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Media Availability with Congressional Delegation Members

Presenters: Powell Moore, ASD (Legislative Affairs)
November 06, 2003 9:30 AM EDT

(Participating were U.S. Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Vic Snyder (D-AR), Baron Hill (D-IN), Robert Simmons (R-CT), Gresham Barrett (R-SC), Tom Cole (R-OK), Steve King (R-IA), Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Powell Moore, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.)

 

     Moore:  Good morning.

 

     Codel Thornberry had breakfast this morning with Secretary Rumsfeld and -- he was the host.  The deputy secretary, vice chairman, Undersecretaries Feith and Zakheim were there, and Pete Geren [special assistant to the Secretary of Defense] and I also joined the breakfast.

 

     The delegation returned on October the 20th.  It was led by Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas.  With us today are also Representative Vic Snyder of Arkansas, Gresham Barrett of South Carolina, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Steve King of Iowa and Madeleine Bordallo from Guam.

 

     I'll turn it over to Representative Thornberry.

 

     Thornberry:  Mac Thornberry from the 13th District of Texas. As Powell said, we had the opportunity to travel about 2-1/2 weeks ago.  There were nine of us in the delegation.  Spent parts of two days in and around Baghdad, part of another day up in the north, around Mosul.  Didn't get much sleep, but tried to see and do as much as we can -- could.

 

     I think all of us benefited from the trip.  All of us had voted for the Iraqi supplemental just before we left, and ended up, I think, supporting the final version.

 

     I guess just a brief summary.  As we have discussed, our strongest impression was of the quality and character of the folks in our military whom we met and got a chance to visit with often, those from our states.  I think secondly, all of us came away more encouraged about the ability of Iraq to ultimately form a stable nation, more encouraged than before we went.

 

     And thirdly, at least I came away even more convinced that this really is the central front in the war on terrorism and that we have an incredible amount at stake in its success.

 

     So that's really all I have.  I don't know if my colleagues have some other statement they'd like to make right quick, and then mainly we're here just to see if y'all have questions.  (Pause.)  We're ready.

 

     Q:  I guess the first and most obvious question:  Sitting back here, we get the reports of the things, you know, like the attacks and that sort of thing.  Can you give us any feedback of what is being done to kind of ward that off?  Is there any sort of plan to -- for example, like these devices to protect against the IEPs, the improvised explosive devices.  What's going on, you know, from your standpoint, what you saw during the trip?

 

     Thornberry:  Well, one of the questions foremost on my mine when I got back is what is happening as far as exploring technologies that could reduce the risk of these improvised explosive devices.  And I'm convinced that there are a number of efforts under way to try to reduce that risk.  And I don't how much -- I'm not qualified to get into the detail of exactly what all those are, and if I could, I should.

 

     But I do think that is -- when we were there, at least, that was the greatest security concern that we heard from individual soldiers, you know, who have to do patrols every day.

 

     What really is going to matter the most is having more Iraqis take over the job and having fewer of our folks out on the streets and driving around every day.  And I think all of us were very impressed, and I didn't fully appreciate the extent to which that is under way. But I think that's going to matter more than anything else.

 

     Q:  Can you tell us a little bit about your briefing on the troop rotations?  There will be -- additional troops were alerted last night.  There will be an announcement today on -- to exactly what the status will be, on who's going to be called up.  What's your impressions of the latest round?

 

     Thornberry:  Well, we talked about that somewhat this morning with the secretary.  I think generally our impressions, from talking with the troops over there, are they're ready to come home. Some of them have been there since day one, crossing the berm, and they are anxious to be rotated home, understanding all the while that what they're doing is very important for the security of the country.

 

     You know, I guess a key question we all are interested in is to what extent people have to go back to Iraq who have just come from there.  My understanding is that it's going to be a small number.  But obviously, if you're using folks that hard, that is a concern to all of us.  And so I think those are some of the key questions that we're going to be interested in.

 

     And I don't know if somebody else has something they want to add to that or not.

 

     Snyder:  I believe I will.

