(Also participating was Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
On Thursday, July 4th, we will celebrate the 226th anniversary of our country's independence. The terrorists who attacked on September 11th sought out the symbols of liberty and strength. So on this July 4th, Americans have much to celebrate, to mourn and to remember.
We celebrate the courage and skill of the men and women in uniform. They rose to the challenge, have gone after the terrorist networks and put them on the run. At outposts around the world, our troops stand watch for liberty, ready to risk their lives in our defense.
Some of the troops have given their lives while supporting the war against terror, and on occasion I have read their names from this podium. We're grateful for their service and the sacrifice of those who've paid that price so that our nation can live in freedom.
The American people have sacrificed as well. After the planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they rescued victims from the ruins, treated the injured, comforted the survivors. And in the months since the war began, Americans have watched men and women in uniform in action. They see them as the honest and independent and hard-working patriots who protect our country. The American people have faith in our armed forces, and they will not disappoint them.
Ending the threat of terrorism will not be easy.
The road ahead will be long and sometimes bumpy. Deadly attacks may take place again at any time. Like those Americans who gathered in Philadelphia in 1776 to sign the Declaration of Independence, Americans today are united and ready to make the sacrifice necessary to defend our liberties and the enemy -- from the enemies of freedom.
Pace: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Along with the secretary and for General Myers and all the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I'd just like to say thank you to the thousands of young men and women who are serving our country overseas and here at home and to their families who are sacrificing that we can, in fact, enjoy this 4th of July weekend with our families. And we wish each of them who are sacrificing for us as happy and as peaceful a holiday weekend as you can have. Thank you.
Q: Mr. Secretary, does preliminary -- on the incident Monday night in Afghanistan, does preliminary evidence indicate that it was an AC-130 gunship -- cannon fire from that involved in the incident, rather than the errant bomb -- B-52 which allegedly hit a wedding party and killed dozens of Afghans? And Afghan officials are now demanding more caution and more care in the use of air power because of these friendly-fire incidents. How would you respond to that?
Rumsfeld: Well, the first thing we'd have to do is to disassemble the question, because there were some things in it that are not -- I don't believe are accurate and are certainly, at the minimum, not known.
First, let me say that anytime there is the loss of an innocent life, for whatever reason, it is a tragedy. And certainly the commander on the ground has expressed regret for any innocent loss of life. As you are probably aware, the U.S. forces there have provided assistance to some casualties that were brought to them. And we don't know necessarily the cause of their injuries, but they have been providing medical attention to four young people.
Second, I would say that we very much appreciate the support that the Afghan people and the transitional government of Afghanistan have provided the coalition forces in the country, with respect to the global war on terrorism. There -- these incidents, when they occur, take some time to sort out. A team -- joint Afghan-U.S. team left Kabul, I believe, and probably some from Kandahar, and traveled down to the scene.
They are there. They've been there now for several hours. But they have not been there a full day. It clearly will take some -- they're interviewing people. They're talking to individuals. And they're beginning the process of sorting through the facts. And we should -- I've spoken to General (Michael P.) DeLong (Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command) who has been on the phone with them there. It's unclear to them how much longer it will take, but it could take another day or two to come up with information that would be useful.
There are a few facts that General Pace is prepared to present, however.
Pace: We do have a lot more to learn about this, as the secretary said. What we do know right now, at least the first reports, which may change, are that there was a B-52 that was flying a mission about that time. It did drop seven precision-guided munitions. They were being spotted and controlled by a forward air controller on the ground, who saw the impacts of the seven weapons. Six of them flew to the targets that they were designed to hit, which were cave complexes. The seventh one was flying to its target and hit an intervening hill mass about 3,000 yards short of its intended target. That hill mass had no people on it, and the air controller on the ground believes that there was no one in that area where it impacted.
There was also an AC-130 flying missions in that area. It had been responding also to a forward air controller on the ground who had been directing fires against anti-aircraft weapons that had been firing up at the AC-130.
Those are the facts that we know right now. We do not know anything beyond that. And this team that the secretary's talked about, that was put together by President Karzai and General (Dan K.) McNeill, (Commander, Combined Joint Task Force 180), will spend the next day or so getting to the bottom of the facts.
