the Pentagon does a pretty good job of balancing risks, war risks, one against another. Capability for Korea versus a capability in the Middle East, for example. We do a pretty good job of balancing risks about modernization -- should we modernize this particular aircraft or that particular ship, we can do that cross ways.

They do a pretty good job on transformation and looking ahead, and what kinds of research and development we should be investing. Should it be this type where we won't have the benefit for four, six or eight years? We can balance those types of things.

In terms of people, if you look at a finite amount of money and say well, is it more important that the pay be increased or the health care be increased or the retirement benefits or housing? People can sit down and make judgments and talk to people and come to reasonable conclusions.

The Pentagon does not do a very good job of balancing among those different types of things. In other words, how do you trade off a war risk in Korea against a transformation investment in R and D that is not going to benefit us for nine years? Or how do you trade off the improved housing for people against whether or not we need another F-16? That is much more difficult. And for whatever reason the systems in the Department of Defense didn't lend themselves into looking at things together. They looked at apples to apples and oranges to oranges. So we've been trying to fix that, we've been trying to force up on to the table the fact, the reality, the ugly reality that we must do a better job of balancing those things.

There have been patterns where the Department has -- oh they had a procurement holiday for many years, which they called and simply didn't buy the things that were needed. The department now has a catch phrase called LDHD -- low density, high demand, weapons or capabilities. What that really means is, low density means there aren't enough of them, high demand means there are an awful lot of people who want those things and it's kind of an euphemism for meaning we didn't buy the right things. We bought too many of the things we didn't need and we didn't buy enough of the things we do need. And it is a problem that is understood in the department. It is a problem we are working on.

It is a problem that is not easy to do, but every week we are sitting down and sticking up on the table the difficult issues of balancing transformation against modernization against current war risks and against the critically important things that are needed for the force. Without the force, if we don't attract and retain the people we need to operate this great institution, then we don't have the institution. It is the blending of decisions and judgments among those things that we've got to do a better job of.

Questions? Yes.

Q: Tech Sergeant Keith Spivey (sp) from the 4th Services Squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB. You asked for an easy question. Well, I've got one for you sir. Upon arriving at Ganci Air Base, we were told we were at war. Now with all the things that happened on September 11 and the fact that we are here now, when we get our hands on Mr. Bin Laden are we going to negotiate with him or annihilate him? (Applause)

Rumsfeld: I've got to be careful, the press is here. (Laughter) You know in truth, it is kind of his choice. We're hunting him down, we're tracking him down, he's hiding. We haven't heard hide nor hair of him since, oh, about December, in terms of anything hard. We don't know where he is. We are pretty sure he is either dead or alive. (Laughter)

The reality is he is probably not very effective right now in running the al Qaeda organization. We have got so much pressure on it, that it is very difficult for them to raise money; it's difficult for them to train. They already have a lot of trained people so there is no question but that they can conduct other terrorist operations and they may very well, in the period immediately ahead. But, I doubt that he is the kind of fella who is going to turn himself in, although he does seem to like to stay alive. He sends an awful lot of other people off to go get killed but doesn't seem to put himself in too much jeopardy. My guess is that he'll end up either -- he'll either be killed in some attack that takes place when we find him, or he'll be captured or surrender -- which I doubt, that he'll surrender, but he could be captured -- in which case we would have an opportunity to visit with him.

Questions? Yes sir.

Q: Tech Sergeant Wilcox, out of Crenshaw AFB. With all that is going on over the events of 9/11 and Enduring Freedom, can we expect to see a huge growth in our forces strength in manning, and if so, will we see previously closed bases re-open?

Rumsfeld: No, and no. The question first on end strength. We've got about 70,000 guard and reserve on active duty who have been pulled away from their families and jobs, and some of them are here I know, and God bless you for it.

