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Rumsfeld Dispels 'Quagmire' Label for Operation Iraqi Freedom

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Oct. 8, 2003 – Army Staff Sgt. Malcolm Jennings from the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colo., said that at no other time in his eight years of military service did he experience the degree of gratitude he received from the Iraqi people while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"It's an amazing feeling to see what a difference we're making in (the Iraqi) people's lives," agreed Army Spc. Carlos Vidas from the 2nd Brigade, 327th Infantry at Fort Campbell, Ky., awaited a connecting flight after returning to the United States for two weeks of rest and recuperation leave.

SSgt. Larry Benedict from Fort Campbell's 327th Infantry's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, said he gets a lot of personal gratification seeing the enormous changes already taking place in Iraq. "It feels really good knowing that I helped restore a country," he said. "And the Iraqi people are really grateful for what we're doing."

So why, a soldier asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during an Oct. 7 town hall meeting at Fort Carson, "is this operation in Iraq viewed negatively in the press as a Vietnam-style quagmire?"

"Give that man an 'A,' Rumsfeld said with a laugh. Then, turning serious, the secretary said, "I'll tell you, it's beyond me."

Rumsfeld said he is perplexed by the discrepancies between what he reads and sees in the media and not only what his commanders in Iraq tell him, but also what he has seen firsthand during visits there.

Even members of Congress -- including many who have traveled to Iraq to visit the troops and see the operation on the ground -- are "stunned by the difference between what they experienced in that country and what they saw and what they were being told in the press," Rumsfeld said. And when they express their surprise at open hearings, Rumsfeld said, the media don't report it.

The secretary speculated the reason may be that "bad news is news," and said the 24-hour news cycle in the United States creates the impression that "it's 24 problems, one every hour, even though it's the same one."

Rumsfeld said the situation is not unique to Iraq, recalling similar reporting on the effort in Afghanistan. "We'd been operating there, oh, I don't know, a week, 10 days, 15 days, and it was characterized on the front page of newspapers as a quagmire, that we were bogged down," he said.

"And of course, it was only a matter of days thereafter," he continued, "that Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar and Kabul fell. And it wasn't a quagmire."

Rumsfeld said the media were even quicker to affix the "quagmire" label to operations in Iraq, beginning as early as the march toward Baghdad.

"You'll remember, there was a pause as the forces were moving up from Kuwait into the southern portion of the country, toward Baghdad, and south of Baghdad there were some two or three days of bad dust storms," Rumsfeld said. "And once again, the phrase 'quagmire' came up."

Despite the discrepancies between media coverage and the reality of on-the- ground operations, Rumsfeld said he's confident the American people "have a sense and an understanding that things don't happen in five minutes in life."

In the five months since major combat operations ended on May 1, Rumsfeld said, U.S. and coalition forces have made tremendous progress in Iraq.

Citing "thousands of projects" undertaken by U.S. and coalition forces and civilians, Rumsfeld said progress has continued and results have been impressive.

"Every school in the country is ready to open," he said. "All the hospitals and clinics are operating. They have a new central bank. They have a new currency." Rumsfeld said the country's oil wells also are operating, and electricity has been restored to pre-war levels.

Rumsfeld attributed the speed of progress to careful pre-war planning that averted a humanitarian crisis.

"There was not a humanitarian crisis. There were not tens of thousands of internally displaced people. There were not refugees pouring across the border into other countries," he said. "The folks that went in there had a plan. They did a terrific job, and by golly, they deserve a lot of credit.

"And the idea of calling it a quagmire," he told the Fort Carson soldier and others at the town hall meeting, "is flat wrong."

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