(Town hall meeting at Camp Al Saliyah, Doha, Qatar. Also participating was Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander, U.S. Central Command.)
Franks: Thanks a lot. Well, about six weeks ago, the secretary of Defense outlined military objectives, as a matter of fact, he outlined eight of them for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today the coalition has achieved a great many of these objectives, and the people in Iraq have begun a transition to independence. On this very day, a large and diverse group of Iraqis having a meeting -- we call it the "big tent" meeting -- in Baghdad to discuss their future government. To be sure, the Iraqis will have a new government; it will be a government of their choosing. Because of all of you, and because of every member of this coalition, Iraqis today are able to raise their voices in debate without fear of torture or death.
Now, that meeting today represents just a single example of a new spirit, a spirit of hope, freedom, optimism, and a celebration that's being witnessed across Iraq and around the world. Iraqis are working with the coalition, as we speak, to help restore basic services to their cities and neighborhoods; services like clean drinking water, services like electricity, security, health care, food assistance for those in need. In fact, because of your hard work, many Iraqis already have more food, more water, more security, more electricity and better medical care than they had six weeks ago. You know, it was that regime that used hunger and the basic needs of people as tools by way of fear to control Iraq.
Now, to be sure, there is a great deal of work left to be done. But also to be sure, the Iraqi regime is no longer in power. (Cheers, applause.) And the Iraqi people are on their way to the blessings of liberty. (Applause.)
Now, throughout this operation, coalition forces have been fortunate to have civilian leadership that sets clear objectives and then empowers commanders and all of us in the field to achieve the objectives that I described a minute ago.
Mr. Secretary, on behalf of all of us, every coalition soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, contractor, DOD civil servant, thank you, sir, for your leadership. (Cheers, applause.)
Thank you for giving our forces the support, the guidance, the leadership, the tools that we need to win. And, Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here with all of us today.
Secretary Don Rumsfeld has had many titles: wrestler -- (Laughter.); pilot -- (Cheers.); pilot -- (Cheers.); congressman, chief of staff, secretary of Defense, businessman, and secretary of Defense. As for me, I just call him, "Boss." Ladies and gentlemen, the secretary of Defense of the United States of America, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Cheers, applause.)
Rumsfeld: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you so much for that wonderful, wonderful welcome.
General Franks, you and your outstanding team have done a truly superb job, for our troops, for our nation, for this region, and indeed, for the world. What this team, all of you, has accomplished will certainly go down in the history books. You and Mike DeLong, John Abizaid, General Moseley, General McKiernan, Admiral Keating, Del Dailey, Gary Harold (?), General Hailston have been privileged to lead what is without question the best trained, the best equipped, and the finest troops on the face of the earth. (Cheers, applause.)
It's a privilege for me to be able to be here and say thank you to that leadership team, but also to be able to say thank you to each of you personally for the extraordinary efforts that you've put in to this enormously important task over these past months. I know you've worked long hours, under considerable pressure, often in difficult circumstances, and I know it's not been easy, but think what's been accomplished. You have helped rescue a nation and liberate a people. You have driven a repressive regime from power, ended a threat to free people everywhere. You've protected a country, our country, from a gathering danger, and given the Iraqi people a chance to build a free nation and to live normal lives.
Think of the scenes we've all witnessed of free Iraqis pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein, embracing coalition forces, celebrating their new-found freedom. They will certainly take their place alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall, the liberation of Paris, and each of you helped make that happen. (Shouts, applause.) And you can be very proud of it.
While the Iraqi regime was waiting for General Franks to launch the air war, hundreds of Special Operations forces poured into all regions of the country, securing airfields, attacking terrorist facilities and regime targets, taking out the regime's capability to launch missiles and attacks against neighboring countries. They were followed by a large force rolling across the Kuwait border. Instead of working their way north to Baghdad, with long pauses and pitched battles for each city along the way, they pressed through southern Iraq in less than a week, leaving follow-on forces to secure the cities they passed as they raced for the capital, supported by outstanding air-ground coordination.
