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Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks on ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 30, 2003 11:30 AM EDT

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. General Tommy Franks said this morning that the military campaign is on plan and making remarkable progress. But coalition forces face new dangers.

ANNOUNCER: This morning, as the war enters its second week, new questions about how long it might last.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: However long it takes. That's the answer to your question, and that's what you've got to know.

ANNOUNCER: With us, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Then, an ABC News exclusive - the Secretary of State during the first Gulf War, James Baker, speaks out on this war with Iraq.

JAMES BAKER [Former Secretary of State]: This is a war of choice, more so, perhaps, than a war of necessity.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, this is a special edition of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - War with Iraq.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Here are the latest developments on this eleventh day of war. Another night of intense bombing in Baghdad hit key Republican Guard targets. And U.S. Central Command says the presidential palace used by Saddam Hussein's son Qusay, along with Fedayeen paramilitary barracks, were also struck.

Iraqi officials said this morning they shot down a U.S. helicopter. The Pentagon says it has no reports of missing aircraft. British forces say they have captured a general in clashes with Iraqi units south of Basra. Five senior army officials were also captured and a Republican Guard colonel was killed.

And north of Kuwait City this morning, a truck rammed into U.S. troops at a military base. As many as 15 soldiers were injured.

For more on all this, we're now joined by the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Welcome back.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And let me start out with that incident in Kuwait this morning, the truck ramming into a PX. What more can you tell us about it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, not much more. It's one of those incidents that occur and a terrorist can attack at any time in any way at any place. And it's not possible to defend it every place at every time against every conceivable technique. Think of Israel and other countries -- the Northern Ireland terrorists have been able to do that.

They don't win. And they're not going win here. But it's one of those regrettable things that happens. If a person is willing to give up their life, they can kill someone else.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And that happened yesterday. Four American soldiers killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq. And I want to show you something the vice president Ramadan of Iraq said yesterday. I'll put it up on the screen there. He said: "I say to the United States administration that it will turn the whole world into people who are willing to die for their nations. If the B-52 can kill 500 people at one time, I'm sure that our operations by freedom fighters will be able to kill 5,000 people."

How do you defend against that kind of threat?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, he's not volunteering himself, I've noticed. They're mostly sending out the young men and attempting to talk them into doing it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That makes it a war crime, doesn't it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes, it does. But interestingly, just yesterday, in Basra, I believe it was Christiane Amanpour was there, and two young people who had been trained as suicide bombers came up and said they decided they didn't want to do that. And so, it goes both ways.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But there have been reports at least that a lot of Arab volunteers are flowing into Iraq, flowing into Kuwait. One of the reports this morning on that truck incident was that the driver was a Syrian national. Are you concerned that this might be getting turned into some sort of Jihad?

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, interestingly, there are Shi'ia religious leaders who are issuing fatwas, advising against supporting the Saddam Hussein regime and urging that they support the coalition forces. So it goes both ways.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's also a report this morning in Reuters, I believe, coming from officials they have on the ground, saying that there's going to be a pause, some U.S. troops there said there was going to be a pause in the military campaign against Baghdad. One individual said the pause could go as long as 35-40 days. Is that true?

SEC. RUMSFELD: [Laughs] No. I tell you, no matter where you are, you're always going to hear somebody saying something, and I'm sure they're saying something they believe. But the fact of the matter is I was on the phone this morning with General Abizaid and the people out in the region and we have no plans for pauses or cease-fires or anything else.

Now, is it possible that, for example, the British troops will be engaged in Basra for a period? Sure. Is that a pause? I don't think so.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have to secure Basra and Najaf before you can go into Baghdad?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Look, those are decisions that General Franks makes. And he's doing a superb job, he and his team. As well as the coalition forces. The folks from the U.K. and Australia. He will make a judgment on those types of things and he'll make a good judgment. He's got a very good plan and he's executing it, his folks are, and the men and women in uniform are doing a superb job.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we just reported that there was another night of bombing in Baghdad against Republican Guard targets. Two weeks ago, before the war started, Vice President Cheney said that he expected significant elements of the Republican Guard would likely surrender, would likely stand down. Is that something the country can still expect?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't think he said that they should expect it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he said they were likely to step aside.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it's too soon to know. The fact of the matter is the Republican Guard have been pulled closer to Baghdad, closer to Tikrit, away from the outer reaches of the country. Put yourself in the shoes of Saddam Hussein and his people.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd rather not, but okay. [Laughs]

SEC. RUMSFELD: He's got one of the most powerful coalitions that could be fashioned against him. Nine days ago, they entered the country. They are now closing on Baghdad from the north, from the west, and from the south. They have total air superiority. They control the southern oil fields. They control the ports. And they're bringing in humanitarian assistance. They have been able to capture some 4,500 prisoners. And we know that there are people fleeing from the senior regime leadership's family. And we haven't seen Saddam Hussein or his son in close to eight days.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think he's still alive?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But are Republican Guard commanders still reaching out to the American military and offering some sort of surrender?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, what they've done is they've pulled back closer. Now, there may be some very tough days ahead, because as we move forward and have to deal, as these forces have to deal, with the Republican Guard, that very likely will be the most difficult fighting days that the coalition will face.

