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Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
April 20, 2004 1:30 PM EDT
Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good afternoon.

 

            This has been, I guess, the most difficult month for coalition soldiers in Iraq since major combat operations ended May 1st of last year.  It would seem that the enemies of freedom are taking a final stand before sovereignty is scheduled to pass to the Iraqis on June 30th.

 

            Our forces are performing well.  We extend to each of them our gratitude for their skill and their courage.  The wounded and those whose lives will not be fully lived and their loved ones are never far from our thoughts.  Their strength and their sacrifices are a reflection, I believe, of the strength of the American people.

 

            In southern Iraq the coalition has worked with the moderate Shi'a leadership, giving them an opportunity to exercise leadership and try to forge an Iraqi-centered solution to the situation.  The moderate Shi'as, like the vast majority of the Iraqi people, want to see freedom and the rule of law take root.

 

            In Fallujah, discussions are seeking an Iraqi-centered solution there.  But let there be no doubt: It is essential to hold to account those murderers with strong ties to Iraq's deposed regime.  But it's also important to demonstrate to those Iraqis who may feel disenfranchised that there is a place for them in a new, in a free, in a peaceful Iraq.

 

            The current state of affairs in Fallujah will not continue indefinitely.  Thugs and assassins and former Saddam henchmen will not be allowed to carve out portions of that city and to oppose peace and freedom.  The dead enders, threatened by Iraq's progress to self- government, may believe they can drive the coalition out through terror and intimidation, and foment civil war among Sunnis and Shi'as, or block the path to Iraqi self-rule, but they're badly mistaken. Saddam's thugs will not be allowed to determine the fate of 25 million Iraqi people and block their progress to a better future.  We're seeing a test of wills, and those who routinely attack unarmed civilians, women and children now have to fight coalition soldiers and Marines, which they will find considerably more difficult.

 

            In the middle of a long struggle, it is sometimes difficult to see the longer-term significance of events and battles along the way. But the American people have a good center of gravity.  They know that the stakes are high and that it will take patience and resolve, and indeed it will.

 

            General Pace.

 

            GEN. PACE:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

 

            General Dick Myers just returned from the AOR.  He was in Iraq and Afghanistan last week.  He was looking forward to sharing his personal observations with you. As you know, he's still testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee as we speak.

 

            So I'm here and we'll take your questions.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Charlie.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, Secretary Wolfowitz seemed to suggest, in testimony held today, that the possibility of increasing the 135,000 troops in Iraq, possibly in the coming months, is still a very open question.  Are you considering whether to do that, sir, and might you keep the 135,000 at the very least beyond three or four months?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  We have no intention to keep the I guess it was 20,000 that have been extended for up to 90 days in country and up to 120 days overall beyond that period.  We have made arrangements that -- in the event General Abizaid feels that that higher number of 135,000 instead of 115,000 troops in country are needed, we've made arrangements to have them replaced, the 20,000 replaced by other forces.

 

            Q     And might you go beyond the 135,000 in the coming months? Is there a -- is that being considered?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know that I'd use the word "considered." Are we knowledgeable about what we would do in the event that General Abizaid decided he needed troops above the 135,000?  The answer is yes.  Of course we're knowledgeable of that.  That's our job, is to think through -- (chuckles) -- steps ahead.

 

            And so we are aware of two things.  One is in the event he decides he wants to stay at 135,000 after the 90 days in country expires, we have thought through how those people would be replaced. And in the event he were to require still additional forces, we have thought through that as well.

 

            But the -- your question's phraseology was worrisome because you said are you "considering" it, and the answer is, are we considering it?  No.  But have we prepared?  You bet.  It happens he's not raised the question with us, so I wouldn't want to have your question answered improperly.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yes.

 

            Q     I have a question for General Pace if I may.  General, in the early days of the war, in the race from Kuwait up to Baghdad, many elements of the republican army and maybe Republican Guard were bypassed and/or allowed to fade away -- at least with their light weapons, Kalashnikovs, away.  How many of those are now engaged in unfriendly tactics against our troops and the coalition?  Someone in Baghdad last week said that -- I think it was General Kimmitt -- said that there seems to be a military type of presence to some of the forces attacking us.  Can you give us some kind of perspective, if you would, sir?