Q: General --
Rumsfeld: If I could just underline one point. As General Pace indicated, there were two elements that involved U.S. forces on the ground functioning as forward air controllers. My recollection also is that the U.S. forces on the ground were working with Afghan forces on the ground.
Pace: That's true.
Rumsfeld: And I just thought that might be a useful --
Q: General, you -- I'm sorry. You spoke as if this ground fire was undoubtedly anti-aircraft fire. You called it anti-aircraft fire. Are you sure of that?
Or might it have been firing in the air from a wedding party?
Pace: The only thing I am sure of is that at the time that the weapons were -- from the AC-130 were being fired at the ground, that the control on the ground and the air crew in the airplane believed they were returning fire against anti-aircraft weapons, which has happened repeatedly in that particular area and which was reported to be taking place at the time that the AC-130 fired.
Q: General Pace, could you tell us a little bit more about the air and ground operation that was underway at that time? In other words, there have been reports from Afghanistan -- and can you shed some light on this -- that there were multiple villages involved, that triple-A may have been coming from multiple places? Or was it a single event in a single place?
Pace: Well, actually, they were, during the time of this particular operation, the time frame, that the AC-130 fired, there was -- it retuned fire on six individual locations that were spread over many kilometers.
Q: What about the caves and bunker complexes?
Rumsfeld: Could I just -- just for clarity: What General Pace is telling you is what he knows from talking to people who've been in touch with the people on the ground and in the air. What we do not know is the information that will be gained by talking to non-U.S. forces who were on the ground. So --
Q: I understand that, but I just wanted to also about the B-52 participation that -- (inaudible) -- could you tell us a little about what you were going after in terms of these cave complexes? We haven't seen this kind of activity in recent weeks.
Pace: Actually, it is part of the ongoing operations that have been going on for several months, where once intelligence is gathered, there is suspected enemy locations to be searched or attacked and operations mounted by Central Command, they, in this particular case, had a combination of U.S. forces and Afghan forces working in the area. And through -- as we routinely do -- through coordination between the forward air controllers on the ground and those in the air attacked the targets that were designated. For more specificity on exactly what was happening on the ground, I'd recommend you talk to the folks --
Q: General Pace --
Q: General, this was known as Mullah Mohammed Omar's neighborhood. Was there any indication that he was in this area? And was that part of what this operation was about?
Pace: I cannot go to the specifics of what the intelligence was that justified the operation. I can tell you that this is an area that is known to have in the past been the home of Taliban and al Qaeda, and that we had intelligence that indicated it would be worthwhile to go back and revisit.
Q: General Pace, could you describe some of these areas where the AC-130 was firing on, where the anti-aircraft was coming from, the fire? Were they residential areas? And also remind us of the safeguards that are in place to avoid civilian casualties?
Pace: I cannot tell you a great deal more than I already have about the firing itself because we have just first -- first reports by telephone of what has happened, and the team is on the ground now. So for me to presume any more than I've already been -- what I've told you I've been told, would be hypothesis on my part.
Q: So you don't know if they're residential areas or --
Pace: I do not have specifics.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: And the second part of that question; could you remind us of the safeguards in place to avoid civilian casualties if they were taking fire from anti-aircraft weapons?
Pace: If a U.S. military unit is taking fire, they may -- they have the absolute right of inherent self-defense to return fire. So -- and I do not know which of these is true, if the ground observer observed fire going toward the airplane and reported that to the airplane and then the airplane returned fire, or if the airplane saw that it was being fired on and returned fire. Either one of those would be consistent with established procedures.
Q: Was the aircraft hit, sir, the AC-130? Was it hit?
Pace: It was not.
Q: It was not.
Q: Mr. Secretary, this was a substantial operation with Special forces, conventional forces, as well as the B-52. Is there anything more that we can provide about what this was in regard to, other operations that we've seen in Operation Mountain Lion or anything else?
