(Media availability following the town hall meeting at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. I suppose you're wondering why I've asked you all to come here. No, you're not.
I have said all I have to say, except in response to any questions that some of you might have. Yes, sir?
Q: Mr. Secretary -- (off mike). Has your position on it changed? Why or why not?
Rumsfeld: My position is that we ought to have as many forces in the Middle East as is appropriate. And if we're going to make an error, we ought to have too many, rather than too few. And that is the position of the president. It's the position of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the vice chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff completely, all of them, and the combatant commander. John Abizaid's the combatant commander. He has indicated that he has the level of forces there, U.S. forces, that he believes is appropriate at the present time --
Q: (Off mike.)
Rumsfeld: -- for the tasks that he has.
He has also said that we need to increase the coalition forces. And we've been working to do that, and they're flowing in now, in larger numbers.
But most important, he and the Coalition Provisional Authority have been working very hard to increase the number of Iraqi forces. So the Iraqi forces in the police, the army, the militia, the border patrol have all been growing at very rapid clip. And I don't know the number at the moment -- it changes from time to time -- but the last time I looked, it was something in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 thousand Iraqis are now either trained or in training and on the job, armed, to contribute, to provide security in the country.
If you think about it, if you had a choice between foreign presence for security and Iraqi presence for security, with an Iraqi face on it, clearly the latter is preferable. It is, in the last analysis, the responsibility of the Iraqi people to take control of their country and to provide the kind of security and stabilities and an environment that's hospitable to economic recovery and political recovery.
The -- there are some recommending that more U.S. forces go in. I can tell you that if General Abizaid recommended it, it would happen in a minute. But he has not recommended it, and we are putting a full court press on trying to increase the number of Iraqis.
So I suppose it'll be a discussion that will take place. I should also say it certainly is something that needs to be reviewed fairly continuously, and we will do that. And if it becomes -- if we get the recommendation from the combatant commander that he thinks he needs more forces, he'll have them.
Staff: Mr. Secretary.
Q: (Off mike) -- I have a question for you about -- (inaudible) -- today about restructuring the military without adding -- (inaudible). First of all, I'm wondering if that means -- (inaudible) -- or what would you sacrifice --(inaudible)? And also, if that does go into effect, how would it affect the day-to-day lives of the troops that --(inaudible)?
Rumsfeld: The article accurately represented a portion of our thinking.
About two weeks ago, I wrote a paper on this subject and came up -- and then I met with the senior leadership in the department, civilian and military. We went over the paper and discussed it and amended it and revised it. And it is now in -- going into final draft, and it will then be sent out as a tasker to all the appropriate elements in the department.
We came up with -- I don't know -- 30 or 40 different things that can be done to reduce the stress on the force. You know, setting aside how many people ought to be in Iraq and talking about how many people we ought to have in the uniform military is a separate subject. My attitude is there, again, we ought to have as many as we need, and we can afford to have as many as we need. And the question, the task, is to figure out what that number is and then go about and see that we have them, in the right skills, the right balance between active and Reserve.
It was very clear to the senior leadership of the department that there were these -- or in -- for the sake of argument, 30 or 40 different things that we -- areas that we either should execute and implement, to reduce stress on the force, or that we should study and determine whether or not they merit implementation. And I think we owe it to the taxpayers of the country to analyze and study things, and then make informed recommendations, rather than taking the easy way out, which is just to say, "Oh, fine, let's increase end strength," because if you increase end strength and you don't need it, it's not fair to the people in the service, and furthermore, you have had to give procurement and the kinds of capabilities that our folks need.
So there are lots of lessons that we've learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are a lot of ways we can be more efficient. And I can say that the senior leadership in the department is very unified in our view that we're approaching it in a very responsible, measured way.
Staff: Mr. Secretary.
Q: Senator Kerry this morning was talking about what he described as "the lack of candor" and "a lack of planning," in the post-war in particular, that is now jeopardizing life, and he went on to say in his speech, which you undoubtedly heard part of, "I want the burden taken off the soldiers as soon as possible." Did the administration plan properly for post-war, and are you playing catch-up now? And how bad is the situation there? Because it does seem to be deteriorating.
Rumsfeld: First, out of respect for him, I didn't hear him. I don't know what he actually said, and I don't know the context of your comments. So I'd rather set aside any reference to him, since I can't comment on anything he said.
With respect to the planning that took place, it began well before there was a decision to go to war. It was extensive. Like any planning, once you hit reality, the plan needs to be adjusted and modified. That's the way life is.
I'm sure any of you who sit down and make a family budget plan, once you -- that budget plan hits reality and what happens the first month of the budget, you begin making adjustments and calling audibles. And that's what happens with a war plan, for example. And the question is, did you have enough flexibility in your planning? And was it broad enough that you are able to cope with some or all or most of the kinds of things you meet?
We spent a good deal of time planning for things, in some instances, that, thank the good Lord, didn't happen. We spent time worrying about what happened in the Gulf War -- massive oil well fires. There were only a couple of handfuls of those, and thank goodness, because it protected the oil wealth of the Iraqi people, which they're going to need to recover.
We had plans for large numbers of internally displaced people, and because the war was so fast, it didn't happen.
