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DoD Press Briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace

Presenter: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace
October 24, 2006 3:45 PM EDT
GEN. PACE: Well, good afternoon.

Q: (Chuckles.)

GEN. PACE: Wow. Got a good echo in here.

I appreciate your time today. I think the more opportunities we have to talk to each other and have an open dialogue, the better informed our fellow citizens are and the better the decision-making process for the nation.

So we can get started. Yes, ma'am?

Q: General Pace, General Casey this morning talked about a year to 18-month window for progress in Iraq and for progress with the Iraqi security forces. He said, essentially, exactly the same thing in August, and Maliki said essentially the same thing in May. Can you give us a little bit more clarity on this year to 18-month time frame, when it started, when it may end, and what impact that may or may not have on U.S. troop levels in Iraq?

GEN. PACE: Yeah. I think it's fair to say that we review the current status of both Iraqi and U.S. forces on a continuing basis. So for General Casey to say 12 to 18 months today is a very logical thing for him to say.

Back in August and July, we thought we might be able to reduce the size of U.S. forces by this Christmas, and then the violence in Baghdad increased. And General Casey, in his continuing assessments, determined that he needed to keep the U.S. forces he had, and he recommended that. And I agree with that and made that recommendation to the secretary and the president. And he kept that size force.

As he looks across the next 12 to 18 months and he looks at the fact that of the 10 Iraqi divisions today -- that's 10,000 to 14,000 troops per division -- of those 10, six are in the lead in Iraq. Of the 36 Iraqi brigades -- which are about 2,500 to 3,000 men per brigade -- of that 36, some 30 are in the lead. Of the 112 Iraqi battalions -- each of which are about 500 men -- a little bit over 80 of those are in the lead. So as he looks at the current size and strength and the capacities of the Iraqi armed forces and he looks down the road a year, a year and a half, from what we can see right now, it makes sense that at this time next year, a little bit later, that for the most part, the Iraqi security forces can be in the lead and we can be there supporting them, but take a step back a little bit as U.S. and coalition and let the Iraqis take a step forward.

Q: But the same type thing was mentioned in May and in August. So are we just moving the timeline -- do we keep moving the date?

GEN. PACE: I can understand how you would look at it that way. But the truth is, is that he's making fresh assessments each time. In his assessment today, based on a thinking enemy but also on what we know about our capacity to help the Iraqis, is that some time in the next year to 18 months, he'll be able to do that. And he's having conversations -- as he should -- with Prime Minister Maliki, who is also doing his own assessment about how quickly he, as prime minister, believes that his own government and his own armed forces will be able to take charge.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: But given that the -- to follow on Lolita's question that the timeline keeps slipping to the right, and just a couple of days ago we had General Caldwell publicly say that the violence in his words was "disheartening" and that the Baghdad Security Plan is not meeting expectations, what is your personal view, not on the economic or the political side, but from purely the security standpoint? Do you feel that U.S. troops are still winning what they have set out to do from a military point of view?

GEN. PACE: First of all, with regard to General Caldwell, he's a great officer and he's a great spokesman. And he did use the word "disheartened" in about a hour-long interview, I think it was. That's not to say he was misspeaking, but we also should not make it sound like he has determined that there's more danger than is true right now.

Security is part of a three-legged stool: security and politics/governance and economics, and we cannot have one or two without all three.

From a military standpoint, we are most concerned about providing for good security. But the world's best security will not function and will not provide long-term security without the political decisions and accommodations that must be made in that country and without economic progress which must occur in that country, all three of which are moving forward.

There is -- this is a time of difficulty there's no doubt about that. We are working very hard to ensure in cooperation and with Iraqis in the lead that in Baghdad, for example, that we clear the areas in Baghdad with Iraqi troops in the lead and that we support those Iraqi troops in the lead; that we then protect the Iraqi population in the areas that are being secured with Iraqi troops; and that we build alongside the Iraqi government the new foundations of economics in the capital. There's been some $400 million, I think, expended in Baghdad and another $600 million to be spent.