I mean, this had to be a substantial --
Rumsfeld: Well, there have been any number of operations that were more substantial, if you're talking about numbers of people. On a fairly regular basis, we have folks on the ground, coalition forces, U.S. and other coalition countries, often working with Afghan forces, moving around, making sweeps, exploring things and putting pressure on Taliban and al Qaeda. So I don't know that it's anything distinctive or unique.
Q: And were there people on the ground in this village where the casualties are alleged to have happened -- the civilian casualties?
Rumsfeld: Were there people --
Q: Were there U.S. --
Q: U.S. people.
Q: Were there U.S. military --
Rumsfeld: Oh. Yes, as I said, there were two U.S. elements that were physically on the ground in reasonable proximity to where the firing took place.
Q: Mr. Secretary, presumably the AC-130 would have gun camera video that could verify the claims that it was being fired upon with anti-aircraft artillery from the ground. The Pentagon has previously decided not to release that kind of video. Would it in this case release any video that would substantiate the claims that they were being fired on, or -- as I understand it, some of this video's pretty detailed and would give the rest of the world an opportunity to see exactly what, if any (sic), enemy forces were up to.
Rumsfeld: You're correct; there are instances where AC-130s do have cameras that are able to provide information as to what they -- whether that was the case in this instance or not, not address the question as to whether or not it would be appropriate to release it. The only thing I'd say, going back to Charlie's first question about firing:
We have to remember there could be anti-aircraft firing, and there also could be firing from rifles, and so lumping them together may be a good idea. I don't know that.
Q: Well, but Mr. Secretary, this -- the Afghans on the ground believe that celebratory gunfire from a Pashtun wedding, which apparently is traditional, may have been mistaken for hostile fire.
Rumsfeld: I read that.
Q: Would you advocate some sort of moratorium on those kind of celebrations, given the fact that they're -- (scattered laughter) -- I don't mean this facetiously -- given the fact that it's a dangerous environment, and the chance of that kind of fire being mistaken for hostile fire seems pretty great?
Rumsfeld: I think your point is a very good one. It is a dangerous environment. People are getting killed, and there's no question but that as you -- the coalition forces move around the country, they have a difficult job and a dangerous job. And they're doing a good job.
I don't -- I do not know -- I know that I've read in the paper that somebody said there was a wedding, and that there was celebratory firing into the air. All I know, or all Pete knows, is what we have heard from the other side, that is to say the U.S. forces. And my instinct is to let a day or two go by while the facts are being gathered. I've seen such wide reports in the press from, you know, 250 people killed or wounded and one thing and another. And I just don't know the facts. And we are not -- we cannot know the facts. We are looking at them. We have a joint team investigating it. And it seems to me that's the appropriate way to proceed.
Q: In past circumstances, Mr. Secretary, you've disputed claims that U.S. military fired on civilians when there were claims from Afghanistan that they had. Do you believe that in this case, there is any sort of disinformation campaign underway in an effort to impugn the --
Rumsfeld: I have no reason to believe anything like that. I only know what I know, and I know what I don't know. The times in the past, I have accurately stated that Taliban and al Qaeda training manuals have explained to people how to do disinformation and how to handle those types of things to discredit the United States. I have no reason to believe that's the case this time at all. I just know only what I know.
Q: General, if there were people on the ground in that village, are they reporting that there were civilians killed? Are there any reports of civilians killed by U.S. fire?
Pace: The only reports we have that are tangible are that there were four young people who were brought, apparently by their father, to the U.S. military in the vicinity who asked for assistance with their medical treatment. The soldiers called in a helicopter medivac and they were flown to Kandahar to the U.S. hospital there, where they're being taken care of. How they were injured, who else was injured, we do not know.
Q: So, if dozens were killed, you would think that the U.S. military on the ground that were there would know if they were or were not --
Rumsfeld: Not necessarily, and not this fast, if you think about it. It's a big area. There are two elements on the ground, relatively small numbers of U.S. forces. And the investigation team that's gone down has only arrived in recent hours and is in the process of asking all of those questions.
Rumsfeld: I think it's really a mistake to make judgments -- for us to make judgments about what took place, when we know we don't know.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: One, Karzai government is already in hot water, and --
Q: Karzai government.
