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DoD Press Briefing with General Pace at the Pentagon

Presenters: General Peter Pace, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
November 29, 2006 1:45 PM EDT
GEN. PACE: Good afternoon, and thank you for your time. I'm looking forward to answering your questions, but I thought first I might try to clear up some of the confusion and speculation about what it is that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Joints Chiefs are doing individually and collectively with regard to recommendations on the way forward in Iraq.

Quite simply put, we're doing our job, which is to meet multiple times a week and to talk through individual pieces of the global military environment and also to look at it in whole cloth. I've been a member of the Joint Chiefs now for just a little bit over five years. We meet one, two, three times a week, and this is what we do.

What is different right now is that about two months ago, in September, the chiefs agreed that we would benefit from having some of our best and brightest commanders, who are recently back from Iraq, join us in our deliberations. So the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines each selected two or three of their best captains and colonels who had recently come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have been meeting with us and have been helping us think through the thorny parts of the issues and providing us recommendations. And we've asked them to keep a very wide aperture, to take nothing off the table, to think about the worst and the best, and to give us as many ideas as they possibly could, which have helped us then in our discussions with the input we've gotten from the rest of the joint staff and the input that we've gotten from the service staffs to craft our best recommendations and military advice to give to the president and the secretary and the National Security Council on the way up, and to give ideas and thoughts to John Abizaid -- General Abizaid and General Casey on the way down.

That's what we should be doing. And we will continue to do that. We've been doing it and we will continue to do it. And I really like the additional brainpower and experience that has been brought to us by these colonels and captains. So I intend, as do the other chiefs, to have them continue to meet with us -- not necessarily these individuals, but to refresh the pot with new folks with recent experience, so we can continue to do our job. There's not an end state to this, there's not an end product. It is a way for us to continue to give, on a recurring basis, our best military advice. So I hope that helps clear that up.

I'd be happy to take your questions.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: General, the reports and the confusion that you're talking about have variously had you thinking about decreasing troops in Anbar province, increasing them in Baghdad, surging throughout the whole country the number. All this input that you're talking about, is your thinking, after hearing from these people, that you do need to shift troops around inside the country?

GEN. PACE: Well, first of all, bits and pieces somehow are leaking out. So when somebody hears one end of the spectrum or the other about all that they have presented to us, that gets reported as, "They're looking at this," or, "They're looking at that." Truth of the matter is, yeah, we are. That's part of the whole spectrum that we're looking at, whether it's been reported that we're looking at beefing up, or it's reported that we're looking at skinnying down, as you would expect your military planners to do, we are looking at the whole spectrum of possible military actions. And then we are analyzing that action against the desired outcome, applying our experience, getting the input from our staffs, and from these additional folks who just came out of the theater, and then applying our best military judgment about which of those applies.

I'm not going to say to you where I am personally, nor where the chiefs are, because our responsibility is to give our best military advice. And as advisers, if we are to be heard and to have the trust of those to whom we're giving our advice, we need to be circumspect about what we say in public, how we say it, so that our ideas can be put into the other ideas.

There's the Secretary Baker and Congressman Hamilton's group meeting, and they have a very strong body of individuals who are thinking through this problem. Those ideas will be fed to the president, and others will, too. So we need to be part of the dialogue and give our best military advice.

Q: So you're saying these are all ideas at this point and no decision has been made to, for instance, increase troops in Baghdad?

GEN. PACE: I'm saying they are all ideas right now. Over the course of the last couple of months, we have had recommendations that we have forwarded, advice that we have forwarded to the secretary and to the National Security Council and to the president. We will do so again this week and next week and the week after that. It's part of what we do every week.

I meet with the secretary every day. I am privileged to meet with the president several times a week; normally, at least once a week and provide to those gentlemen my best advice. So as the chiefs determine that a particular way ahead would be beneficial to the country, we provide that advice to the leadership, if it is properly in the civilian leaders' realm to make a decision or if we think there's a way to do something tactically that perhaps the commanders haven't thought about, we feed those ideas to General Abizaid and General Casey and let them judge how that fits on their battlefield.

Q: General Pace, separate on the part from your study group, what can you tell us about the plans currently under way on the ground in Iraq to increase the number of forces in Baghdad? Where are those troops going to come from? How many? And how long will they stay?