 

            GEN. PACE:  We don't know the answer to your specific question for two reasons.  First of all, we do not know how many of the forces that were initially between us and Baghdad were bypassed or those that actually just disintegrated.  And as you know, they disintegrated very quickly, so the definition between bypass and not even being there is not knowable at this time.

 

            Second, because we have not gotten into downtown Fallujah, have not addressed those fighters who are there yet, we don't know exactly who they are.  But we will find out before this is over.

 

            Q     But the tactics, some of the tactics we see now, do they seem to be tactics of people who are militarily trained?

 

            GEN. PACE:  It appears that in some cases that the folks we're fighting against have had military training, yes.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about General Petraeus's new assignment.   Is that meant to accelerate the development of Iraqi security forces?  And if so, why did you wait so long to put someone in charge -- overall in charge of the whole project?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I think if you look back over the period of time, a portion of the Iraqi security forces' responsibilities fell to CENTCOM and a portion fell to the Coalition Provisional Authority, and some training responsibilities were with other countries and with the Department of State.  It was decided, properly, I believe, very recently, within the last month or two or three, that all of the Iraqi security forces should fall under CENTCOM for a period.  Eventually they will be transferred to the Department of State, at some point after the mission is established to succeed Ambassador Bremer.

 

            We have had a person, General Eaton, I believe --

 

            GEN. PACE:  Paul Eaton, yes, sir.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  -- Paul Eaton, who has been in charge of the CENTCOM portion of the Iraqi security forces all along.  This is a different task now.  It is all -- it will include the army, the police, the site protection, the ICDC, the Civil Defense Corps, and the border patrol -- all will fall under General Petraeus.  And clearly, it is a complicated matter as you transition from those forces being part of the CPA and CENTCOM's responsibility to establishing a Ministry of Defense, which has now been done; appointing a minister of Defense, which has now been done; and having a chain of command develop on the Iraqi side.  And it will be General Petraeus's responsibility to work with all the coalition countries to -- and all of those involved in training, and mentoring, and equipping these forces.  And that is a big job and it's an important job.  General Petraeus brings a lot of good experience, of course.  When he was up north, he had a good deal of experience in recruiting and training and deploying various Iraqi security forces.  So we think he's a good choice.

 

            Q     And that will extend beyond June 30th?  It will continue to be under CENTCOM's control?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  That's my -- we've not worked that out quite, but that's my guess.  Certainly everything is going to chop over to the Department of State on June 30th, I think, except those things that we work out might pass earlier or somewhat later.  And those are subject to an interagency team that's been working.  Ambassador Ricciardone and General Kicklighter have been working together extensively for some months now, working through all of those issues so that the transition is smooth.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you a non-Iraq question. There was a major plea -- guilty plea today in the Eastern District of Virginia, Darleen Druyun, the former number two Air Force acquisition official, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy in talking with a Boeing official while she was still negotiating various Boeing contracts, including the big $23 billion tanker deal.

 

            Realizing that the tanker proposal is on hold right now, under analysis, I wanted to get your reaction, though, in terms of how this plea complicates the department's analysis, and does it raise new questions in your mind that this whole tanker proposal may be too tainted for the public to see that it should go forward or not?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  There were a variety of things that came to my attention that caused me to put the tanker deal on hold.  We then immediately initiated four things, as I recall.  One was the complete review of the ethics procedure to see that the training was proper; another was to see -- have the inspector general undertake an inspection to determine what was done that was improper.  Another was to ask the Defense Science Board to take a ground-up look at tankers; in other words, the need, the entire process -- I don't mean the process, the entire subject, substantively.  And then I believe it was the Defense Industrial College that is looking at procedures generally, procurement procedures of these type.

 

            I was not -- haven't seen anything or heard anything about the plea bargain, or whatever it is you characterized it.  But any time something like that happens in a department of this type, it is something that has to be used as an example for others that this department is not going to tolerate people who don't abide by the rules and don't adhere to the ethics requirements and to the laws.

 

            And we will proceed along the track, the four tracks that I have described, and we'll make a decision at some point.