What the leadership of the Republican Guards will do at that stage, I don't know. We do know that the death squads, the regime death squads that are traveling around, are killing people if they don't fight. They are killing people if they try to surrender. They are killing people if they try to escape.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So that would indicate that you don't hold out a lot of hope for mass surrender anymore.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I never did. Tom Franks fashioned a plan that assumed a long, difficult task, but was prepared to take advantage of quicker victory.

I think it's important to remind ourselves that what the world is seeing is 24 hours a day, seven days a week television news on this subject. It's been going on nine days. It's a little early for post- mortems. It's a little early to write history. It's a little early to be making those kinds of judgments.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, it's already happening. A fair amount of criticism is starting to crop up in the press. A report in this morning's "New Yorker" magazine by Seymour Hersh, highly critical piece. And he says that on six separate occasions you were presented with operational plans from Central Command and you sent them back saying I want to see far fewer forces in these plans. Is that true?

SEC. RUMSFELD: That's false. Tom Franks -- absolutely false -- Tom Franks and the chairman and I, when the president asked us to prepare a plan, looked at the plan that was on the shelf and to a person agreed it was inappropriate. It wasn't me or the chairman or Tom Franks, anyone who looked at it would have known it was not an appropriate plan.

Franks then sat down and began planning. The plan we have is his. I would be delighted to take credit for it. It's a good plan. It's a creative and an innovative plan. And it's going to work. And it is his plan and it has been approved by the chiefs. Every one of the chiefs has said it's executable and they support it. It's been looked at by all the combatant commanders. It's gone through the National Security Council process. And what you're seeing is fiction. You're seeing second-guessers out there.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know, Seymour Hersh isn't alone then in writing this fiction. There is also an article in the Washington Post this morning by Vernon Loeb and he said -- he goes on to say that there were "More than a dozen officers interviewed, including a senior officer in Iraq, said Rumsfeld took significant risks by leaving key units in the United States and Germany at the start of the war. That resulted in an invasion force that is too small, strung-out, underprotected, under-supplied, and awaiting tens of thousands of reinforcements who will not get there for weeks." Your response?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The people who are commenting on the war plan, I think, are probably people who have never seen it. And therefore, one has to ask that question.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think that people --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Just a minute, just a minute, just a minute -- I have a feeling that if you ask General Franks, which people did today, about the war plan, he would say that there is nothing he has asked for that he has not gotten.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So this is just pure fiction, in your view?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it is. What happened -- I can think of one instance, and I'll give you -- I'll tell you what it was. I was given a deployment order for a National Guard unit, I believe from Puerto Rico. And I was asked to sign it for force protection for our forces in Germany. And I looked at it and I said, "My goodness, why don't we ask if the Germans would be willing to provide force protection for our troops and we can use those folks for something else?" We did. Within a matter of 24 hours, the Germans had agreed to provide force protection. They're doing it. And that unit did not have to go.

Now, is that going to lose the war? No. Was it something that was different than had been sent me by the -- some of the staff people? Yes. It was different.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know --

SEC. RUMSFELD: The other thing that occurred was the logistics train was designed to be either everything went or nothing went. And in fact, the president wanted to support the diplomacy in the United Nations. So he wanted things to flow in over a period of time. But everything that they've asked for is in process. It's all arriving. Their numbers of troops are arriving. They're increasing by two or three thousand everyday.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know, you've used 550,000 troops for what was presumably an easier job back in 1991, pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Can you explain why half that number or a little more than half that number is appropriate now?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there are about 300,000 troops there now. And if you go back and look at the 500,000 that you referenced from the Gulf War, they were not used, for the most part. The Iraqi regime is probably 35-40 percent as capable as it was back in 1991. And the people talking about this tend to be people who have the 1991 Gulf War in their mind.

But if you think about it, what they did -- Tom Franks' plan was to not have a long air war. And everyone was expecting a long air war.He put the ground forces in Iraq before the air war even began. Now, that's unusual.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think now you might need that longer air war now, a couple more weeks of softening up the Republican Guard?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm sure there will be weeks of an air war. I'm not talking about how long the air war ultimately would be. I'm saying in '91 there was a 38-day air war before the ground war began.

Now, what's happened? In 1991, there were masses of refugees and displaced persons, fleeing out of the country. Are there this year? No. In 1991, what else occurred? There was a lot of collateral damage from the long air war. Our preference is, as a country, to have as little collateral damage as possible. In 1991, there was the period that went on for such a long time before the ground war started that ended up different this time, to be sure, in a way that General Franks decided could be avoided. And so we don't have the refugees, we don't have a humanitarian crisis. The oil fields, for example, because of the long air war -- what did the Iraqis do? They burned the Kuwaiti oil fields. These oil fields have not yet been burned. In fact, the British forces are today securing the bulk of those southern oil fields.

So a lot of good things happened, and a lot of bad things were avoided because General Franks decided to put forces on the ground fast and early.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of emphasis has been placed on avoiding collateral damage. And, you know, when you're in charge, you get hit coming and going.

