Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld en route to Tajikistan
We're on the record talking about Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and we'll talk about Iraq after we leave Afghanistan probably.
Tajikistan is an important Central Asian country.
We have been developing our military-to-military relationship with them for a number of years now.
I guess this is my third visit there, and I've met with the president and senior Tajikistan officials in Washington on a number of occasions as well.
We have been assisting them with some activities on their border, some counter-narcotics activities.
We have a gas-and-go arrangement with them and over-flight.
They've been very cooperative with the global war on terror and helpful since almost the beginning.
Afghanistan, I think it's probably my 11th trip in there, and I see Afghan officials in Washington all the time and see them there. My last trip, I guess, was a month or so ago with Condi right after the prime minister was selected and before the new Cabinet officers had been selected. And this will give me a chance to meet with the security Cabinet officials and financial security team there, as well as with the prime minister.
And that was to be in Iraq -- I'm -- (inaudible). Excuse me. I just saw the -- strike that. We're not going to talk about Iraq. Afghanistan -- the foreign minister was just there within the last week, and the purpose is to continue to strengthen our strategic partnership, to work through some of the issues that seem to be arriving from time to time with the increasing role of NATO in the country and help acclimate the Afghans to the involvement of NATO, which is a -- without question, a very good thing for Afghanistan.
It is an historic thing for NATO. It's the first time they have been heavily involved in a military activity outside the NATO treaty area that is also outside of Europe. They have been involved in the United States after 9/11, which was in the NATO treaty area and outside of Europe, and they've been involved in the Balkans, which is outside of the NATO treaty area but in Europe. So this is really an unusual involvement for NATO and it's a new experience for them, and it's obviously a new experience for Afghanistan. So, we'll -- the United States is a major nation in NATO. We are -- will have a dual role. We will not only continue to have a U.S. to Afghanistan role, but we will have a major role in NATO and NATO's ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] with Afghanistan.
We have a great many things going on with President Karzai. He's in a position where he's, as you know, the first popularly elected president in that country's history. And he now has an elected parliament and a -- it's a new set of experiences for everyone in that country, for the parliamentarians as well as for the Karzai administration.
So I'd be happy to answer a few questions.
Q A Tajikistan question. In light of the loss of access to the air base in Uzbekistan and your standoff at the moment over conditions for continuing your use of the base in Kyrgyzstan, are you looking to expand or diversify access in the region in Tajikistan or elsewhere?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we have a relationship with them already, and of course there are some NATO forces here in Tajikistan. There are also some Russian forces in Tajikistan. My recollection is they moved them up off the border, but they do have some other locations. I don't know if that will come up or not. We obviously always need to be positioned so that we have more than one option.
Q You're not planning to raise it?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I said I don't know if it will come up. Our goal for our country is to have as many countries cooperating in the global war on terror and providing as many types of cooperation as they feel comfortable providing. And in any situation where you have only one way to do something, you can become a captive, and that's not a good thing for our country. And so we do a lot on the ground, we do things in the air, we do things from the north, we do things from the south. And we will always be looking for ways that we can have cooperation from countries that feel it's in their interest to cooperate in various ways, but I'm not going to get into any specific details on it,
Q Could I follow up on that?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah.
Q Are you relatively confident you'll be able to reach an agreement with the? What's the fallback?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, we'll worry about that. We're in discussions with them. Depending on who you talk to and when you talk to them, they're leaning forward. It's a matter of conditions and arrangements that need to be mutually comfortable for both sides, and we've not arrived there.
Q By leaning forward, you mean in favor of going forward with the relationship, or --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. They've been very willing to discuss and talk about how to do it and what might be done, and those discussions have been taking place.
Q A question on Afghanistan?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes, Jim.
Q What is the U.S. analysis on the current resurgence of the Taliban? And is it possible that they could actually pose a serious threat to the progress made so far in Afghanistan?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm not going to get into is it possible. I mean, anything's possible --
Q Well, let me ask it this way.
SEC. RUMSFELD: No, I'll answer it.
SEC. RUMSFELD: But I'll answer it my way.
Q All right.
SEC. RUMSFELD: You always -- each year -- I'd have to go back and check, but my recollection is that almost every year since '01, we've seen a resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda activity in Afghanistan during the summer, in spring, summer and fall, and then it dies down again. Whether on a seasonally adjusted basis, as they say in the economics world, whether it's that much higher or not right now, I'd have to check. It is certainly higher than it has been. But I don't know on a seasonally adjusted basis whether it is, but I think it may be.
The -- what does it all mean? I think I'd say my concern is the risk -- I'm concerned about the role that narcotics are playing in this in this sense; you have -- when there's that much money involved, you have to worry that it's going to be attractive. And the demand out of Europe, Western Europe and Russia for these drugs is substantial. And I do worry that the funds that come from the sale of those products could conceivably end up adversely affecting the democratic process in the country. I also think any time there is that much money floating around and you have people like the Taliban, that it gives them an opportunity to fund their efforts in various ways.