 

            Q     I guess I want to press you, though.  This guilty plea in a major felony, doesn't that complicate your review here and raise the perception in the public's eye that this thing is tainted and shouldn't go forward?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think that it's not for me to prejudge that. If somebody does something wrong, they ought to be punished.  If procedures need to be improved, they ought to be improved.  When the proper people who are analyzing the substantive issue of the need for tankers, or the absence of a need for tankers, or the corrosion, or the absence of corrosion, or the lease versus buy, all of those complex issues that are involved here, when they complete that review and recommendation, it then would be the responsibility of the department to do the proper thing.  And one will look at it fresh without any concern about elements that may have been improperly done previously.

 

            Q     I think I understand that.  I mean, that would be a separate issue, though, from what --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  If someone does something wrong, they ought to be punished.  If there are procedures that need to be improved, they ought to be improved.  And if there's a substantive need for the department to look at the tanker issue, then we darn well ought to do that, and we ought to do it in a fair, direct, open way.  And we will. We shall, I guess.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, in his just-published book, "Plan of Attack," Bob Woodward describes a meeting on January 11th of last year in which you supposedly point to a map of the war plans for Iraq and tell Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, "You can count on this.  You can take it to the bank.  This is going to happen."

 

            Can you give us your recollection of what happened in that meeting, which was also attended by Vice President Cheney and General Myers?  And can you tell us if at that point the decision had in fact been made to go to war with Iraq?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I'll try.  There was a meeting in the vice president's office of the vice president, General Myers, Ambassador Bandar and Don Rumsfeld.  And I don't remember showing him any maps, myself.  It may very well have been that General Myers showed him something.  But it was a meeting not unlike we had with any number of neighboring countries as the buildup towards the -- to support the diplomacy, the flow of forces was taking place, we had the obligation to try to do it in the most cost-effective and responsible way, and the way that would best fit General Franks' plans, in the event that he did in fact ultimately have to go to war.  That meant we had to talk to the countries in the region and work out things at ports or airfields and that type of thing.

 

            And so the meeting did take place.  General Myers may have shown him a map; I'm not certain of that, but he may have.  To my knowledge, a decision had not been taken by the president to go to war at that meeting.  There was certainly nothing I said that should have suggested that, and any suggestion to the contrary would not be accurate.

 

            Q     Do you remember saying, "You can take it to the bank.  This is going to happen."

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't remember saying it, to be perfectly honest.  But I have said that, that phrase, in my life.  But I could have said it about a dozen different things.  In other words, it may have been about some discussion we'd had about an interaction with another country, a third country.  It may have been about a comment that in the event the president did make such a decision, that the action would be followed through sufficiently that the regime would in fact be changed.  As opposed to the implication from your question -- which I have not read the book -- that the statement might have been made in connection with a decision having been made by the president.

 

            But my best recollection -- and I hate to use the word "certain" because no one's memory is perfect, but I can't believe the decision had been made by the president during that period.  If it had been, I didn't know it had been.  Therefore, I would never have said what you said somebody said I said --

 

            Q     Well -- (laughter) --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  -- with respect to that aspect of it, a decision having been made.

 

            Q     Mr. Woodward says that you're on the record on this point, and that he has mentioned several times that the Pentagon transcripts that are posted on the Pentagon's website will back him up.  Now, I have checked those transcripts and I see no reference to this incident.  However, there are two transcripts posted.  Did you meet with him more than twice, do you recall?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  No, I didn't.

 

            Q     You only met with him twice?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I think that's correct.

 

            Q     So those transcripts are the complete record of what you told him?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Except for where I said "ah" or "uh" or something like that -- (laughter) -- and some person transcribing might have taken that out, or where the transcription was in error.

 

            But I just -- here I am in a meeting in the vice president's office.  It is certainly not for me to communicate to someone from another country a decision by the president of the United States. That just doesn't compute.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I have two questions, sir.  One, will the -- if you can, sir, assess the situation in Afghanistan because the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in the last few weeks has been accusing Pakistan that across the border the Taliban and al Qaeda are being still trained and coming to Afghanistan.  He was in Washington and also in Kabul, but the charges Pakistan denies.  So where do we stand on the charges he made?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I haven't seen those charges, therefore I can't comment on the charges.  Either General Pace or I are happy to comment on the degree of cooperation that we're currently receiving from Pakistan along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and I would characterize it as very good, wouldn't you?