SEC. RUMSFELD: You do.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to play now, show now, an editorial from the "Wall Street Journal" that basically says the United States has been too scrupulously. It says "These allied scruples have had important military costs. The decision not to bomb Iraqi TV avoided civilian deaths, but also gave Saddam an opening to show he was still in control. The sprint to Baghdad to end the war quickly opened allied supply lines to Fedayeen raids and the original decision to by-pass Basra denied to Iraq's suppressed Shiite majority any immediate motivation to revolt." Do you think this effort to save lives may actually be prolonging the war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, I don't. "Prolonging the war" is a fascinating phrase. We're nine days into this war. This is not the ninth year. This is the ninth day of the war.

I think it's important that -- first of all, we're going to win this war. Let there be no doubt. We've got a good plan and it's working very, very well. There are a lot of second-guessers, but believe me it's going to end and it will end in victory.

It is important that that happen, that the people of Iraq be liberated. It's also important that we do it in a way that we feel comfortable with as a country. So it's not just that we win, it's also how we win. And if you think about it, the Iraqi people are in large measure hostages to that vicious regime. And we can do this, and we can do it, I hope and pray, with limited loss of innocent lives.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There were two incidents this week in Baghdad where innocent life was lost. I think about 15 people on Wednesday in a bombing and then a market bombing on Friday with about 49 reported killed. Can you tell us anything more? I know you've been looking at it for a few days, about what happened in those incidents?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I really can't. We're not on the ground there. There is no question it looked from the television as though people were killed. We also know that the general for the Iraqis that's in charge of air defense has been fired. And --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So does that mean that it might have been their mistake?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Who knows? But they're putting an awful lot of things up in the air and they come down somewhere. And they're not hitting our airplanes. We know that. We haven't lost any airplanes. So they're coming down someplace. And I just don't know the answer to that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You talked about the Iraqi people being hostages, but have you perhaps underestimated the force of Iraqi nationalism? Especially after twelve years of sanctions and that the Iraqi people just aren't going to welcome the American forces?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Time will tell. We'll know soon. We're finding a lot of cooperation, the British are, in Basra, where they're now inside the city. Local residents are telling them where these gangs of thugs are. And these death squads are there shooting people.

Now, does it surprise you that a person who's got a gun to his head is not rushing out with a flag saying "welcome" to the coalition forces? It doesn't surprise me. The Shi'ia in that area were killed by the tens of thousands after the last Gulf War. Because they did have an uprising. They did believe Saddam Hussein was going to be gone and they were wrong. The United States and the coalition forces left and they were slaughtered.

I think that their caution is probably reasonable. And as someone who's old enough to remember the Hungarian Revolution and the number of people who rose up and then were killed by the Soviet Union, I'm inclined not to urge people to rise up until we're close and we can be helpful.

Put yourself in Saddam Hussein's shoes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again? [Laughs]

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. Do it. His circumstance is not a happy one. We're within 49 miles of Baghdad. He's being closed on from the north, south, and there's so many people running around hyper-ventilating that things aren't going well. This plan is working.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, weapons of mass destruction. Key goal of the military campaign is finding those weapons of mass destruction. None have been found yet. There was a raid on the Answar Al-Islam Camp up in the north last night. A lot of people expected to find ricin there. None was found. How big of a problem is that? And is it curious to you that given how much control U.S. and coalition forces now have in the country, they haven't found any weapons of mass destruction?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Not at all. If you think -- let me take that, both pieces -- the area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

Second, the [audio glitch] facilities, there are dozens of them, it's a large geographic area. It is the -- Answar Al-Islam group has killed a lot of Kurds. They are tough. And our forces are currently in there with the Kurdish forces, cleaning the area out, tracking them down, killing them or capturing them and they will then begin the site exploitation. The idea, from your question, that you can attack that place and exploit it and find out what's there in fifteen minutes.

I would also add, we saw from the air that there were dozens of trucks that went into that facility after the existence of it became public in the press and they moved things out. They dispersed them and took them away. So there may be nothing left. I don't know that. But it's way too soon to know. The exploitation is just starting.

Second, the criminal facilities, there are dozens of them, it's a large geographic area. It is the -- Answar Al-Islam group has killed a lot of Kurds. They are tough. And our forces are currently in there with the Kurdish forces, cleaning the area out, tracking them down, killing them or capturing them and they will then begin the site exploitation. The idea, from your question, that you can attack that place and exploit it and find out what's there in fifteen minutes.

I would also add, we saw from the air that there were dozens of trucks that went into that facility after the existence of it became public in the press and they moved things out. They dispersed them and took them away. So there may be nothing left. I don't know that. But it's way too soon to know. The exploitation is just starting.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think we'll still be fighting in Iraq six months from now?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness, you know, I've never -- we've never had a timetable. We've always said it could be days, weeks, or months and we don't know. And I don't think you need a timetable. What you really need to know is it's going to end and it's going to end with the Iraqi people liberated and that regime will be gone.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much.

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