(Other reporters chime in with "Karzai government.")
Q: Karzai government -- I'm sorry. And they have a hard time to explain to the people there because of-- in the past-- militancy and all that. What message do you have for the Afghani people and the Karzai government now? Some of the people there are asking U.S. forces -- now time to leave.
And second question, as we face the 4th of July here -- about to celebrate the Independence Day, Americans are still living in fear, are under from the terrorist attack. So what message do you have for Americans on this day, if --
Rumsfeld: First, let me say that --
Q: Most are asking -- I'm sorry. They're asking --
Rumsfeld: Well, you got two. Well -- hold at two.
First, with respect to the government of Afghanistan, the transitional government, Mr. Karzai was just overwhelmingly selected by the loya jirga, by near unanimity, as the transitional leader for a two-year period. He is continuing his service as chairman, having served as the interim chairman. And he and the people of Afghanistan know of certain knowledge that the circumstances of the people in that country are so vastly better than they were prior to September 11th, that the circumstances of the people -- the refugees are returning. The food is being distributed. The crime levels are down.
Regrettably, drugs are still being trafficked, I'm afraid. And -- but the -- there are no Taliban going into the football-soccer stadiums of Kabul and shooting people in the head in front of thousands of people. Women are going to school. It is a -- so much a better situation that to suggest that it's not would be inaccurate, and to suggest that the people don't understand it is belied by the fact that refugees are flooding back into the country.
Q: That 4th of July --
Q: How many --
Rumsfeld: Oh, I'm sorry. I apologize. Fourth of July -- the -- it is correct that there is a high level of intelligence material that's being circulated around the world, shared among governments, and that -- as the president has indicated and others -- that it's a period when obviously the United States government is working closely, all the various elements of the government.
We've had meetings here in the department with the senior officials and communications with the combatant commanders to see that we have the appropriate force level -- force protection levels. And -- but on the other hand, as the president indicated, people need to go about their lives, and that's what all of us intend to do. We intend to take every reasonable precaution and operate with a sense of heightened awareness, but to go about our lives.
Q: How many U.S. and Afghan troops were involved in this operation? And how close were they to the village where the casualties were reported to have occurred?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that the casualties did occur in a village. I just don't have that knowledge. So when I answer -- when I ask Pete to answer the question, it occurred somewhere on the ground. Whether it was physically inside of a village, I don't know.
Q: Well, then the place where the casualties were reported to have occurred.
Rumsfeld: Do you know the number of people, how far?
Pace: Sir, I understand that the numbers involved were about 3(00) to 400 combined U.S. coalition and Afghan, mostly Afghan. With regard to the proximity to where the casualties supposedly took place, I do not know. We don't even -- we don't have here in Washington a location yet of where the casualties --
Q: Well, can you say over how wide an area they were deployed?
Pace: I can tell you that the area where the AC-130 was operating and where it fired the several times it did fire was a distance of several miles from the most southernmost target area to the most northernmost.
Q: Did those --
Q: -- ground troops engage?
Rumsfeld: Wait a second. Pam?
Q: Is there a code name for this operation? And did it start out as a reconnaissance operation that then turned into a gunfight? And was it a gunfight that had them calling in the AC-130?
Pace: To my knowledge, there was no ground fire, ground against ground, at the time that the AC-130 was engaged or at the time that the B-52 dropped its precision weapons.
Rumsfeld: It was characterized by the combatant commander as a reconnaissance and search activity.
Q: But the AC-130 was not called in --
Q: Was there ever machine-gun fire, though, at ground troops, at the troops doing the reconnaissance?
Pace: I'm not aware of that.
Q: The AC-130 was not used as a CAS, close air support, called in to assist some --
Pace: The AC-130, as would be routine, would be overhead in case either the troops on the ground needed support or another target presented itself that either the ground controller or the aircraft itself could see.
Q: Were offices in Tampa or elsewhere observing any of this in real time on video, as they've done to some of -- in the past?
Rumsfeld: Not that I know.