 

     Thornberry:  Yeah.  Yeah.

 

     Snyder:  I'm from -- Vic Snyder from Arkansas.  And we currently in Arkansas have the 39th Brigade, which is -- I think it's the largest activation of a Guard unit since World War II, almost, I think, 4,000 Arkansans, plus some folks from Oregon and some other states.  But the leadership and the great majority of the troops are coming out of Arkansas.  They're now at Fort Hood.  They're training. They're going to replace one of the units we met with and had dinner with in -- around Baghdad.

 

     And I think this is going to be a big issue as this next budget process goes on.  There's a lot of questions being asked about end strength, about rotations, about the impact on communities.  I think morale is good amongst the Guard and Reserve forces.  But Mac has a tendency, Mr. Thornberry, to look over the long view.  I think that's the job of the Armed Services Committee.  So I think you're going to see a lot of discussion; what is going to be the impact over the long term on both Guard and Reserve forces and on the active forces.

 

     Q:  Are you all encouraged that the projection is that there will be less U.S. forces in Iraq in a year from now, down to 100,000?

 

     Voice:  (Inaudible.)

 

     Q:  Did you all -- sorry, I came in a little bit late at the beginning.  But John McCain gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday really pushing the idea of getting more troops there now.  How do you all, you know, feel about that?  He says that we can't count, except for maybe Turkey, on foreign countries going in there and getting this together quick enough to assist us in this.

 

     Thornberry:  It's one of the questions we ask in every meeting, not just with General Sanchez and the people in Baghdad, but when you get out and talk to people whose job it is to actually send the soldiers out on patrol, and so forth.  And I have yet to have a military person tell me they need more people.

 

     And I think at some level, I think you just have to trust the folks whose job it is to carry out the mission to tell you how many people they need.  And I have no doubt that if any of them say we could use a few more folks, that I suspect they would certainly get it from this building, but I guarantee that we would take up that hue and cry.  But on the other hand, I think we ought to be reluctant to override their judgment, and that's part of what you're hearing.

 

     Again, the key for me is Iraqis providing security for Iraq. That's what matters the most.  And it would be certainly nice to have other countries come in and take over more of the burden that we have now, but what really counts is Iraqis doing it rather than anybody else.  And that -- you don't want to rush it, but that is moving along at a good pace.  And one of the things I come away from this trip encouraged the most by is that turning it over -- the training and turning over the security jobs to Iraqis.

 

     Cole:  A point on that.  I couldn't agree more with Mac. And I think we ought to look a little bit on our own experience on this as well.  If you'll recall, in Kosovo and Bosnia we had a lot of discussion about should there be more people -- actually, during the war -- should there be American ground troops committed.  And there were a lot of people in Congress that felt very strongly that there should.  The professional judgment at the Pentagon was that we didn't need more people, and that proved ultimately to be correct.

 

     And again, there's a difference between more people in Iraq -- I think you'd actually run the risk of a little bit of anti-American sentiment; you would run the risk that people in other parts of the world would draw the conclusion, "Gosh, I guess the situation there is terrible and deteriorating because the Americans are putting in more people," when I think exactly the opposite is the case.  That is, we are making progress, we are seeing more Iraqis come on line to do security.  And I don't want to, frankly, give the propaganda victory.  I'd be willing to do that if I thought they were necessary, but again, as Mac said, we couldn't find anybody from top to the bottom on-ground that gave us indication that they needed more people in Iraq.

 

     Now, I think there is a question we maybe need a little bit larger Army for rotational purposes.  But that's another issue. That's not the same as more people in Iraq.  That's simply saying we've got a lot of obligations around the world and we need a military large enough to deal with those.

 

     Barrett:  I'm Gresham Barrett from South Carolina.  I think the exciting thing that both of these gentlemen touched on, the figure we heard today is 118,000 Iraqis working on the ground as we speak.   I mean, this is a force that we took from zero to 118,000.  That's exciting.  That's what we're there about: to train, to encourage, to build up their forces as we decrease ours.