We've got about 20-25,000 folks who were in the military. It was time to get out. They were stopped and asked not to get out. (Laughter) Did I get that about right? (Laughter) Something like that, and God bless them for being willing to stick around and help. (Laughter) So there is some pressure on end strength, there's no question.

We've a choice really, either we just relax and enjoy it and increase end strength, or we use the pressure on end strength to try to see that the men and women in the armed services do more of the things the men and women in the armed services signed up to do, and fewer of the things that the men and women in the armed services really didn't sign up to do. We've got folks, for example, in the United States that are currently serving as boarder guards, and serving in airports and serving with the INS, which really are civilian functions. So what I want to do is get people that are doing those things to stop doing those things, get back into the military.

We also have some folks that are doing things around the world that are really less central to what the armed services really need to be doing. We've had people located in four or five, six, eight, ten countries that had been there a long time and originally had a very useful purpose, but after a while, the local people ought to have developed their police forces, developed their boarder guards, developed their military security, developed a court system, so that the service people, our service people, could begin to be drawn down. We're starting to draw down, for example, in Bosnia and Kosovo and we've got that process underway.

We've also have a lot of people in the military who are detailed off to civilian functions around the country. You know, some of the work up on Capitol Hill, some of them work different places. I'm trying to get some of those folks pulled back to the military and see if we can't use the pressure on end strength to create a different mindset for the military so that more of the people in uniform are doing jobs that people in uniform really signed up to do.

Whether I will be able to do that or not I don't know. It may be that if the demands get too great, clearly we'll have to go ahead and increase end strength. End strength is very expensive, there is no question. If we increase end strength it would put a lot of pressure on the money that would be desirable for modernization and for transformation, and so we have to balance all those things.

Now with respect to base closings, and base openings, the answer to that is no. We have right now we have a base structure that is about 25 percent too big for our force structure. We simply don't need it. We are wasting billons of dollars. And what we've got to do is to figure out a way to get the Congress to accept the reality that we'd be better off sticking those billions of dollars into personnel and into transformation and modernization and mitigating war risks, than maintaining this base structure. The last thing we would need to do would be to open additional bases in the United States or Europe. We may have need to do things like this where we operate at a base in this country or in some other areas because of immediate need. But the likelihood of having to open up additional bases in Western Europe or the United States I think is about zero.

Question? Yes sir.

Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary. I am Senior Airman Quwan Hollis (sp?), McIntyre Air National Guard Base, East Hope, South Carolina. My question is as part of the 70 or 80,000 that have been pulled from family and jobs - and I'm happy to serve in the uniform -- should we continue to see a sustained number of Guard and Reserve activity? Do you foresee any changes in the Guard and Reserve program?

Rumsfeld: Well as I say, it seems to me that we cannot and don't want to sustain that many Guard and Reserve on active duty for extended periods of time. Fortunately, an awful lot of the people who came from the Guard and Reserve are doing it voluntarily. There have been any number who have volunteered. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, it may be a majority of that 70,000 had a circumstance in their life that enabled them to feel that they wanted to do that or were able to do that, and that's terrific.

Some it is a real hardship for and we understand that. So they signed up, they're willing to do it, they're willing to do it for some reasonable period, but if it goes way too long and imposes an undue hardship, the inevitable result will be we'll have trouble recruiting and retaining.

So we've got to balance that, and we recognize that we've got to do that. I think what we've got to do is recognize that the op tempo or the perstempo that we're currently under is an unusual wartime difficulty. And to the extent that we can recognize that we can sustain it for a period, but not forever and do the things that I described -- of moving more people in uniform into jobs that are for uniformed people. Right now I've given the services to flex 2 percent up in personnel if they can give me a reasonable program indicating how they're going to be able to manage to bring people who are doing non-military functions, back into the military.

So that's currently where we are. I'm a little alone on my view on this and there are others in the department who feel differently and we are having a discussion about it. (Laughter)

Questions? Yes.