We had humanitarian crisis plans -- how we could bring food right along, and water, as we came in. So there was extensive planning.
Now it may be that not everyone in the world is aware of all of that, but General Jay Garner is a -- was a very skilled person. He was the person in charge of that, and he did an outstanding job.
Now was -- did we -- was it possible to anticipate that the battles would take place south of Baghdad and that then there would be a collapse up north, and there would be very little killing and capturing of those folks, because they blended into the countryside and they're still fighting their war? It's not a war of big elements, it's not major combat operations, but the war is still going on in the sense that there are those people on the ground who were not killed or captured, who did not surrender; who are still attempting, through low-intensity conflict, to damage the coalition's efforts. Is that going to take some time? Sure it is. Is it hard work? You bet. Are people going to be injured in the process? I regret to say that that's what's happening.
But the combatant commander, John Abizaid, believes that the approach that's being taken is working. In a given week, they may arrest anywhere from 150 to 300 people.
They are making solid progress on the political side. A governing council exists. City councils exist. A militia is being hired, police are being hired, border guards are being hired. The economic situation is difficult, but my goodness, they had a Stalinist-like economy for decades under Saddam Hussein. What does one expect? It should come as no surprise that people are -- that the prisoners that were released from prison are still committing crimes, or that the Ba'athist dead-enders are still trying to take over, or that some of the terrorists are coming in from neighboring countries. That's all true. And they're there, and we're just going to have to work the problem, stop them from being successful.
And I think characterizing it as "deteriorating" is a misunderstanding of what's taking place there. It's tough. There are setbacks. But there's solid progress being made.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld?
Q: Do you have any response to criticism that the U.S. is policing too many troubling hot spots -- Afghanistan, Iraq and now Liberia? How taxing is that on our military troops and the resources we have in place?
Rumsfeld: I think it's a fair concern. There have to be limits as to what you do, which is why in the case of Liberia, the president made the decision that we would not go in and do it ourselves; rather, we would be in support of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] .
I think it's important that we continue to draw down our forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, for example. We've been drawing down some forces in the Sinai. Some of these commitments have to end, and they have to end in an orderly way. And there's only so much one country can do. We also have to be judicious in taking on additional activities like Liberia, like we have been judicious.
So, I think it's a fair comment. We need -- it would be wonderful if more countries in the world would step forward and assume a larger portion of the burden of contributing to peace and stability in the world because it's important to all of us. And there's no way the United States of America can police the world, and we don't aspire to, or try to, and won't be.
And you're quite right, we do need -- as we find ourselves having to assume one responsibility, we darn well have to take a careful look at the responsibilities we have previously assumed and see that they're modified and pared down, and that those countries assume a greater and greater responsibility for their own futures.
Q: I just wondered, could you offer a comment on plans to train 28,000 Iraqi police in Hungary? There have been some reports of this. I'm wondering if you could set the record straight, as it were.
Rumsfeld: Yes, I read the reports. And I don't have any announcement to make. I tend to let countries that are assisting us make their own announcements.
But we are training Iraqis for police work, for the army, for border guards and for a civil defense militia-type service. We are currently training most of them in Iraq. It may very well be that some of them will eventually be trained outside of Iraq so that we can ramp up and get to a larger number sooner to improve the security in the country.
Q: Sir, the Air Force looks like it's going to -- (inaudible). Do you have any indication that the Air Force will -- (inaudible)?
Rumsfeld: Those are questions that the Joint Staff and the services are addressing. And you're right. One or more of the services may end up above the 2 percent, which -- 2 percent over end strength, which is the norm. In an emergency, that's life. We've got to assume that what's taking place is a spike and not the norm. Now, if it proves to be the norm, then clearly, one would have to address the subject of end strength.
But if it proves to be a spike, which I believe it is and will prove to be, and if we do have success with these 30 or 40 different approaches that are being taken as ways to reduce the stress on the force, and if we do a much better job and a more nuanced job of managing groups so that the Guard and Reserve units are not on active -- activated for long periods -- I mean, if they are, we're going to end up losing them, and we can't afford to lose them.
We need a total force concept. We simply have to treat Guard and Reserve people as people who are not anticipating being on active duty for permanent status. That isn't what they signed up for. And we'll do that. We'll find a way to do it. And we're working it hard.
Staff: (Off mike) -- be your last question.
Rumsfeld: This will be the last question.
Q: If you're not going to add troops to Iraq, will the troops that are there stay longer?
Rumsfeld: I didn't say we weren't going to add troops to Iraq. You said that, not me. And so I would strike your question and simply say what I said. We will put whatever number of U.S. forces in that country as the combatant commander and the Joint Chiefs of Staff decide is appropriate at any given time. And the facts change continuously on the ground, and we have to watch it continuously and we have to see that we have the right numbers. Is it likely that we would end up extending people past what was announced, namely, a target of not more than a year? No, I don't think that is likely. If we were to do that -- and I don't anticipate it, so -- but we'd have to recognize that the effects of it could be adverse, and we don't want that effect. So we have to manage that force in a way that's respectful of them.
That was the last question.
Q: Can I just ask one question --
Rumsfeld: Wait. Wait. You didn't hear me. I said that was the last question.
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