GEN. PACE: That is a province of General Casey. He is doing the same thing that we are doing. General Casey is doing it with his staff, General Abizaid is doing it with his staff, we are doing it here. We are sharing our ideas back and forth. I think it has been reported today that there are a couple of battalions that General Casey has decided to move into the Baghdad area.

I know he, General Casey, is working very closely with Prime Minister Maliki to ensure that the actions of the coalition forces and the actions of the Iraqi security forces are coordinated and that they support the political process that Prime Minister Maliki is striving to attain.

So I won't predict from here how big and how long, but I can tell you that that is very much part of the dialogue in Baghdad and here in Washington.

Q: Any idea where those additional forces from within Iraq are going to come from?

GEN. PACE: I don't have that, no.

Q: General Casey, just to be -- I'm sorry -- General Pace, just to be clear, you know, some of the reports have suggested that the Pentagon and you in particular are considering essentially throwing in the towel in Al Anbar province, shifting those Marines to Baghdad and just simply turning Al Anbar province over to the Iraqis. Is that something that you're giving serious consideration to?

GEN. PACE: No.

Q: Can you elaborate on that at all?

GEN. PACE: You gave me a very straight question. I gave you a very straight answer. No. Why would we want to forfeit any part of Iraq to the enemy? We don't. We want to provide security for the Iraqi people. You want to be able to assist the Iraqi government in providing good governance and providing economic opportunity, and those three things fit together -- security, governance, and economy. You're not going to have success or progress in one without success and progress in all three.

So when you look to Baghdad, for example, you can equate the kind of environment you'd like to have in Baghdad with the kind of environment you'd like to have in any big city anywhere in the world. Is there crime in Washington, D.C.? Yes, there is. Is there a police force in Washington, D.C. that keeps it below the level at which the government can function and the people can go about their daily lives and do what they want to do? Yes. That's the same thing with terrorism.

It's not practical to expect that we can snuff out terrorism completely, but it is reasonable to strive to have an environment inside of which terrorist acts are below the level, at which the Iraqi government can function, where the economy can prosper and where the Iraqi people can live their lives the way they want to.

And that's what we should be focused on. And giving up any part of Iraq is counter to that goal that we collectively have set for ourselves.

Q: General Pace, are you equating turning a province in Iraq over to Iraqi security forces as turning it over to the enemy?

GEN. PACE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. The question was, were we going to abandon Al Anbar. And the answer is, no. That is much different than we still providing security in a province where the "we" is mostly Iraqi security forces as opposed to coalition forces. Very distinct difference.

Q: Okay. Let's be sure we have the significance. So you are not ruling out the idea of turning over security in Anbar to the Iraqis, having them take the lead, and moving some of those forces, U.S. forces that are now in Anbar, into Baghdad.

GEN. PACE: Two different parts of your question. Number one, eventually over time, it is our goal to turn over every province in Iraq to the Iraq security forces under the command and control of the Iraq government. That is our goal. There is no immediate thoughts to moving all coalition forces out of Al Anbar Province and turning over right now today all security in Al Anbar to Iraqi security forces. It's not on the table.

Q: General Pace, Colin Powell said today that he believed the conflict in Iraq was a civil war, that it met that standard. Do you agree or disagree with him, and why?

GEN. PACE: Well, I haven't had the benefit of reading or hearing exactly what General Powell might have said. I will tell you this. Number one, the Iraq government does not call it a civil war. Two, the Iraq government is functioning. Three, the Iraq security forces are responsive to the Iraqi government. Four, the level of violence that's being inflicted by al Qaeda and the like is specifically designed to create a civil war. It is specifically designed to create an ungovernable condition so the terrorists can then set up shop and rule those people the way they want to.

So it's much more important that we focus on how to defeat the enemy that is trying to create the civil war than it is we spend a lot of time dancing on the head of a pin as far as what particular words we should use to describe the environment which is currently unacceptable.

Q: General, last week when -- or two weeks ago when General Abizaid was on the Hill, he said that he saw Iraq as having about six months before a tipping point would be reached either way. What indications are you going to be looking for in the next six months that it has tipped the United States' way? Because at the end of those six months, it would seem to mean that you'd need to make some big changes over there if it tips the other way.