So is there progress being made? Yes. Are 14 of the provinces in basically good shape? Yes. Are four still being contested very heavily? Yes. All that is true. We must stay focused on what we, U.S. military and coalition military, can do, but we also have to understand that the end state is to have a Iraq that is free and stable and not a home to terrorists and not a threat to its neighbors.

Q: General, can you tell me just --

GEN. PACE: So -- let me -- I'll give it right back to you, but let me just finish the thought, and that is that, people talk about, "Are you winning?" First, you have to define: What is winning? And I don't mean to be glib about that. Winning in this war on terrorism is having security in the countries we're trying to help that allows for those governments to function and for their people to function.

Example. Washington, D.C., has crime, but it has a police force that is able to keep that crime below a level at which the normal citizens can go about their daily jobs and the government can function. That's what you're looking for on the war on terrorism, whether it be Iraq, Afghanistan, or anyplace else.

Is there going to be terrorism for the next 10, 20, 30 years? Yes. What we can do about it collectively? We can provide enough security, enough good governance, and enough economy to allow the citizens and the governments to function and not have terrorism interrupt that.

Q: Sir?

Q: General, what incentives, though, do the Iraqis have really to stand up? Do they not have a kind of built-in incentive not to stand up?

GEN. PACE: Well, I think they have enormous incentive. First of all, they want to stand on their own. If you were to go into Iraq anyplace today and ask an Iraqi citizen: Do you want your government to stand on its own two feet? Yes. Do you want coalition forces to leave? Yes. Do you want coalition forces to leave tomorrow? No, because they know that they still need some assistance in getting from where they are to where they want to be.

But the great incentive inside of Iraq with the Iraqi people is there own self pride and determination that they want to stand on their own, they want to be free, they want to determine their own way ahead. And the longer they have foreigners in their country assisting with that, the longer it is before they can actually stand up and do that all for themselves.

Q: General, we also learned this morning that the Iraqis have agreed to a series of benchmarks or a timeline for accomplishing areas in all three of those parts of the stool -- three legs of the stool. What can we do if the Iraqis miss their very own deadlines?

GEN. PACE: Well, first of all, the discussion about benchmarks and deadlines is ongoing between Ambassador Khalilzad, Prime Minister Maliki and his government, General Casey and the militaries involved over there. So it is not true that there are specific benchmarks that have been agreed to. There are several that I think are on the prime minister's website that he has established as goals for himself and his government. But there are other discussions going on in each of those three areas -- security, governance, and economics -- that are still being discussed so that the prime minister can determine which of those he's most comfortable with.

If you put a particular date -- if you say the 13th of a particular month is a date certain, that puts you into a very, very tight window, and it actually gives your enemies the opportunity to focus all their energies on making it so it's not the 13th, it's the 14th or the 17th or whatever it is.

So having a very precise date, I think, is not useful, either from the standpoint of forcing yourself to do something too soon or from giving your enemies too much information.

On the other hand, having a window where you have a target date, where you commit to your own citizens, whichever country you're in, where you commit to your citizens that you will either have attained these goals or you'll explain why you haven't attained them, I think is a very good thing to do. So I do think that benchmarks, with windows for those benchmarks, would probably be a good place to be.

Q: Mr. Chairman, what do we do, though -- if you have these windows, whether it's a specific day or it's a month or a window of some kind, what do we do if they blow by them? I mean, is there any penalty imposed by the coalition if the government fails to accomplish, you know, these things?

GEN. PACE: Well, I disagree with the premise of your question because it sounds like you're not working with your friends; that somehow if your friends don't perform to a certain standard, of which you are part that you're going to penalize each other by doing that. No. I think what it does is it allows you to have ideas, goals, objectives with reasonable timelines applied to them, that are going to be impacted, not only by your own ability to do what you think you're going to do, but your enemies' ability to try to disrupt that. The benefit of having it out there is that you then are forced to think about are you attaining your goals; if you are, how do you reinforce that success; if you're not, what do you have to change; and oh, by the way, explain to people what is going well and what isn't.