Q: Hi sir, my name is Staff Sergeant Clifford. I'm with civil engineering from Seymour Johnson. I saw one of President Bush's last speeches on the TV, which is very rare around here, and he said something about trying to increase the dollar amount in our local paychecks and our base pay, is that still correct sir?

Rumsfeld: That still is in process. There was a pay raise last year. There was an across the board aspect. There was a targeted portion in the grades that were in particularly short supply and needed to be retained. There is another pay grade in the legislation that is pending before the Congress and it is being worked on and let's see this is April and this is an election year so they are probably going be wanting to finish their work by September. So my guess is you'll see something happening during the next period of months.

Q: Sir, my name is Captain Doug Eaton from Pope AFB in North Carolina. I would like to know what do you see for us next and how can we prepare ourselves for the future?

Rumsfeld: Well my guess is that you are preparing yourself for the future. It is a not possible to know with precision what the immediate tasks ahead are going to be.

It is pretty clear that we are going to have to continue doing the kind so things we are doing in Afghanistan for some period of months, that's not going to end. The goal has to be for Afghanistan to evolve in a way that it develops a sufficiently stable government, that it can keep terrorists and terrorist networks out of there.

In the process terrorists are still functioning in other countries, other countries are still sponsoring terrorists. What the president will decide with respect to those countries I guess remains to be seen. But certainly the work you are doing and the capabilities and skills that are being developed and honed are the ones that will be necessary in the most likely circumstances as we go forward.

Q: Mr. Secretary my name is Corporal Bradford. I am with VMF, the all weather fighter attack squadron 121, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego. My question is --

Rumsfeld: You look like a weightlifter. (Laughter)

Q: (Inaudible) My question is, if we are and if do go back to Iraq to finish the job. That's my question, are we going back to Iraq to finish the job Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Well that's a question that the president has to answer. We do know certain things. We know that countries like Iraq and Iran and Syria and Libya and North Korea are developing weapons of mass destruction. In the case of Iraq, they have used chemical weapons against their own people and against their neighbors. We also know that those countries have relationships with terrorist networks.

The risks, the dangers that chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear weapons pose to the world are of a different order than conventional weapons and our goal, obviously, is to have countries to not be terrorist countries. Our goal is to have rouge nations of that type not develop weapons of mass destruction. Regrettably the UN sanctions and the northern and southern no fly zones has not been successful, for example, in the case of Iraq, in inhibiting or impeding their development of weapons of mass destruction. They continue apace we know that. They are testing ballistic missiles. We know that their nuclear scientists have been kept together and we know that they have an active appetite for biological weapons. And this is true also, for example, of Syria, and it's true of several other countries. But what will be done and when is above my pay grade. (Laughter)

Yes sir.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I am SMSgt. Jeff England from Seymour Johnson AFB. I have a question on modernization. As you know, aging aircraft is a problem in the Air Force as well as in other services. I just wanted to know what your opinion is on the future of the F-22 program and if that would definitely replace some of our aging aircraft?

Rumsfeld: So far the F-22 is in the queue to do just that. I think the big debate is not whether, but how many. And those are issues that are being studied by the Air Force and looked at in the budget bill as we go towards the '04 budget. It is a process -- we have our defense planning guidance, which is due to come out in the next week or so. They then start building their budget and those issues get addressed in a systematic and rather rigorous way at that time.

But you're quite right. There is no question but that if you just keep flying aging aircraft, the cost, the spare parts problem -- is there availability of spare parts to keep them in the air, plus the cost of maintaining them -- can be a real disadvantage when comparing them with replacing them with relatively new aircraft.

Now that is not always true. Think of the B-52. It is still flying just fine, thank you. And so am I. (Applause and laughter) Thank you very much.

I'll just close by saying that I really do just wish all of you well. We admire what you're doing; we thank you for what you're doing. We thank your families for letting you do it. And particularly the coalition forces that are here. We recognize you folks are a long way from home too and we value your cooperation and participation. We're all in this together and we thank you as well.

Thank you so much.