Notwithstanding death squads and dust storms, they reached the gates of Baghdad in less than two weeks. And by the time they were ready to take the city, they had decimated Iraq's command and control, and the Republican Guard divisions ringing Baghdad, with unquestionably the most powerful and precise air campaign in the history of warfare, using capabilities so discreet that coalition air crews could take out a tank hiding under a bridge without damaging the bridge.
Baghdad was liberated in less than a month, possibly the fastest march on a capital in modern military history. The war was remarkable not only for the speed and skill with which it happened, but also for what did not happen because of that speed and because of the design of the plan and the brilliant execution. You prevented the Iraqi regime from attacking its neighbors with missiles. You've secured the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields, and key bridges, roads and rail lines before they could be destroyed by the regime. Many had been wired for destruction but never detonated. Either the Iraqis responsible for pulling the trigger heard the message in the coalition leaflets and broadcasts and heeded the warnings, or else the coalition advance was so rapid and unexpected that they did not have time. We may never know the answer.
But we do know the result. The infrastructure of Iraq is largely intact, and an environmental disaster was averted. The dams were not broken. The villages were not flooded. There were no large masses of refugees fleeing across borders into neighboring countries as the result of a sustained air campaign that affected civilian lives. And there have not been large numbers of civilian casualties because the coalition took such great care to protect the lives of innocent civilians as well as holy sites. It's a remarkable achievement.
The plan was adaptable and flexible, and you folks were able to turn difficulties into opportunities. For example, Turkey's decision to not allow coalition forces to enter Iraq from the north was disappointing, to be sure, but that disappointment eventually was turned to our advantage. Instead of bringing the 4th Infantry Division ships out of the Mediterranean, even though we had given up hope of bringing them through Turkey, they were kept there by General Franks, creating the impression in Baghdad, we're sure, that the attack would not start until the coalition could open a northern front. This contributed to the surprise of the Iraqi regime when the war began without those forces.
When the dust is settled in Iraq, military historians will study this war. They'll examine the unprecedented combination of power, precision, speed, flexibility and, I would add also, compassion that was employed. This much is certain: From this experience, our experience in Afghanistan as well, we're learning lessons that will affect how the United States of America, how the Department of Defense and the services will organize, will train and will equip, lessons that will impact budgets and procedures, training and doctrine, and affect the future success of our country for many years to come.
So let there be no doubt. With the liberation of Iraq, you have transformed the country, but how you did it will help transform how we defend our country in the 21st century. Each of you played an important role -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- (Shouts.) -- and the Coast Guard -- (Laughter.) -- and, I would add, the civilian employees and the contractors, many of whom, I'm sure, are here. You can take great pride in that accomplishment, the skill with which you planned it, the tenacity with which you fought it and the humanity with which you prosecuted it. You've accomplished a great deal, but we still have a good deal to do, let there be no doubt.
We're grateful for your service, and we're also grateful to your families. They worry about you, I know, and they endure long separations. They also serve our country in that way, and they serve the cause of freedom. So we're grateful and proud of them. (Cheers, extended applause.) And the American people are proud of you and grateful to each of you as well.
So may God bless you all. And thank you very much.
Now! Now you have a chance to ask questions of me. Or General Franks. (Laughter.) Or both of us. Or each of us.
Are there mikes around? There are mikes? Good. Here's a hand. I'll answer easy ones. (Laughter.) Tommy will answer the tough ones.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.
Rumsfeld: You're not on.
Q: I'm Major --
Rumsfeld: There he is. It is on. (Laughter.) Now it's on.
Q: Good morning, Mr. Secretary and General Franks. I'm Major Perry Anton (sp), 502nd, from Los Alamedos, California. I've got two questions for you.
Rumsfeld: You should be in the press. (Laughter.) You'll probably have three follow-ups, too. (Laughter.)
Q: Sir -- (inaudible) -- be prepared. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: All right.
Q: In light of the significant roles of Reserves, and given the increase of the reliance on Reserve forces, what is your position on lowering the Reserve retirement age? (Shouts, cheers, applause.)
Rumsfeld: I mean, how the hell can you ask a 70-year old to lower the retirement age? (Laughter, applause.)