Q: General, General Caldwell, getting back to him, he said, after he was disheartened with the operation in Baghdad, that he would refocus efforts in the capital city. General Casey was asked about it today and he said, "I'm not going to get into specifics about the Baghdad security plan, I don't want to telegraph the enemy what we're doing." Why the secrecy now? You were very open about Operation Together Forward, the number of U.S. troops that were heading into Baghdad. Will you ever explain exactly how you're going to pacify Baghdad, or is it all going to be secret?

GEN. PACE: I think there's two different parts to what you just asked. One, in the past we have said how many troops. I think we said probably about 44,000, give or take, Iraqi troops, and about 8,000, 10,000 U.S. coalition troops, but we have never said with great specificity exactly how they're going to do what they're doing.

We've talked about clearing, protecting and building, but we haven't said exactly how we're going to do that.

So I think it's fair to say that we have been properly circumspect about how we have described what we were about to go do. And as we look at what is working and what we're going to reinforce and what is not working and what needs to change, I think it's proper to not telegraph that to our enemies. It'll be very obvious, when it's being done, what's being done. But I would not want to tell you today what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Q: Well, reporters have gone with the troops throughout Baghdad. They've been embedded with forces going through the Baghdad neighborhoods. I mean, why can't you just talk a little more about it?

GEN. PACE: The fact that reporters are there, I think, is great. The more embeds we have, the better --

Q: No, my point is, if he's going to say we can't talk about it, it would telegraph to the enemy -- reporters are going with the troops throughout Baghdad. I mean, there's a sense of what --

GEN. PACE: And fortunately, those reporters have been very good at understanding what is reasonable to report about what they're seeing and what is good to keep secret for a while. And we appreciate the fact that reporters in the main have been themselves responsible in the way that they've reported about what's going on. But --

Q: Will you go to Sadr City?

GEN. PACE: I'm not going to talk about where we're going next or how we're going to go. If and when we go to Sadr City, you'll see it.

Q: Mr. Chairman -- yeah --

GEN. PACE: Sir?

Q: General, why have you ordered up a review of the U.S. military operations there in Iraq? What do you hope to learn from this review, from many of the military commanders who have spent considerable time in Iraq? And do you at times find yourself disheartened over the lack of progress in Iraq?

GEN. PACE: First of all, we continuously review what we're doing in Iraq. General Casey does, General Abizaid does, I do, and I do as an individual and I do with the Joint Chiefs.

We have two Joint Chiefs meetings a week that last about two hours per meeting. Sometimes we have three. During those meetings we spend most of the time talking about various aspects of the war.

What is a little bit different in the last couple weeks is that I asked the Joint Chiefs to please provide to us collectively, as Joint Chiefs, two or three of their best commanders and staff officers who have recently returned from the field, so we could take very specific ideas and bounce them off them, we could take very specific parts of the problems and say, "What -- you know, when you were there three weeks ago, what did you see? What would you have done here?" So we could get the benefit and the value. And we'll continue to refresh that pile. We might have Colonel Pace come in for 60 to 90 days, work as part of this group, and then go back out to his or her next job and have someone else backfill him. That has been very useful to us in being able to pick the brains of the great majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels who have recently come back.

So I am pleased with their addition to the dialogues that have been going on for quite some time. I am not at all personally discouraged or disappointed, whatever the words you've used.

Look, this is a long, long fight. This is an enemy that has told us they have a hundred-year plan.

They put it on their website. They've told us they want to go and establish a caliphate from Spain to Indonesia, and from there they want to attack the rest of the free world. It's not me saying that, it's them saying that.

We were in this war, arguably, in 1979. We understood we were in a war on 11 September of 2001. We're in this war primarily right now in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but when we are complete and successful in assisting the Iraqi government and in assisting the Afghan government, we are still as a nation going to face decades of individuals and cells and groups that want to destroy our way of life. We as a nation have capacity to do whatever we need to do for the long haul to protect our children and our grandchildren. We've proved it. We proved it against the Soviet Union. Once our fellow citizens understood the nature of the threat to this nation, it didn't make any difference who was in the White House. The nation provided the right amount of resources and the right amount of stamina to protect ourselves.