Q: General Pace, a couple of follow-ups. You said that some of these anti-aircraft locations had -- in recent days had repeatedly fired on -- I think at the beginning of your statement -- had repeatedly fired at U.S. aircraft. Is this area then a really -- I don't know of anybody firing at U.S. aircraft in other parts of Afghanistan routinely. Has this area been a sort of a hot zone that we haven't really known about, or -- we up here?
Pace: I did not say "routinely." If I did, that would have been a misstatement on my part.
Q: I think you said "frequent."
Pace: There had been anti-aircraft fire several times over the previous couple of days.
Q: Okay. And another follow-up on other things. The target that the B-52 was going after, the cave and tunnel complex -- was that believed to be occupied by Taliban or al Qaeda forces?
Pace: I don't know the answer to that question.
Q: Apologies for taking you to an entirely different area, very briefly. The federal government, as you know -- the White House has ordered an investigation into all of WorldCom's existing business with the federal government and raising questions about whether or not WorldCom will continue to do business. They are a huge supplier to the Pentagon. You do an awful lot of business with WorldCom. As we understand, they carry 30 percent of military telecommunications around the world. What are the implications of the WorldCom situation for the Pentagon? How concerned are you possibly that their so-called aggressive accounting practices impact some of your government business? What do you think ought to be done about all of this? Is some of the Pentagon business possibly in jeopardy here?
Rumsfeld: Okay --
Q: Do you have other suppliers? What can you tell us about --
Rumsfeld: Yeah, yeah, I think it's not to be a problem. And the reason I say that is that to the extent important activities, useful activities are being contracted for, regardless of the corporate shell that fits around those, those activities tend to go on. They either go on with the corporate shell that started them, or they go on with the corporate shell that replaces the corporate shell that started them. And I've never seen an instance where some useful service in supplying something to government has been interrupted or disrupted for any period of time. So I am not worried about the risk to the Pentagon from a single company having a change in its corporate situation.
Q: Do you have some concerns that -- certainly there would be another supplier, but I can't imagine, given your private-sector business experience, you're too thrilled about having one of your major suppliers going down this road,given the fact that the White House has now ordered an investigation into their --
Rumsfeld: I think an investigation into what took place is perfectly appropriate. And certainly, no one likes to see a private sector entity fail. So -- but your question was different. Your question was, will it adversely affect the Department of Defense? And my best experience and knowledge tells me it will not.
Q: Mr. Secretary, General, to go back to the issue of the bombs that were dropped on the cave complex. (Inaudible) -- you said you weren't aware of any activity at the site. But do you know whether this complex had been searched beforehand? Because -- or when the last time it was you used a B-52 to bomb a cave complex? I know you've been conducting sweeps and searches, but this strikes me as something you had not done for a long time. And why did you do it, then?
Pace: I do not know the specific answer to either one of those questions right now. We can get that type of information and get it to you, but I don't have that right now.
Q: Mr. Secretary, a few months ago, when you were pressed on the issue of civilian casualties, you made a claim that, based on what you saw, this was the most precise bombing campaign in history with the least number of civilian casualties, or words to that effect. Do the reports of the last couple of days shake your faith at all that this has been the most precise bombing campaign with the least number of civilian casualties?
Rumsfeld: You know, as one who has been around a good deal of time and who has read a great deal of history, there has never been a conflict where there were not innocent lives lost. We do not know what the facts of this -- so having this one shake one's confidence when we still haven't even got the first reports would be obviously misplaced. But the short answer is, no. There is no question in my mind but that the men and women doing what they're doing today are better trained and better equipped than in any previous conflict, that the weapons are more accurate and more precise, and also that there cannot be the use of that kind of firepower and not have mistakes and errant weapons exist. It's going to happen. It always has, and I'm afraid it always will. And the task for all of us is to see that it is as limited as possible and to make darned sure when something happens like what just took place, that we don't presume to think we know about it until we have completed some sort of an investigation, which we have not.
Q: General, it seems that for the firing of that -- people said that it came from a wedding or it came from ground fire. It seems that enemy fire would be much more consistent, and the sequencing of the firing would be recognizable, compared to the randomness of a fire -- fire coming from a wedding celebration. From a combat perspective, is it something that would be easily discernible between people firing randomly from a wedding and enemy fire?