No, let's have a different question! Someone else! (Applause.) Where's the mikes?! (Laughter.)
Franks (?): Next question! (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Here's one right here. It's coming behind you. There we go.
Q: Mr. Secretary -- (Off mike.) --
Franks (?): Hold up for the mike.
Rumsfeld: There you go.
Q: Mr. Secretary -- (Off mike.) --
Rumsfeld: Your mike's not on. Don't yell, now. (Laughter.)
Q: Mr. Secretary -- (Off mike.). You talk about the vision for the 21st century. How would you portray that to us here, who are going to be going into the 21st century defending our country?
Rumsfeld: Well, when you think about it, the Department of Defense has historically been organized to be able to deter and defend against armies and navies and air forces. And what we're finding is a world where the weapons are increasingly more powerful, capable of killing not just hundreds or thousands, but tens of thousands, when one thinks of biological attacks and chemical and nuclear attacks.
So the task we have is a quite different one in the 21st century. It's not conventional, it's unconventional. It is a task that will require us to seek out and defend against and prevent the attacks from terrorists and terrorist networks. And there are many -- several terrorist networks that represent global threats to us. And they have close relationships with terrorist states, and the terrorist states have, increasingly, capabilities in weapons of mass destruction.
So our task is to see that we are increasingly joint as a department and less service-centric, and that we do a much better job, the kind of job that was done here by this wonderful team in seeing that we had capabilities, regardless of which service they came from, and were able to seek out and attack threats and dangers that existed.
So I think that what we're going to have to do is to take the kinds of lessons that are learned here, in what's just taken place in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and see that we do bring those lessons to the department as a whole and that we bring them to the services at an early enough stage so that we can find a -- that we've organized and we've trained and we've equipped for the kind of world we're living in. And I think that we've got a good start on that. I'm hopeful. I'm optimistic.
Right back there.
I would add one thing. We're perfectly capable of living in this world. We need not be afraid. We can do it. (Shouts, applause.)
It may be a dangerous world, and it may be an untidy world, but our country and our friends and allies are going to be able to preserve our way of life, still can continue as free people, not climb into holes and hide from others. We're going to be able to do that because we've got the ability and we have the kinds of capabilities that will enable us to do that.
Where did that mike go? Right there? Good.
Q: Yes, sir. I'm Craig Cole (sp) of the United States Air Force. One simple question for you and General Franks.
Rumsfeld: I'll decide if it's simple. (Laughter.)
Q: How do I get a picture with you and General Franks, sir? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Well, I can speak for Rumsfeld, and you come right up here afterwards, and we'll do it. I can't speak for Tommy. He's -- (laughter.)
Q: Thank you, sir.
Rumsfeld: He'll be there.
Okay. It was suggested I take one more question. I'd like to take two more questions. There's one, and there's one. Yes, right here.
Staff: I think the microphone's over here, Mr. Secretary.
Rumsfeld: Where are you?
Staff: Right here.
Q: Hi, Mr. Secretary. I'm Sergeant Cramer (ph) from the 502nd (Transit ?), and I was just curious to know whether or not you've been bombarded with apologetic phonecalls from your critics who had perceived a doom and gloom scenario.
Rumsfeld: My answer's off the record. (Laughter.) There were a lot of hand-wringers around, weren't there? (Laughter; applause.) You know, during World War II, I think Winston Churchill was talking about the Battle of Britain, and he said, "Never have so many owed so much to so few." A humorist in Washington the other day sent me a note paraphrasing that, and he said, "Never have so many been so wrong about so much." (Laughter; applause.) But I would never say that. (Laughter.)
The last question.
Q: Mr. Secretary, in the days leading up to the --
Rumsfeld: Where are you? Raise your hand. I can't --
Q: Right here.
Rumsfeld: There you are. Okay.
Q: In the days leading up to the ground assault, I have to admit that it was kind of scary for me personally. What was the hardest leadership decision that you had to make in the beginning of this campaign?
Rumsfeld: Well, I'll tell you the best decision I made was asking General Tommy Franks. (Cheers; applause.)
Thank you very much.