As we move forward in the war on terrorism and as more and more of our fellow citizens understand the true nature of this enemy, we will see a nation that has always pulls together and does what we must do to protect ourselves. So I have great faith in the balance of the American people, and I take great comfort in knowing that as we are able to articulate what this threat is really about, that the American people will continue to stand side by side and behind us, and that we will be given the resources that we have been to fight this war. And I am not looking forward to decades of having to be vigilant, but I am looking forward to my grandkids living in the same United States that I grew up in.

Q: And if I could follow up, please, because you brought it up, you were talking about you had faith in the American people. A majority of the Americans now, more than 60 percent, do not favor this war in Iraq, the U.S. participation in the war in Iraq. As a military leader, does that concern you that the administration, the U.S. government, the military, appears to be losing support for the war in Iraq?

GEN. PACE: If you go back to the beginning of this war, and you remember we had 24-7 coverage of the war. We had televisions, radios, print media.

Any citizen who wanted to could avail themselves of as much information as they wanted to and come to their own decision about what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong.

As time has gone on, and as news being a business as it is, we have less and less coverage of the war. That's not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a fact that we do not have 24/7 coverage anymore. And therefore, there's less and less information available, and there's less and less time available. So the time that's allocated ends up being allocated to the things that go "bang" -- not the schools that are being built, not the girls that are going to go to school, not the highways that are being built, not the crops that are being grown, not the agreements that are being made politically, but the bombs that have been going off is what's being shown.

So one of the reasons I'm standing in front of you today is because I do believe, as a military leader, that it is my responsibility, along with anyone else in leadership positions, to make ourselves available to the American people in fora like this one right now, and in any other way we can. And I've been going out, as you know, talking to various groups, whether they be civic groups, or I was with the Christian Science Monitor group last week -- I will make myself available as many ways as I can to be able to answer questions like this so the American people can listen to my answers, and answers from others, and questions from others, from both sides of the problem, so they can make their own judgment. And what I'm saying is, is that if we do that properly, if we make enough information available to the American people, they will find the right center of balance and make the right decision.

Q: General, with respect, it's not just the media that are reporting on these things. Your own commanders in the field are saying that attacks are at an all-time high, that troop casualty levels are at their highest for a year. What level of violence is acceptable in Iraq? Where do you want to get to before you can hand over to the Iraqis?

GEN. PACE: Violence levels are high now. It is a combination of things: Ramadan, the fact during this time the leaders of the insurgency have specifically asked their followers to go out and find and kill an American. We have an election coming up in this country, and I think that our enemies have understood that they have been successful in impacting other elections around the world, and they think they can impact ours. There's lots of reasons for it.

You ask what level of violence is acceptable. I cannot tell you whether it's one event or a hundred events or a thousand events. What it is, is an environment inside of which the government, in this case the Iraqi government, can function and provide opportunities for its people; it can provide leadership and political agreements, and reconciliation, and jobs. It is that level of violence that is low enough so that those things can happen.

And I don't have the magic formula for what that is, but I do know that Prime Minister Maliki is working very hard right now in his 5- month-old government -- he's working very hard to try to find those political agreements that would reconcile the needs of Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds so he can get on about being the unifying leader that he's trying to be.

Q But that's for the whole country, General, I mean, not just for a part of the country that its citizens?

GEN. PACE: The whole country. But Baghdad is the center of gravity for Iraq. We must get it right in Baghdad. Baghdad is the center of gravity in Iraq, and the American people are the center of gravity for our enemies. And what the American people believe and the American people's ability to sustain -- what they must sustain to defeat this enemy is what our enemies our trying to influence. And that's why I say, given the right amount of information and allowed to make their own decisions and choices, the American people will choose wisely.

Yes, sir.

