St. Louis, Missouri
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: -- I’m here today for the change of command of the U.S. Transportation Command. General John Handy is going to be stepping down after absolutely superb service at Scott Air Force Base.
KMOX: So you came in town for the occasion?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I did.
KMOX: That's very nice, and I'm sure that everyone is very proud to have you aboard.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Thank you very much, Charlie.
KMOX: We have raised care packages for the troops in recent years, and I know that another item today is we're all talking about Hurricane Katrina and we'd like to talk about that, but we also want to remember that we do have troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Right now there's a web site, AmericaSupportsYou.mil, which allows listeners of KMOX to get involved.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Indeed. It's really been a wonderful thing because anyone in the country can go on that web site and find things that people are doing to support the troops and to support the families of the troops. Whether it's an individual or a club or a corporation or any organization at all or a school. It's listed all the things that we've heard about that have been done and it's given so many people ideas of ways they can do what they'd like to do to be supportive as well. So I do hope people will go to the web site and get a sense of how Americans are in fact supporting the wonderful and talented young men and women in uniform serving all around the world.
KMOX: Let me repeat that web site, and I'll do so again at the end of our interview. It's AmericaSupportsYou.mil.
Do you mind, Mr. Secretary, if I ask you a couple of questions about Katrina and Iraq?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I'd be delighted.
KMOX: As Will Rogers said, "All I know is what I read in the newspaper." Yesterday I was reading the Wall Street Journal and it reported that four weeks before the hurricane Lieutenant Colonel Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard told WGNO, a local ABC affiliate, that when Guard members left for Iraq last October they took a lot of needed equipment with them including dozens of high water vehicles and HUMVEEs and refueling tankers and generators that would be needed in the event that a national disaster hit the state. Did we send a lot of our equipment to Iraq when it was also needed in Louisiana?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No. You know, from an individual's perspective they see something that goes to Iraq and they obviously know that that kind of equipment is fungible and can be used in different activities. But what's the responsibility of the senior logistics people is to look across the country and the world and our prepositioned stocks and all the things we have and then see that the right pieces are in the right place at the right time.
So any one person might say well, my goodness, that would have been nice to have it here, but we have no shortage of equipment in Louisiana or Mississippi or Alabama at all. Indeed, we have just poured men, women, equipment, everything conceivable into that distressed area and the folks there are doing a wonderful job.
By the end of today we'll have over 70,000 active duty and National Guard personnel on the ground in those states, and some 20 ships in the joint operational area available for medical assistance and helicopter rescues and the like. We've got 360 helicopters that are operating out of there, 93 fixed wing aircraft, and they're just doing a fabulous job.
KMOX: The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Secretary, also reported that the U.S. Army has that large facility at Fort Polk and Leesville, about 270 miles west of New Orleans. The first contingent of soldiers didn't get their orders until this past Saturday afternoon. The spokesperson at Fort Polk said she didn't know why the base received its deployment orders so late in the game. But a senior Army official said the service was reluctant to send a unit from Fort Polk to New Orleans because the unit is in the midst of preparing for an Afghanistan deployment in January.
Does that mean we're stretched a little bit thin?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No. In fact the implication that we're stretched thin is an inaccurate one and it ought to be knocked down hard.
We've got over 300,000 National Guard people in the United States that could be available for any kind of a situation like this.
Once again what you have is an individual who sees, looks at geography proximity to New Orleans, for example in this case. And the people who are responsible for making these judgments then bring their recommendations to me which get analyzed up through the chain of command and with great care. They have to look at capabilities. What's a unit's talent? What can they do?
You might have an artillery unit that's very close to New Orleans, but they don't need artillery in New Orleans. On the other hand, we were looking for military police and they're all across the country.
To the extent that one particular unit might be preparing to go overseas and another unit in a neighboring state is not, it might be more appropriate to bring the one that's not because that way you don't interrupt the training cycle. These are decisions that are made based on the total information and the kind of anecdotal information you're getting is from one person in one spot looking at one unit and wondering why it didn't fit into the total picture in a way that made sense to them. The answer is because they didn't have all the information.
KMOX: Well it's also been reported, Mr. Secretary, that soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are able to deploy anywhere in the world in 18 hours, but it seems to have taken them several days to arrive on the ground in Louisiana.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That's only because we made a conscious decision that what they brought to the effort there was needed in several days, not in the first day. We had 5,000 troops there the first day, then went to ten and twenty and thirty and it doubled almost an additional 10,000 or 15,000 every day to the point where at the end of today we're going to have 70,000. That compares with -- It's one of the most massive buildups in that short of time in history and it's been done superbly.
KMOX: So you would describe it as superb, the reaction of the Pentagon and other agencies to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I cannot speak for other agencies. I just know what's been going on in the Department of Defense. What's been going on – The first thing you’ve got to remember, you don't preposition troops or equipment in the middle of a hurricane or before a hurricane, you evacuate away from the flow of the hurricane. The minute the hurricane was over troops were put in and we've gone from 5,000, just about when the levee broke, all the way up to 70,000, 60,000 last night and 70,000 by the end of today. Now that is impressive and they've been able to flow in and assume responsibilities under a superb commander, Lieutenant General Honore, and reporting up through the Northern Command which we created after 9/11.
You know, this is the first major disaster we've had where we have had a Northern Command in charge of the United States. It never existed in history. What we've done is establish that after September 11th. Thank goodness we did, because they've been able to move with a great deal of skill. They've got superb planning capabilities and excellent communications. They've been able to go in and provide an enormous amount of assistance to the state government, to the local government in those three affected states.
KMOX: Do you mind if I ask you about Iraq?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No, I'd be happy to.
KMOX: Richard Clarke, the former terrorism official pointed out to the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that there seems to have been twice as many terrorist attacks outside Iraq in the three years after September 11th than in the three years before. He seems to indicate that terrorism hasn't abated, or in fact that it's gotten worse since we went into Iraq.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think that's probably not correct that it's gotten worse. I suppose you can, depending on what day you start counting.
If you go back many many years, when I was involved as President Reagan's Middle East Envoy when 241 Marines were killed in the Marine Barracks in Beirut; and we lost the embassies in two nations; we've had the USS Cole. We've had a number of terrorist attacks, in Bali, anywhere around the world. Trying to connect them to a single point in time I think is a mistake.
We do know with certain knowledge that Saddam Hussein was providing $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers for years prior to the effort in Iraq. We do know that Zarqawi, the principal problem in Iraq today and the principal terrorist leader, was in Iraq before the war operating in several nations and managing a terrorist network.
So, I think it's really not a very useful thing to try to connect it that way because I don't think, when we take a long look at history it won't come out that way.
KMOX: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thank you very much.
I said I'd repeat the web site for the AmericaSupportsYou program, and I hope you have a piece of paper and a pen. That’s AmericaSupportsYou.M-I-L.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Very good. It's good to talk to you, Charlie.
KMOX: Thank you very much, Secretary. We hope you enjoy your stay here in St. Louis.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I appreciate that.
KMOX: Thank you very much.