So I think if we can be -- the Karzai government is concerned about it. They're attentive to it. And on the other hand, you look at the Taliban, every time they come together, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50, they get hit and they get hurt. And so the fact that you see a somewhat different method of operation during this period is correct, but it has not necessarily been disadvantageous because the more that are in one place, the easier they are to attack.
Q What can be done about the heroin and drug problem?
SEC. RUMSFELD: What it's going to take, like -- what can be done in the United States, what can be done anywhere. It's a demand problem. It isn't a supply problem. And the demand's enormous. And the -- to cope with it in a specific country requires a master plan. It requires a government -- a Karzai government, and it requires a public affairs element, it requires a(n) eradication effort, it requires a(n) attack on the processing portion, it requires crop substitution, it requires a criminal justice system so that you can protect people who are judging people who are engaged in that trade. You can protect prosecutors, you can protect witnesses, you can protect jurors who make decisions with respect to people engaged in that. We've seen in Italy, they've had to do certain things that are unusual. And it requires all of those things to be brought to bear on the problem in an organized, systematic and sustained way. Western Europe ought to have an enormous interest in the success in Afghanistan, and it's going to take a lot more effort on their part for the Karzai government to be successful.
Q Mr. Secretary, what do you make of the attacks that appear to be migrating from Iraq to Afghanistan? I'm talking about the use of suicide bombings, roadside bombings.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, we've seen it in many countries. We've seen in it -- obviously Israel has coped with it. We've seen in the Gaza, we've seen it in Pakistan, we've seen it in any number of places. People watch what others do and end up doing those types of things.
Q So do you think it's a copycat kind of situation --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure.
Q -- as opposed to something more systematic?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know. I'm not going to get into intelligence questions. I'd have to go delve into what other people think because I don't have a personal opinion on it as to whether it's copycat or some structure that may be relatively informal that actually exists and I'm not in a position to comment on.
Q But General Eikenberry -- oh, I'm sorry.
Q If I could --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Is this your first trip?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Don't let him do it! Don't let him do it!
Q Start elbowing him?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Break his kneecap! (Laughs.)
Q Talking about counter-narcotics in Afghanistan, a lot of the narcotics trade that is plaguing Afghanistan is going north to Tajikistan. What should the Tajiks be doing to sort of strengthen their border? Are they doing enough?
SEC. RUMSFELD: They're doing a lot, and we're working with them on that. And they have been beefing up their border efforts. We have been supplying them some equipment and some training. There's a -- there's clearly a desire on their part and a recognition on their part that it's important that that be done.
Q General Eikenberry, just recently in testimony before Congress, said the Taliban, however, appear to be more sophisticated, have better command and control than they've ever seen from the Taliban before. Doesn't that suggest that, as Jim's question implied, some of those tactics are migrating from Iraq, or at least they're getting perhaps assistance from other groups, such as al Qaeda?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I said I don't know.
Q Okay. And what about the --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I would go with Eikenberry. He's on the ground, he's a thoughtful person.
Q Yeah. Also, for the first time it looks like the Taliban is working hand in glove with the drug traffickers in an apparent effort to finance their activities.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know that it's for the first time, but you're right.
Q Oh, okay. To what extent are they?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know. But there is certainly intelligence information that suggests that they have been benefiting financially and offering some protection.
Q (Off mike) -- getting NATO -- (off mike) -- involved in eradication more actively?
SEC. RUMSFELD: NATO countries are already involved in aspects of the counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan in varying ways. We have not been, to my knowledge, directly involved in law enforcement-type things, but we have provided some lift and some things like that. The Brits have had the lead for three and a half years with respect to the counter-narcotics effort in that country, and they have provided the leadership in earlier years. I think it would be correct to say today that the leadership's coming from the Karzai government because it's their plan.
Q And you're going to love this one, I know. But critics contend that the reason the Taliban are still around, that the reason that drug traffickers are able to operate as freely as they are, is because U.S. attention was diverted from Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think that's not true.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the reason the drug traffic is what it is, is because there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of human beings in Western Europe and Russia who want drugs. And so they buy them, and they create an enormous demand for them. And the demand is powerful, and that is very simple.
It is (really complicated ?).
Q Mr. Secretary, is there going to be need for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan in light of this resurgence?
SEC. RUMSFELD: My recollection is, with -- today there's something like 106(,000) or 110,000 security forces in Afghanistan. There are -- you know, 65(,000) or 70,000 are Afghan. I think 20(,000) to 25,000 are ours, and 15(,000) to 20,000 are all other -- 30, 40 countries, combined, have another -- I think it's 17(,000) or 18(,000) or 19,000.
Will there be a need for more than that? That's the kind of thing that General Eikenberry is looking at with the Karzai government to see, you know, what does it look like the situation's going to require by way of army and police.
We've made several assessments over the last several years. We've looked at it -- looking at the total, looking at the mix of Afghan -- correction -- army versus police, and what their respective roles might be. The actual numbers are going up, not only because the Afghan numbers are going up but because the NATO numbers are going up. So the numbers actually increase.
Okay, folks --
Q But will the U.S. be able to reduce troops as NATO's -- as NATO --
SEC. RUMSFELD: We don't have any announcements for that.
Q Thank you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah.
Q Thank you, sir.
Q Thank you.
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