GEN. PACE: First of all, I would not -- and I doubt that General Abizaid meant to pick a particular point on the calendar when you either say yes or no -- what you're looking for is several things.

On the personnel side of the house, the size, strength, quality and effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces.

On the Intel side of the house, how well are the Iraqi Intel services able to provide actionable intelligence, and how much intelligence are we getting from the population.

On the operations side of the house, how much of the Iraqi armed forces are under the command and control of the Iraqi leadership, how much of the country has been turned over to provincial leadership.

And these are all things that we can judge and measure. They're all things that, properly so, Prime Minister Maliki says he wants to accelerate and take on as the Iraqi leader that he is. So those are the kinds of things which we'll be looking to judge where we are six, eight, 10, four months from now than where we are today.

Q: General, do you take issue with politicians and even news organizations using the term "civil war" in relation to --

GEN. PACE: I don't take issue with anybody calling anything they want whatever they want to call it. I simply say that, from my standpoint, when I'm asked if it's a civil war, that I looked at the factors that I talked about, and primarily I look to the Iraqi people and their government. And the Iraqi people are still looking to their government. Their government is still functioning. Their security forces are still responsive to their government. So from the macro viewpoint, the parts of a civil war as I understand it are not definable in today's environment. But that's really energy not well spent.

Our energy ought to be spent on where are we, where should we be, and how do we get from where we are to where we want to be. And the amount of violence in Baghdad, for example, right now is not where we want to be. So how do we help the Iraqi government? What are the things that are working? How do we reinforce those? What are the things that are not working? What should be changed, and what should be stopped? What are the impediments to making progress? How do the three legs of the stool move forward together with regard to security and governance and economics?

Spend our energy on getting to where we should be, not on arguing about what we should call the environment we're in. Understand the environment, but let's deal with it. Let's not try to give it a name.

Sir.

Q: General, what are your concerns about the latest report saying that Hezbollah is training militants from the Mahdi Army? What information you have on that?

GEN. PACE: I have nothing other than what I have read in open sources about that. If that were true, that would be distinctly unhelpful. It is certainly true that with regard to Syria and Iran, that neither of those governments is being helpful to the Iraqi government or to stability in the region, and there's an opportunity there for Iraq's neighbors to be more helpful. But specifically with regard to what you said, I don't have anything more than you've said.

Q: General, regarding forces in Baghdad, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter has suggested moving Iraqi security forces that are trained, equipped and supposedly ready from the provinces where there's practically no violence into Baghdad and Anbar -- places where the violence is strong. Is that something that's been considered and is likely to be done?

GEN. PACE: I think that idea has a good amount of appeal for multiple reasons. One, because Baghdad is extremely important to the Iraqi government, and their armed forces and their security forces are the proper long-term solution to that problem. Second, if there are forces that are available to Prime Minister Maliki that are not currently engaged elsewhere in the country, if he's able to move them comfortably without creating a vacuum some place in to help in Baghdad, that's worth looking at as well.

So the idea itself on the surface is a very good one, and then, you just have to take the idea from Washington, apply it on the ground in Iraq and make sure that what the consequences of that action are, are what you expect them to be and not create other problems.

But it's certainly worthy of chasing, because you would then have an Iraqi security force that would have more and more experience as time went on and would be better capable of handling the missions on their own.

Q: General, a quick follow-up on that. We just saw this classified memo that was leaked from Stephen Hadley referring to a four-brigade gap in Baghdad. General Abizaid last week said 3,000 troops short in Baghdad. You're telling us today General Casey is moving some more American troops in, presumably to -- A, is it to fill that gap? And B, why is it that with over 300,000 Iraqi security forces trained and equipped, that the Iraqis can't step up and provide that additional force that's needed in Baghdad?

GEN. PACE: There has been an increase in the number of Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. There has been an increase in the number of coalition forces in Baghdad. The impact of those increases has not been what we wanted it to be, and therefore, properly so, I'm sure the prime minister and, I know for sure, General Casey are reassessing. The prime minister and his leadership will determine how much of their armed forces they believe they can move into Baghdad without creating vacancies, and General Casey will do the same thing with his size force.
So I have not been privy to the conversations between General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad and the prime minister. I do know they're ongoing. And I do know that collectively they are looking at where there are additional Iraqi security forces that could be moved to Baghdad to help stabilize the situation.