Q Sir, it's actually on this very point. As much as we love having you down here always, it is a rather rare occurrence to have you down here by yourself. It's also rather rare this morning to have General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad on their own doing a press conference. Can I ask you a bit more about why now, with the fact that we are two weeks away from a pretty heated congressional election going on? Any concern that it will be seen as the uniformed military getting out in front of the story at a time when the Bush administration is really under fire on its policy in Iraq?

GEN. PACE: I guess you could twist it that way if you really wanted to work hard at it.

I'll tell you I'm down here by myself because the folks in this front row and some others that are here in this room that have been with me for the last couple of weeks have said to me that you would value me being here by myself, and I listened to that.

In the past, I've stood side by side with Secretary Rumsfeld because, quite truthfully, I believe the American people need to know, A, there's civilian control of the military, and, B, that he and I are hand and glove as we go forward, and that I am with him literally every day for hours and hours talking and making decisions. So I thought that that picture of unity and camaraderie was very important to have.

But you also have said that you would like to have this opportunity with me. I appreciate that, and I want to do that.

Most importantly, without regard to when our own elections are, is the truth that we need to get more information to our fellow citizens, not just now but whenever the elections are and at the elections. It has to do with getting information to our fellow citizens, as I mentioned a couple of times.

So that's why I'm here right now.

Q: General, can I ask you about North Korea a second? There's the implication with sanctions North Korea may try something in retaliation, short of a nuclear exchange, obviously. But can you give us a sense of what is the nature of the North Korean conventional and unconventional threat today? Is it this "bolt from the blue" invasion that we saw during the Korean War, or what actually is it today? And has the North Korean military heightened any of its alert status in recent weeks because of the U.N. debates?

GEN. PACE: To my knowledge, the North Koreans' status of their armed forces is stable, meaning they haven't raised or lowered any particular parts of their readiness to cause any kind of alarm.

I do not know the nature of the threat, for a very specific reason. A threat consists of two things: one, capacity; and the other, intent. I can certainly, as we all could, go to the books and tell you how many soldiers, how many ships, how many planes, within a decent margin of error, that the North Koreans have, and you can determine how much power they can put on the battlefield. What is not knowable is the intent of the leadership in North Korea to use or not use that power at any given time. And applying Western logic to the leadership in Korea is not something that I would personally want to bet my future on.

So my responsibility is to ensure that I give my best military advice about our capacity to deal with North Korea or anybody else that might challenge the United States. We have just over 200,000 U.S. military in the Gulf region right now. We have 2.4 million Americans -- active, Guard and Reserve -- right now defending 300 million of our fellow citizens. My Marine math tells me that leaves us more than 2 million U.S. service members who are not currently involved in the Gulf War who stand ready to do whatever our nation needs them to do. And that should not be lost on any potential enemies.

Now, it would be more brute force, wherever we might have to go next, than it would be if we weren't already involved in the war we have going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Because you need precision intelligence to drop precision munitions. And a lot of our precision intelligence assets are currently being used in the Gulf region, so some of those would not be available if you had to go someplace else. And some of our delivery platforms for delivering precision weapons are being employed right now. So you would end up not having all of the precision weapons that you might otherwise have going into a second theater, wherever it might happen to be, and therefore you would end up using more "dumb bombs," so to speak, more brute force than you would otherwise.

So you end up with more collateral damage. You end up more like a World War II-Korean War campaign than you would having being sitting at home waiting with the war not going on and being able to go -- be as very precise as we were and going to Baghdad a couple years ago. That's not predictive; I'm just saying that there's -- on a scale you're going to have to use more brute force to get the job done. But we have an enormous capacity in this nation on the Air side of the house that is not being used; the Navy capacity is vast and is available to the nation; and the Army and Marine Corps that is not currently employed in the Gulf is available to go to do the nation's business. We have 2 million folks who can start to protect in this nation anywhere else we need them to tomorrow if we need them to.

Q: Murtha and others -- Congressman Murtha and others have said there's a limited number of ready combat brigades. Two million doesn't translate into ready combat brigades that can fight in Korea, sir.

