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Secretary Rumsfeld Roundtable with Traveling Media

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 09, 2005

Nice, France

 

            Rumsfeld:  We're in Nice, and we are here for the informal Defense Ministerial meeting in NATO.

 

            The major topics will include NATO operations and if you think about it just a few years ago the idea that NATO would have operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan and Iraq would be beyond belief, but it is a fact, and they will be important topics of conversation and it says a great deal about this institution.

 

            The second subject will be NATO transformation and the usability of the forces, the deployability of the forces, the NATO sponsors, the effort to find metrics that we can do a better job of measuring the usability of the forces so that each country can improve its circumstance.

 

            There will certainly be discussions on issues of NATO reform, organizational reform which Lord Robertson and other countries initiated and certainly the current Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is pushing forward on.  You might think of it in several respects.  [One] of the national and international bureaucracy itself in Brussels, the civilian/military committee structure and how to get it arranged and looking forward to the 21st Century.

 

            Second is the issue of so-called caveats or restrictions on forces.  To the extent NATO's response force or has an operation going on, and in this case Afghanistan [inaudible] or Kosovo.  Different countries impose different rules of engagement, or different restrictions on their forces.  It obviously causes a quite complex problem for the NATO commander, so it's something that NATO is seizing and considering - how we solve that problem.

 

            As you're aware, some country might decide that it would be “safer” for their forces to have a more restrictive rule of engagement or resulting in more (inaudible).

 

            On the other hand if you consider it carefully, the enemy has a brain.  They look for the weakest link.  And it has a non-intuitive effect that instead of making it safer for those forces it makes them more of a target and it's vastly preferable that rules of engagement are very carefully coordinated and similar.

 

            There's also another issue that may have a forum and that we're wrestling with.  As you know NATO countries have people, military officers assigned to headquarters. They learn to function as a team and they work together.  Then when the heads of state decides that NATO is trying to do something -- Kosovo, Afghanistan, whatever -- the people from their countries, certainly in those headquarters, have been practicing as a team with the others, and therefore when the decision is made they have to be willing to engage. 

 

            In the case of Iraq there have been a few countries that have indicated that the people from their nations serving in those headquarters could not participate in some aspects of that. So that's an issue that NATO has to think through very carefully. 

 

            It's kind of like a basketball team and they practice and practice and practice for six months.  It comes to game time and one or two say we're not going to play.  That's fair enough, everyone has a free choice, but you don’t have that free choice if you practiced for all those months, so we're going to have to find a way to manage our way through that.

 

            I’ve had bi-laterals with Romania and Spain.  I'll be seeing I think the Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer later this afternoon, I think.  And tomorrow we'll be meeting with the Minister of Defense of the United Kingdom Geoff Hoon and the Ministers of Defense of the three Baltic countries.  Then we'll be meeting in a group with the Ministers from France, Italy, Germany and the U.K. to talk a bit about Afghanistan and the counter-narcotics effort there.

 

            With that, I'll stop and take questions.

 

            Question:  Mr. Secretary, are you satisfied with what NATO allies have provided so far for the training of Iraqi security forces, and what would you like to see them do?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Well, the work resulted from – as I recall -- an assessment by the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, he considered it and then came up with some proposals.  NATO agreed to them.  Then it's a matter of getting the NATO countries to step up and meet those agreed-upon understandings.

 

            It takes some time and it has taken some time.  When you're engaged as we are in Iraq and you feel a great sense of urgency to have the Iraqi forces trained and equipped and increasingly capable of assuming responsibility for the security responsibilities of their country, obviously we want things to go faster. 

 

            I am afraid I'm genetically in that position.  I'm always wanting things to go faster than they do.  But the Secretary General's working hard on it, a number of countries have stepped up, and NATO’s weigh has been over many decades now that while it may take some time to get there, NATO tends to do the right thing.

 

            Question:  Mr. Secretary, as a follow-on, do you believe that the elections in Iraq that have now opened up some possibilities in the country that maybe were on the fence?  Does it make it more likely that contributions [inaudible]?

 

            Rumsfeld:  It's possible.  We'll see.  I wouldn't lead with that thought myself.  I don't mean to speculate.  Time will tell. And you don’t normally do either, you could just write the news about what’s happening instead of writing what might happen.  

 

            Question:  [inaudible] developments in Iraq?

 

            Rumsfeld:  They ought to help.  One would think.  You hope. On the other hand, it's still dangerous there.  That's a factor that countries take into account, to be sure.

 

            Question:  -- countries signal already that maybe are not yet ready to go into Iraq, but they're going to be contributing by doing training outside of Iraq.

 

            Rumsfeld:  They have.  That's already happening.

 

            Question:  Are you seeing more --

 

            Rumsfeld:  Yes - absolutely.

 

            Question:  By the end of the meetings tomorrow they may be getting more forward leaning…?