 

     King:  I'd like to -- there's a misconception out there that I think needs to be addressed, too.  I'm Steve King from Iowa.  And over the nearly $20 billion that we committed to infrastructure reconstruction in Iraq, the public seems to believe that that's to repair the war damage and the buildings that have been hit by coalition forces.  I saw maybe six buildings -- I know I didn't see them all -- that were damaged by coalition forces.  But the reconstruction there is to reconstruct two generations of neglect.

 

     And when you see a city of 5-1/2 million people without a single traffic light, and, you know, short of traffic control, a huge figure- eight race running around there, there's a lot of work to be done to get them up into the 21st century.  Their hospitals are back in the '50s and '60s.  The schools are all stripped and looted, and many of those are up and functioning well.  There was criticism in one of the major magazines in America that we didn't do what we should have done, which they suggested was put air conditioners in these schools.  And yet, they pointed to the $11 ceiling fan -- they were glad they had their ceiling fan.  That's something they didn't appear to have had before, and new chalkboard.  We're giving them the cheaper version to get them going.  We don't need to go with a Cadillac version.  But those kind of things are what we're seeking to do with the infrastructure side of it, and it will make a huge difference in their society.

 

     Bordallo:  Madeleine Bordallo from Guam.  From a woman's perspective, I had a change of heart after visiting Iraq.  I didn't know what to expect, and after seeing it, generally, the people are very pleased to have the Americans there and they do not want us to leave.

 

     We visited, as was said, hospitals and schools.  In the hospital, my colleague forgot to mention that in the operating room, the equipment is 30 to 40 years old.  And we saw this.  I mean, I think the best thing to do is to go to Iraq and really see this with your own eyes and come away with different thoughts.

 

     I think what -- about the troops that were asked, the secretary shared with us this morning that there is a mix now of reservists, guardsmen and active military.  And what will happen, I think, in the very near future is that up in Mosul, when we were there, General Petraeus is a glorious example of the military working with the civilian population.  He has empowered his troops to take over the different -- the health and the education and the security, and he himself helped conduct the elections.  They have a governor and a vice governor.  So, they're working very closely with the Iraqis.  And I feel that in the next year or so, we can begin to see the troop -- American troop numbers diminish; we'll see the Iraqis taking over. And it is true that many classes of securities have graduated and now ready, out in the streets working.

 

     So, that's -- I've come away with knowing that we've got a job to do.  We cannot walk away and leave these poor people on their own. They're not ready yet, but soon will be if we continue to push and continue to empower them.

 

     Q:   Yeah, the general training of the troops, the military is not in the civil affairs-type things, the reconstruction, the -- working with the people.  How do you find the individual military are adapting to this new role that they've thrown into?

 

     Thornberry:  That is what I am most impressed by, because you could not -- no one could possibly train our military to do everything that now they have to do, not just their military jobs, but a lot of times, running the cities and keeping society over there pulled together.  And it's different from one place to the next.  And yet, because of the quality and character of our folks, they are doing an outstanding job.  And that was probably my strongest impression, how without specific training to do something, they are just doing a terrific job.

 

     Cole:  I think there's another issue to look at over the long run, too -- the formal civil affairs function, most of it is in the Reserve forces, in the Army Reserve.  And so, I've talked to people whose opinion I trust who think that we need to think in terms of in the active forces, considering having 10,000 active folks doing civil affairs functions.  Now, the problem you get into is one, the advantage of having it be a Guard and Reserve function is that these are people who come from places like running water projects in their real jobs, and so they're available, then, to assist in Iraq.  Now, you then have to ask the question, okay, who's running the water plant back home?  I mean, these are the trade-offs you make.  But I think that's a discussion that's going on right now, and my guess is that you will see more of the civil affairs function move into the active forces.  But that's a little subplot, I think, of the question you asked.

 

     Moore:  One more question.  They have to be back on the Hill -- (Off mike.)

 

     (Pause.)

 

     Okay.  Thank you very much.

 

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