Q: They haven't been able to find them yet, with 300,000 troops in the country?

GEN. PACE: I would not say they have not been able to find them. The question is, when they move them from where they are, what condition does that create from where they moved them.

And let's not also forget that a lot of these units that are Iraqi security forces were recruited initially from their home bases. They are very well-versed in their hometown environment and they are from the same community as that hometown. There are some units around Iraq that, if moved into Baghdad, would not be helpful. If a Sunni unit somewhere else in Iraq moved into a Shi'a neighborhood, or a Shi'a unit someplace else in Iraq moved into a Sunni neighborhood, is not going to help the problem.

So you need to have a balance of where is the capacity, what background and cultural flavor does that unit have, and if you do move it, what vacuums, if any, do you create when you move it. So it's not a simple problem. They are working it. But it would be a little too black and white to say there's 300,000 troops, and therefore, you ought to be able to move X-number into Baghdad.

Q: Just to clarify, sir, when you say the number has been increased of Iraqis and Americans -- just to clarify this -- in Baghdad, do you mean the increase of last summer or something more recent?

GEN. PACE: When I was talking about the increases that were made, I was talking about the August time frame.

Q: General Pace, are you concerned that with the Baker- Hamilton report coming out and with the Democrats, who have been very critical of the war, coming to power in Congress in January, that the advice of the generals is being marginalized in any way? General Abizaid -- rather General Casey made -- I'm sorry -- it was General Abizaid -- made a very strong statement in Congress a week or so ago on troop levels, and yet other ideas seem to be gaining momentum in the public debate.

GEN. PACE: I have no concern about that at all. This is a very complex problem, and the more 10-pound rings we can bring to bear on the problem for our nation the better. And the fact that somebody's wearing a uniform and not wearing a uniform doesn't impact whether or not they have a good idea. The process ought to allow all of those who are willing to expend the energy for our country, like Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton and everyone else on their group, for those individuals to be willing to expend that kind of energy for this country is very much appreciated. And they will have ideas, and some of them are going to be the kind of ideas that we ought to take action on. Those ideas, the ideas from the uniformed military, the ideas from the National Security Council, and wherever else the president of the United States deems to get it will all be fed into the president, and he'll make the decisions that he deems appropriate based on his analysis of all of that. But I think the more individuals who are thinking this problem through, the more who are joining in a dialogue, whether they're putting it in the press or they're putting it in memos or they're putting it into conversations, the more we can have of that, the better for our country.

Q: General Pace, we keep hearing about the need for Iraqi security forces trained and equipped. The special inspector general for Iraqi Reconstruction has reported that Iraqi forces are heavily dependent across the board on the U.S. for logistics. Is logistical development of Iraqi capabilities lagging, and is that a constraint on the U.S.'s ability to move its capabilities in the country around, or is the priority really on just getting Iraqi faces out there? And can the U.S. sustain this in the long term, being the provider of logistics for those forces?

GEN. PACE: The development of the logistics support for the Iraqi armed forces was specifically and consciously put in after the growth of the battalions and brigades that need to take the fight to the enemy. You can only do so much at one time. And General Abizaid, General Casey, and the joint chiefs all agreed that first you would build up the fighting capacity, and then build up the sustainment capacity, which is ongoing now. The fighting capacity is almost built, and the logistics capacity is being built. Of the original number of about 325,000, about 320-plus thousand of those so far have been trained and equipped.

Correctly so, Prime Minister Maliki has looked at his own armed forces and has determined that he would like to have a larger armed force. I think his number now is about 30,000 to 40,000 more than that 325,000. That would include individuals who would be able to man more fully a battalion. Let's say you have a battalion of 500 Iraqi soldiers. By adding to that, maybe another 50 or a hundred soldiers, you would ensure that that battalion always had full-strength units to go against the enemy. He's also looking at adding three divisions, and -- I've forgotten the exact number of battalions that he's going to add, with that 30,000 or 40,000 more.
So the Iraqi leadership is looking at their own capacities and determining, as they should, the size of their own armed forces. And we are continuing on the path that we agreed with them, to train up first their combat units, and then their logistics support units, and that's all ongoing.