 

            Rumsfeld:  We've found some already and I'm sure Condi's visit is stimulating [inaudible] and some occurred before we even left the country.  Of course, the President's going to be coming in soon, and I think we’ll find that countries recognize that Iraq is on a path where they have a very good crack at making it successfully towards a peaceful, representative system that is appropriate to a liberated people.  And I think people increasingly want to be a part of that.  I think noon could watch what took place on Sunday and be inspired by the courage that those people demonstrated.

 

            To the extent that more and more people in that country feel confident in demonstrating that conviction on their part that they want to be a free people and they want to have a voice in guiding and directing their country, I think that we'll find the intelligence situation improving.  That is to say more and more information will come to the Iraqi Security Forces particularly, but probably also to the coalition forces. 

 

            And the people who have been so busy intimidating and killing people that are in support of the Iraqi interim government, I think there will be people turning them in to a greater extent and it will be much harder for people to successfully intimidate free people.

 

            Question:  Mr. Secretary, do you have any specific examples of countries that have used their caveats or not playing as a team, the example you used?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I'm not going to get into the business of naming names.  Our thought is: look, Iraq's, Iraq.  Let's set that aside and look forward.  I'm more interested in the future of NATO.  I was the one that originally proposed that NATO have a response force.  And as you can well understand, we can't have a response force if NATO heads of state agree to deploy it and then all of a sudden one or two countries say we're not going to have our people participate in that, right after NATO has agreed to do it.

 

            So it's something that I'm concerned about more looking forward then back.

 

            Question:  It seems that that question comes up every NATO meeting.  Whether NATO is becoming irrelevant, they can't meet up with their promises.  What has been promised?

 

            Rumsfeld:  It comes up from where?  The press?

 

            Question:  Well from you.  You've mentioned it numerous times. Paper armies….

 

            Rumsfeld:  No, I haven’t. I’ve never used that phrase.

 

            Question:  Lord Robertson used it and you agreed with it.

 

            Rumsfeld:  Did I?

 

            Question:  Yeah.

 

            Rumsfeld:  You know, I've learned that I've got to go back and check you when you all -- not you personally, but you plural – when you all quote me somehow.  I find you have been you quoting me imperfectly.  That's a euphemism.

 

            Question:  Mr. Secretary, have you seen any of the greater willingness that you say ought to be forthcoming, have you seen it?  For example, with your meeting with the Spanish minister?

 

            Rumsfeld:  I'm old-fashioned.  My instinct is that people from countries ought to announce what they want to announce when they want to announce it, and the way they want to announce it.  But I can say that since the elections it is correct to say that some countries have in various ways indicated their desire to be supportive in Afghanistan and Iraq and for good reason.  These are important events in history.  And as they and their parliaments decide to do things, obviously they will make announcements that are appropriate to their circumstances.

 

            Question:  General Luck recently did a review of the train and equip program in Iraq.  And I was wondering if you had any ideas as to how the allies might be involved in the future [inaudible] from the very modest program that we have right now. And as part of that, there are some allies that [came into Iraq and are now] wanting to pull their troops out or reduce their numbers.  Does he envision in some way that they can be brought in sort of a more comprehensive approach to training that's [inaudible].

 

            Rumsfeld:  I think of it this way.  General Luck was the head of a team of six or eight countries, from seven countries, and several departments and agencies.  His task was to go out and makean assessment of the Iraqi security forces and how they were being trained and equipped and organized and led, and then make his recommendations to General Casey, John Abizaid, and me.  And he has done that. 

 

            We are now at the stage where General Casey and General Abizaid and Dick Myers and I are going through an iterative process, trying to take the information that -- this is our third or fourth assessment -- about every six months we’ve done it.  Take that and then begin to work with the Iraqi government to come up with an agreed-upon plan and [inaudible] that we feel will help move us forward and accelerate the pace at which the Iraqi Security Forces will be able to take over their responsibilities.

 

            With respect to coalition forces, you're right, the coalition forces just as any country over time gets to the point where it is more difficult for them to meet that same rotation.  Some countries are able to do it quite easily, other countries are having more difficulty.  We understand that. Therefore, we're working with those countries to see that they can pare down in some cases and expect that. 

 

            The other thing we're doing is as you suggest is that we're working with them to see that possibly they might want to change the focus of their activities.  And instead of doing precisely what it was they were doing within the coalition effort, focus more on protection for some of the UN activities: assistance into the training and equipping activity that General Petreus and others are working on -- doing that in country, doing that out of country in some ways. Some of them provide money which is needed, some are going to provide equipment which is needed, and each day or week or month that goes by the amount of money and the amount of equipment and the numbers of trainers have been going up and that's a good thing.

 

            Question:  Would you see that happening as a NATO program as opposed to individual countries, NATO members?

 

            Rumsfeld:  It is happening.  The NATO effort in Iraq -- it's different from Afghanistan of course.  The NATO effort in Iraq is a train and equip, period. We have alternate NATO countries, a lot of NATO countries involved with forces as part of the coalition, but that's as part of the coalition as opposed to part of NATO.