 

            GEN. PACE:  I would, yes, sir.  There are very robust operations going on on both sides; Pakistan on their side, U.S. and Afghan forces on the Afghan side.  And sharing of information and intelligence back and forth, very, very open.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yes.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, and, General Pace, if you could address this, can you tell us any details you have of today's attack in Mosul I believe on the 133rd Engineering Battalion?  I believe five soldiers were injured.  Do you have any details of what happened?

 

            GEN. PACE:  I do not.

 

            Q     And if they had, I understand, some type of roadside bomb device?  Is this nothing you can confirm?

 

            GEN. PACE:  I do not know.  I'm sorry.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I saw just the early first report of that, and first reports are frequently wrong, more often than not, and I know nothing more than that report.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, could you or General Pace give us an operational update on the status of negotiations in Fallujah and Najaf?  We continue to hear that time is running out, but is time running out?  Is there an end date at which offensive operations are going to continue, in Fallujah specifically?  And what is the situation in Najaf?

 

            GEN. PACE:  Well, I can give you the operational piece, not negotiations because there's two different parts.

 

            As I understand it, the negotiation that is ongoing in Fallujah is a combination of Iraqi Governing Council, members from Mr. Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority staff, some representatives from General Sanchez's CJTF-7 staff, and the Marines, General Conway and his staff out there.  So there's a group of interested parties working with the town's fathers, so to speak, of Fallujah.  That is ongoing discussions.

 

            What is happening militarily is that the Marines are still poised to resume offensive operations.  They are still taking very aggressive defensive/protective measures.  They're in place.  As they are attacked, they are very aggressively killing the enemy.  There is not a specific timeline right now.  The Marines are giving the political figures in the country the opportunity to work out a political solution.

 

            Q     Who makes the decision that the negotiations are not bearing fruit?  Who makes the decision that this is the end of the game?

 

            GEN. PACE:  There will be a discussion amongst Mr. Bremer, Secretary Rumsfeld, others in our government.  We'll get input from the commanders on the ground as far as how they see the military situation with regards to the negotiations that are ongoing.  The military piece is a part -- an important part, but a part -- of the dialogue.  And then once the secretary and the president have a chance to confer, the military will do the mission that they're given.

 

            Q     How about in Najaf?

 

            GEN. PACE:  I'm sorry?

 

            Q     Najaf, is the situation the same, it's kind of a standoff?

 

            GEN. PACE:  A little bit different in Najaf.  Our forces are in position in the outlying parts of -- outside the city of Najaf right now.  And as you know, there's a swap-out of forces going on now.  The Spanish are leaving and other coalition forces are moving in.  There are discussions, again, not military discussions, but political discussions ongoing.  And again, we're going to position ourselves militarily to be able to take the appropriate decisive military action, if that's called for, but at the same time, trying to create the atmosphere with military forces that will get the people to talk to each other and find a peaceful solution.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, could I follow on that, please?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Sure.

 

            Q     Because General Pace indicated that you're in the loop on the Fallujah negotiation decision.  Could there be any negotiated settlement of to the situation in Fallujah without the capture of the former regime, the insurgents, the foreign fighters, whoever was responsible for the recent attacks not only against the Americans, but against Iraqis in that region?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  You never know how discussions are going to play out.  The difficulty with these discussions, as I understand them, is that the people who are causing the trouble aren't part of the discussions.  In other words, the discussions are between the Governing Council and some senior Sunni officials talking to the town fathers of Fallujah.  They're not talking to the former intelligence officers that are in there, they're not talking to the SSO or the Special Republican Guard people who are in there, they're not talking to the foreign terrorists in there.  These are the people that are causing the problem, these are the ones that are terrorizing the people of Fallujah.

 

            So the chances of those negotiations producing an outcome along the lines that you've described, it seems to me, realistically, to be difficult.  I never rule anything out.  But -- and clearly, the people in there that have been killing people and threatening the people of Fallujah need to be brought to justice.