Q: General Pace, could you talk about the Army and Marine Corps's ability to surge forces into Iraq from outside of the country? General Abizaid recently indicated that he could perhaps surge several tens of thousands, but that that would not be sustainable.

GEN. PACE: Let me first put it in context because it's very important that not only those listening to me who are friendly, but those listening to us who might have other ideas, understand the ground truth.

The United States military can today and tomorrow handle any additional challenge that comes our way. If you had to go fight another war someplace that somebody sprung upon us, you would keep the people who are currently employed doing what they're doing, and you would use the vast part of the U.S. armed forces that is at home station, to include the enormous strength of our Air Force and our Navy, against the new threat.

So strategically, we can handle anything that comes our way, and our potential enemies should not lose sight of that.

Having said that, then, when you're trying to sustain over the long term potentially the size force that we have now -- this is not predicting that you will be at the same size force next year -- but as military folks, we must plan for that possibility, we must also plan for large numbers and for smaller numbers. But we need to at least do the planning. When you do that planning and you're working with an all-volunteer force, you want to make sure that as you send those troops back into second or third rotations, that you understand what the impact is on the individual soldier and their family and on our retention rates and on our recruiting rates.

So, do we have the capacity to take on additional threats? Absolutely. Are we today, based on the current size force in Iraq and Afghanistan, and projecting that same size force -- not predicting, not predicting, but planning for that same size force into the future, there's a rotation base that that force is part of, and if you determine to surge more today, you are taking it out of your rotation base and, therefore, using it today and not having it available for tomorrow for your rotation base. It's pure math when you get to that.

And what General Abizaid was saying, I believe, is that he understands the math. But he also understands that in his best military judgment, if he and General Casey came in and said they need more troops, as they have done in the past, that they will be provided those troop as they have been in the past.

So it's just the leadership trying to explain as best we can that you can do whatever you need to do. But there are consequences to increasing and decreasing the size of the force that just need to be understood when you're making the decisions so you understand where you're going to be two or three years down the road if you make a decision today to do something different than you're doing.

Q: Sir, in terms of the strains that you've just described and the troop-intensive nature of counterinsurgency -- in terms of your professional military advice, would it be advisable for the United States to have a larger Army and Marine Corps? Should it now take the steps to increase the size of its ground forces to alleviate these strains in the future?

GEN. PACE: First of all, we've got the finest armed forces we've ever had. The all-volunteer force, all-recruited force has been enormously effective, and the quality of the force is off the page.

We need to respect how we use that force by asking our service members to do missions that are worthy of this country and worthy of their efforts, and we have done that. And the proof of that is our re-enlistment and retention rates are higher than they've been in a long time.

With regard to the size of the Army and the Marine Corps, before I would go to the country and say we need to make the Army bigger, the first thing I owe the country is to ensure that we have done, with the Army size that we have, all that we should do to increase combat power, and General Schoomaker and Secretary Harvey and the Army are working that very hard. They have taken, without changing the size of the Army -- they are taking the active Army from 33 brigades of about 3,500 individuals up to 42 brigades of about 4,500 individuals. So you've got nine more units that are about a thousand man each bigger than the units used to have. By taking the institutional Army, the things that are being done that are not combat and reducing the numbers of soldiers who are applied to those missions and changing some of those to civilian jobs. That's the first step you need to take.

Then you need to look to the future and ask yourself how much force will the nation need two or three years from now, because if you say to me tomorrow, "Pete, I want you to build another division," the answer is, "Okay, sir; it will be about two years from the time you say `go' until we can build that division," because you need to recruit and you need to have the officers and the NCOs and all the people that make a division whole, to recruit it and train it and get it in the field. And then you need to look down the road and say by the time you get it built, will you need it?

Comes the time when I personally believe that we need to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, I will make those recommendations to the secretary of Defense and to the president. Those recommendations are military advice, and I should keep my military advice inside the military advice chain. But I can tell you that that is what the chiefs and I are routinely scrubbing, which is the size of the force, the capacity of the force, the resilience of the force and the potential size needed in the future, and, based on that analysis, making recommendations to the secretary about the changes that are already ongoing and are they going to be sufficient, or might more changes be needed.

Thank you all for your time.

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