 

            Question:  That’s pretty modest up to now and am just wondering if there is a plan for expanding it and using NATO members or coalition members [inaudible].

 

            Rumsfeld:  We don't think of it that way.  We think of using the NATO for the train and equip activity and the coalition countries, many of the NATO countries being in the coalition as part of that coalition, and the coalition focusing more on training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces.

 

            Question:  Mr. Secretary, if you get the support out of the allies here that you want, what does that do for American forces – there always pretty well stretched and working hard?  Do you see anything better for our troops in the next year or so?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Sure, and if you think about it, you're right.  The ground forces -- Army and Marines -- have had a lot of responsibility in Iraq.  We've been relieving that pressure in a variety of ways.  One, by training Iraqi Security Forces and passing off responsibilities to them for a lot of activities.  We now have various types, army special commando units, border patrol that have 136,000 with another 15,000 in training.  In addition there's something like 70,000 or 74,000 site protection people who aren't part of the 136,000.  They were transferred out of the Ministry of Interior sometime back so we took them out of our numbers. 

 

            The second thing we've been doing is we've been retraining various military Army and Marine personnel so that they can perform.  And we have enough time looking ahead so that we can retrain them to perform some of the functions that are needed in the Iraq rotations.

 

            Third, we've been working with the Air Force and the Navy and they've increasingly been providing a variety of skill sets in the country that they had, for example military police and truck drivers, and various types of force protection, and that has helped relieve some of the pressure on the Army and Marines.

 

            Fourth, we have been aggressively, and already achieved something like 10,000 or 20,000, rebalancing between the active force and the reserve component.  We've been taking down various skill sets like artillery that are not in high demand, training those people in advance to the kinds of functions that are needed.  All of these things and several others have been -- And in addition, the fifth thing we’ve done is increasing the size of the Army and Marines.  All of those things have helped to relieve some of the stress on the ground forces in the country.  We're still doing those things at an accelerated rate.

 

            And the last, I would just mention one other, there are actually 35 things we're doing to reduce stress on the force.  I wrote a memo on it about a year and a half ago and we've been working aggressively to do it.  That the national security personnel system is enabling us to switch a lot of military personnel out of civilian jobs and there have been something like 10,000 added military people, available for military functions because we've put contractors or civilians in those jobs.

 

            So we've got a lot of things going on to work that problem.

 

            Larry is standing and suggesting that I am getting the hook.

 

            Question:  Can you see a quantifiable reduction in the amount of attacks, the amount of violence in Iraq since the election?  Have you measured it, the situation post-election?

 

            Rumsfeld:  We measure it daily and I get it daily.  And I don't have it clear in my head, that I'd want to characterize it.  It's been so few days.  But what happened during the election day was that we had so many people out there, and we had Iraqi Security Forces, the first perimeter and the second perimeter and around 5,000 polling places, and they were stopping vehicles and unusual groups of people far enough away that the number of successful attacks actually declined.  There were a lot, in the hundreds -- Do you remember the number?

 

            Voice:  There were 100.

 

            Rumsfeld:  There were plus or minus 100 nationwide that day, and in terms of lethality --

 

            Voice:  9 suicide bombers…

 

            Rumsfeld:  And it was relatively modest.

 

            Now who knows how it's going to shake out over the days ahead?  But our force deployment will be different.  But you've got to know, I mean that has to be a blow to these [inaudible] crowd and to the Ba'athists to see the debate in the country.  It's political debate. It’s discussion.  It's who should have which job, who should be picked for this, what group will be supporting what other group.  In Iraq that's amazing to watch that.  And the news is good in the sense that I've not seen any --- The big concern was nobody would vote.  And the truth is millions voted.  The second concern was the Sunnis wouldn't vote.  The fact is a lot of Sunnis voted and there were Sunnis on the ballots, most of the ballots.  So there were Sunnis elected to the transitional assembly.  What is it called?  Transitional National Assembly.

 

            The third thing that's terrific is I have watched the words  coming out of the mouths of all of the people who seemed to be [the leading for key positions.  The Shias, the Kurds, the various factions within each of the Shias and the Kurds, and every one of them is saying we've got to reach out to the Sunnis.  We've got to negotiate with them, bring them in.  Fourth, I have seen a number of Sunnis who say they made a big mistake by not participating – according to intelligence. 

 

            So instead of moving to civil war, instead of moving to hostilities or -- Let's face it, the Sunnis are 20+ percent of the population, and they ran the country for 35 years, and there have got to be some folks in the country who didn’t particularly like the way it was run.  So you can make a case to say that someone might say now it's my turn.  There's none of that I’ve seen from the Shia leadership.  They are almost uniformly saying we should reach out to the Sunnis.  So that's a good thing.  And I know good news is tough to take.

 

            Thank you.