Pace: I really hesitate to get into hypothetical. I will tell you if you happen to be the person that's on the other end of whatever the weapon is that's pointed at you, and it is firing, it is very difficult to know whether or not that's a friendly muzzle flash or an enemy muzzle flash. So, we need to let the team go out and find out what they find out.
Q: -- a couple of points of clarification.
Rumsfeld: Can we let a few of --
Q: General Pace, how can you characterize what happened on Saturday, South and North Korea's naval clash? Is this is a sign that the North is keeping -- (inaudible) -- military incursion?
Pace: I'm sorry. I'm not sure I got your --
Q: On Saturday, North and South Korea had a bloody naval clash at DMZ --
Rumsfeld: A bloody naval clash. Right. And it is pretty clear that the North Korean vessel came south into areas that are beyond the demilitarized -- the projection of the demilitarized zone, and that there was a clash, that a boat was sunk, and that people were killed. And needless to say, the North is saying that it was instigated by the South; the South is reporting that it was instigated by the North. And everything -- we're not in intimate communications with the North. But the South Koreans, we do stay in very close communication with, and we have every reason to believe that the North Korean ship was well south, and that it initiated the -- whether it was intentional or a mistake on their part or anything, I'm just not in a position to say. But unfortunately, there was a loss of life on the part of the South Korean forces, which are our friends and our allies. And it was a violation of the armistice. And as such, affects the U.N. forces and coalition forces that work with South Korea in their defense.
Q: North Korean off-shore radio is saying that they are preparing for what you'd call a preemptive attack by U.N. --
Rumsfeld: If you repeated and believed everything that North Korean radio says, it would just be a shame, because you'd be running around in circles.
Q: General Pace, three quick points of clarification. One, the B-52 action was a pre-planned strike, and you do not believe it was responsible for civilian casualties. Is that correct?
Pace: The B-52 was responding to a call for fire from a ground forward air controller.
And what was your second question?
Q: This cave -- bunker complex that was attacked by the B-52 with these seven bombs, that wasn't something that you had scoped out, pre-planned to strike?
Pace: I know it was responding to a forward air controller. I do not know when the plane took of whether or not it knew it would take on those targets.
Q: Second point, do you know -- do you know if you killed any suspected Taliban or al Qaeda in this action?
Pace: Do not -- do not know either friendly or enemy killed.
Q: And to the best of you understanding at this point, the precipitating event that resulted in the AC-130 attacking these sites was anti-aircraft artillery fire from the ground, not ground-to-ground fire? This is the first thing that --
Pace: The report we have is that it was anti-aircraft fire from ground to air that precipitated the return fire from the AC-130.
Q: General, could I -- (inaudible) --
Rumsfeld: Andrea ?
Q: Yeah, can I just change subjects slightly? There is a dispute going on with the International Criminal Court with the United States and the UN. And you have -- the administration has indicated that because of this dispute, that this might affect U.S. participation in UN peacekeeping missions, since in East Timor, you've already decided to pull out I believe three observers. Correct me if I'm wrong here.
Rumsfeld: I don't think that had anything to do with the International Criminal Court. I think that was a decision I made some months ago that we would be downsizing from a relative modest number to a relatively modest number minus three. But I don't think it had anything to do with the ICC. [Clarification: The departure of these final three U.S. personnel was actually tied to the start date of the ICC.]
Q: Okay, but are you looking at all of our peacekeeping missions that we're taking part of in light of this ICC issue? And are you making plans or is it a possibility that we will be leaving from other countries, from other missions in the near future? And could you tell us which ones those are?
Rumsfeld: Let me try to put the subject of the International Criminal Court into a context. The United States does not subscribe to it and does not believe we should be under its jurisdiction.
It is a distinctively different treaty in that it presumes to take jurisdiction over everyone in the world regardless of whether or not they signed and ratified the treaty.