 

            Q     So then what's being negotiated?  Certainly the U.S. is not going to negotiate away the opportunity to take those terrorists, foreign fighters, whoever they are, into custody.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  One would think not.

 

            Q     Then what's being negotiated?  I -- quite frankly, I don't understand why things are dragging out.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, there are any number of things.  The circumstances of the people in the city; the possibility that you might be able to get some of the wrongdoers brought to justice peacefully.  I'd just characterize it as it seems to me to be remote.

 

            Yes.

 

            Q     On the transfer of sovereignty on June 30th, the administration says it will hold firm to that date, and the president indicated last week that one of the risks of not doing so would be that we'd be seen increasingly as an occupying force, and that would be a rallying point for anti-American elements.  But Senator Collins of the Armed Services Committee and others think that there are risks in doing it, in transferring sovereignty before we have a stable security situation.  What are some of the trade-offs?  How do you see the risks of, in fact, transferring sovereignty under present circumstances?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I think we'll be able to better characterize the risks of doing it against the risks of not doing it when we know a bit more about what Mr. Brahimi's proposing and the kinds of warm bodies that might fill some of the positions -- (chuckles) -- that he may be proposing, and I think that that is yet ahead of us.

 

            Now, you're quite right to ask the question.  This is the 20th of April.  We're talking about June 30th.  That's going to come around very rapidly.  And our hope is that he will continue to do what he's doing, he will continue to make his proposals, that they'll be discussed by Iraqis, and at some point they'll -- it will jell in a way that can happen in our world.  Certainly the Karzai selection was not preordained.  It jelled as a result of a loya jirga.  Well, maybe there's going to be an Iraqi loya jirga, if you will; some conclave where people will come together and talk and discuss this thing.

 

            And recognize that what will happen is not a permanent Iraqi government as a result of Mr. Brahimi's proposals and a transfer of sovereignty to a vessel different than the one that exists today very likely, but not necessarily.  But that will be interim, and that will then be involved in helping the Iraqi people fashion a constitution, and then ultimately have elections to elect people to an Iraqi government that would follow.  And the format of that Iraqi government and constitution may very well flow out of the Transitional Administrative Law and this interim government that Mr. Brahimi's attempting to help fashion, but not necessarily.  We'll just have to see how that works.

 

            There are risks.  Unquestionably, there are risks.  This is a tough, difficult business to go from a vicious, repressive regime to something that's representative and protective of the rights of different minorities, different religious groups in the country, and that can give them reasonable confidence and conviction that they can live in that circumstance safely and successfully.  And everyone has to feel they have a stake in it.  And I think the Shi'as tend to believe they do because they're a majority.  I think the Sunnis may feel that their dominant role will disappear because they're a minority, and certainly it will, the domination that they had under Saddam Hussein, and that's a good thing.  But on the other hand, the Sunnis have to feel that they have a role in that country, a stake in that country, that they'll be able to find jobs as teachers and government employees and in the military and in the security forces, or else that system's not going to work.

 

            Now, what are the risks?  The risks are, any time you pass responsibility to somebody, they may take it and grow with it. Conversely, they may take it and fall.  And that's the nature of it.

 

            On the other hand, if you don't pass responsibility, the one thing you can be certain of, they'll never develop the capability, institutional capability to assume that responsibility.  And therefore you have to take risks.  And the risks are just as high in not passing it, in my view.  I think it's terribly important that those people step up and accept the fact that they're going to have to run that country.  And they are going to have to.

 

            I've just been passed a note via my friend, General Pace, that goes back to the question I answered on the Woodward transcripts, where I said something to the effect that the ahs and uhs were probably deleted, and I'm advised now there is some banter -- not quite sure what that means, but -- and some discussion about a totally unrelated topic, and some items that were agreed between us to not be in there.  But I can say -- that were off the record -- but I can say of certain knowledge that nothing was taken out that would naysay what I just indicated in my response to the question.

 

            Q      No 18-minute gap?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I beg your pardon.

 

            Q     No 18-minute gap?  (Laughter.)

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  And you can take that to the bank.  (Laughter.)

 

            Thank you very much.

 

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