GEN. PACE: It doesn't, and I will not get into who said what about what. I will just simply tell you what I know. Your United States Army has 36 brigade combat teams right now. It started with 33, is at 36, is built into 42 on the active side. On a perfect system basis from our viewpoint, those brigades would be one year overseas and two years back. So you could have 14 of those brigades at any given time doing the nation's business away from home and 28 getting ready, training, being in a reserve.

On the National Guard side of the house, we are at 34 brigades that are not fully manned, trained and equipped going to 28, and those 28 brigades when they are completely built out would then be available on a recurring basis -- one year being used some place, five years at home -- and then if needed back into the fight. That would allow you to put 425 National Guard brigades -- now you've got 18 to 19 Army brigades available.

You add in your Marine Corps, which could add another one or two brigades to that fight every day, and you're up around 20, 21 brigades that you could use. Compared to today's force being utilized, we have about 23 brigades currently being utilized. So you can see where we're using the force faster than we would like to if we were going to have one year overseas and two years back.

That does not mean that they're not available to go to the next fight. It also does not mean that they have all the equipment that they need, because in fact we are in combat. As units come home, they're leaving their best equipment for the unit that comes in next, so that they've got the best armor protection they have. And they're taking those things that have gotten worn out or damaged, and put them into our depot process. And our depots are working off that backlog.

So it is true that our units that are here at home are not fully equipped as they would be if there wasn't a war going on. But none of our potential enemies should miscalculate the capacity of this nation to generate overwhelming combat power tomorrow to defend our national interests. As I've said, because of all the things that I've talked about, it would not be as clean as we would like it to be. But it would certainly be sure, and the outcome would not be in doubt.

Okay. One last question. I got to go.

Q: Back to Iraq, just maybe a clarification -- the 12- to 18- month window to hand over to the Iraqi security forces the mission -- can you tell us whether as part of any of this reassessment you're rethinking the training of those Iraqi forces? We've seen some things in recent weeks where police battalions, for example, maybe are not up to snuff, not just in their training but in their loyalties.

So can you talk a little bit about how you might change the training, the pace of the training, the regiment of the training to get to that goal?

GEN. PACE: Every part of the security equation is being reviewed by General Casey, by General Abizaid and by the Joint Chiefs. We do this continuously. We give our enemies, properly so, credit for being thinking and adapting. We should not prevent ourselves from learning from being adaptive and from changing. That's what we should do. So as we look at specifically training -- what has worked and what hasn't.

We learned after the first year of training up the Iraqi army that we really needed, once they were trained, to have embedded teams with them, to be able to provide to them the kind of airpower, medical evacuation and the like that we provide for our own units. And that has strengthened the Iraqis' capacity on the battlefield. It has also helped create a environment inside of which learning continues even after they leave the basic training cycle.

So you can ask yourself, if 10, 12 folks is working, would more folks be better or not? You could have -- the answer could be yes, in which case you would want to do that. But you also might want to make sure that you don't make people dependent on you, either. So you have to take those kinds of things into the equation.

Then you look at units, as you mentioned -- some of which are performing less well than others. And Prime Minister Maliki and his team have been steadfast in their determination to root out those units that are not performing well, and they have in fact fired some individuals -- I don't know the number; we can get that for you -- but they have in fact fired individuals who are not performing the way they were supposed to be. This is something that we should expect of them and we should expect of ourselves to help them create better units.

It's a learning experience for them as well. This a new government. They are trying to get individuals who are skilled to volunteer for their army and their police. They have a screening process. They work very hard to ensure that they in fact get the individuals they think they're getting.

But like any screening process, sometimes it fails to find that this person is not the kind of person you want working in your police or your armed forces, and their performance then brings that to light and they get discharged and they recruit somebody new.

So the whole process, correctly so, should be one of systems and then execution, and then observation and learning, and then correcting those things that aren't working and reinforcing those things that are.

I thank you all very much for your time. Thanks.


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