The world is a more peaceful and stable place, as dangerous and untidy as it may be, because of the United States of America working with its coalition partners and alliances and U.N. peacekeeping groups and NATO peacekeeping groups around the world. We believe it's useful and helpful to our country and to our friends and allies to be engaged in the world. The existence of this International Criminal Court, which came into effect yesterday, July 1st, is a threat to civilian, military, individuals from the United States of America, regardless of whether they're doing peacekeeping or warfighting.
We're in a new period, and that means what we have to do as a country is we have to begin to find ways, multilaterally and bilaterally, to get arranged so that our people are not subject to that court. We know in Afghanistan people have inaccurately lied and charged Americans with killing innocent civilians when it did not happen. And we know it was weeks before we got people on the ground and could verify that. Now, a prosecutor that's not controlled by any larger organization, like the U.N., and decides that he has to prosecute people for that begins to have the potential for politicizing the process and asking countries to extradite American men and women in uniform to the International Criminal Court for trial. Now, if that becomes used as a deterrent to the United States to be involved, it would be unhelpful to the world.
What we're going to have to do as a country is what the Department of State has started doing, and that is to go around the world and work with countries to enter into bilateral arrangements so that our forces in their countries would not be extraditable, if there's such a word. That is to say, the countries would not extradite them to the International Criminal Court.
We are vulnerable during this period starting yesterday because we do not have those arrangements in place, and it will take some time to do that. And the language is being crafted now so that the Department of State and the appropriate people can work with other countries to see if we can find the appropriate ways to provide that sort of immunity for our forces.
I -- it would be inaccurate to say that the United States would necessarily withdraw from every engagement we're -- we have in the world between now and the time that that immunity is provided. We have no plans to do that. In other words, we're engaged. We have forces in countries all over the globe. We have no intention of pulling back.
What we do have intention of doing is making judgments about additional things we go into and trying to arrange those kinds of immunities that will protect our forces before we go in, and second, with respect to places where we already are in, to go around the world and attempt to see that we are provided that kind of bilateral protection, which will be helpful.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: I think we're going to have to take one last question. Go ahead.
Q: On a parallel -- (inaudible) -- you have tried -- you have resisted the services' requests for additional personnel, because you wanted to roll back some of the missions that we're doing. So far you haven't been able to do that. How long are you willing to hold out, looking for ways of saving -- reducing our overseas commitments before you let the services have any additional personnel?
Rumsfeld: Well, in fact we really haven't resisted their getting additional personnel. Some -- a number of the services are up above their authorized end strength and in fact are in the 2 percent flex range that they're allowed to do. So they are doing that at the present time.
What we've done is, we've gotten the services and the Office of Personnel and Readiness to undertake studies of each of the four services, so that we can get a good grip on what their projections are. And in almost every case, it appears that they are able to stay within the 2 percent flex and that they very likely will be able to moderate their total forces as we go forward. There are some plans under way to continue drawing down some forces, as we have. I think someone just cited the three people from East Timor. (Laughter.) It all adds up.
And second, we are looking at the number of activities that might be done by civilians, as opposed to military personnel.
And third, we're looking at the number of instances where military personnel are engaged in activities that need not be done, and particularly need not be done during a period when you have a war going on.
So, I've been encouraged that there are a number of things contractors can do, there are a number of things civilians can do. And each of the services has come up with a list of things they're examining. So, I think that we have to be attentive to the risk of excessive Pers Tempo, as they say in the building here, too high a tempo for the use of personnel because it can affect your ability to attract and retain the right people. But my impression is we are not at that point. We have struck a good balance. And we have a plan in place that will enable us to examine each of the service's management of their end strength.
The other thing we have that is helping to do that is cost. There's no question but that personnel is a major fraction of Defense Department costs. And therefore, it's a major fraction of the service costs. And the services are constantly faced with, would they rather have these pieces of equipment or these additional personnel? And that is -- that is why they have an incentive, each service does, as well as the department overall, because of the sizable and growing fraction of the total DOD budget that is involved with overall compensation for personnel.
Have a wonderful Fourth of July holiday. I doubt that I'll be back tomorrow.
Q: Thank you.
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