Defense Department News Briefing, August 21, 2003
|Thursday August 21, 2003
United States Department of Defense
(Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. John Abizaid, commander, U.S. Central Command.)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. I'm pleased to have General John Abizaid with me today, the combatant commander of the Central Command. He's in the United States for briefings.
And before I turn the press briefing over to John and have him join me in answering questions, I'd like to say that I did just return from Colombia and Honduras, with some of those in this room. Both of those countries are steadfast allies and friends dedicated to the kind of work they're engaged in in the Global War On Terror.
Colombia, of course, is a nation that knows that threat posed by terrorists and terrorists operating in ungoverned, uncontrolled areas. Colombia is on the frontline in the war on terrorism. President Uribe and his team, in my view, are making solid progress in their battle against terrorists. The terrorist activity in rural areas is declining; desertions are up. And, as we know, accused drug traffickers are being extradited in very large numbers. Colombia has set in motion a plan that is bold and it's working, and they intend to win their war against terrorists.
Honduras was the first country in the Western Hemisphere that formally offered troops for stability operations in Iraq. Indeed, at this moment, some 300-plus Hondurans are en route to Iraq. They have infantry as well as military police. Many of them, I'm told, volunteered for this mission, which is a good thing. It's a difficult assignment; it's a half a world away from Honduras. And we appreciate their willingness to step forward the courageous decision of the president, the Congress and the Honduran people for sending them.
While in Colombia, of course, we learned the news of the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad. Our hearts go out to the families and the loved ones of all of those who died in the terrorist attack and those who were wounded. The U.N. delegation was in Iraq to help the Iraqi people recover from decades of tyranny and oppression. So while this was an attack on a U.N. building, headquarters as such, it really was an attack on the Iraqi people.
The terrorists and the regime remnants see progress that is taking place across Iraq. The terrorists see that Iraqi people are reclaiming their country, starting independent newspapers, policing their own streets, forming municipal councils, civic institutions and political parties. They see the Iraqi Governing Council getting on its feet and paving the way for a new constitution and free elections. They see Iraqis putting the era of Saddam Hussein behind them.
These accomplishments are victories for the Iraqi people and defeats for the Ba'athists and their terrorist allies. This much is certain: their cause is lost. That regime will not be coming back. The coalition will not be dissuaded from its mission, not by sabotage, not by snipers and not by terrorists with car bombs.
The same day that the U.N. compound was attacked, coalition forces captured yet another fugitive on the "55 Most Wanted" list, one of Saddam Hussein's vice presidents. And today CENTCOM announced the capture of Chemical Ali, number five on the "Most Wanted" list.
Each day more Iraqis are coming forward with information, leading coalition forces to be able to find weapons caches, hideouts, and with their help, the coalition has now captured or killed 42 of the 55 "Most Wanted."
Thus far, 27 nations have sent forces to Iraq, and over 40 nations have pledged more than 3 billion (dollars) in assistance to help the Iraqi people.
The vast majority of the Iraqi people want peace. They want democracy, and they want the chance to build a free society. They deserve that chance, and a small minority in that country or individuals coming in from other countries are not going to be permitted to take it away from them.
General Abizaid, do you have anything you want to open with?
Abizaid: No, sir. I'm ready.
Rumsfeld: You're ready. All right. (Scattered laughter.)
Q: General Abizaid, I'd like to ask you: Despite the litany of successes that the secretary just mentioned, horrors like that car bomb loom large in people's minds. The secretary says that you told Secretary Wolfowitz that you don't need more troops, that you have a sufficient number of troops. And he says that --
Abizaid: U.S. troops.
Q: U.S. troops, right. And you said that it's up to the Iraqis to eventually provide their own security. However, apparently they can't do that now. What are you doing in the short term, short of adding more troops, to provide some security? Are you bringing in some policemen quickly or -- what are you doing in the short term to try to provide more security?
Abizaid: Well, thanks for that question. I think it's clear that we've got to do a lot more to bring an Iraqi face to the security establishments throughout Iraq very quickly.
Having said that, I think it's also important for people to know that there's more than 50,000 Iraqis already under arms that are working in coordination with the coalition. We've got 35,000 people, for example, in the police forces. We've got a border force that's forming. We've got Iraqi Civil Defense Corps volunteers -- over 2,300 of them -- that have come forward to form battalions to work with our divisions. We've got an awful lot of people that we've hired to defend infrastructure, somewhere close to 17,000. So --
Rumsfeld: This is in 3-1/2 months.
Abizaid: Yes, sir. Yeah.
Rumsfeld: This is the 50,000 or 60,000 Iraqis have been pulled together.
Abizaid: So it's not the lone American rifleman out there defending Iraq. We're working in conjunction with Iraqis to make the place a better place to live. That having been said, there's a hell of a lot more work that has to be done to secure Iraq in terms of building their capacity. And I know the secretary's talked to you a number of times about what we want to do with regard to building international capacity. True, we've got 27 nations as part of the coalition. They're up over 20,000, and we hope to increase that number over time. We're hopeful that over time we get Islamic forces that would come into Iraq to help us.
So, it is not an American-only mission by any stretch of the imagination. It's an Iraqi mission, it is a coalition mission, and we are participating.
I also would just like to finish by saying, you know, we have over 1 million people under arms in the United States of America and it didn't protect us from what happened on 9/11. And the Israeli army, for all of its strength, was not protected from what happened in Jerusalem the other day. I mean, terrorist attacks can happen regardless of the strength of the military commitment. But over time, you'll see that we'll continue to make good progress on security.
Q: But the Iraqis can't do yet what you say they need to and what you want them to do. Is there anything being done -- are the Americans doing anything to increase security? Or can you, in fact?
Abizaid: Well, actually, we should be careful about saying the Iraqis can't do it. The Iraqis are fighting and dying out there, as well, against the people. I mean, Iraqi police are arresting people. Iraqi police are attacking former regime loyalists. They are moving with us, in conjunction with us, patrolling with us. They're doing an awful lot, and we shouldn't underestimate their contribution, it's quite high.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, and General Abizaid as well, you talked about there being enough U.S. troops. Secretary Powell was at the United Nations today, in talking about a resolution --
Rumsfeld: I think what I said was that General Abizaid has indicated that at the present time, he believes -- or you can say it yourself. At the present time, you believe that the U.S. level of forces is about right.
Q: So, if --
Abizaid: That's right! (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: That's what you said before, right?
Abizaid: Yes sir, that's what I said.
Q: So, if a multinational force, beyond what is there now, is introduced, what do you see that force doing? Does it augment forces already there? Does it allow some of the U.S. troops, numbers, to be reduced? What do you see them doing? And also, training for those troops, what kind of troops they would be, what you need.
Abizaid: The question always comes up after a major incident: Do we need more troops? And I think before, I've answered the question by saying there's a lot of things that we need. Sometimes you have to change the way that you're using your troops; so you do tactics, techniques and procedures differently. We've made some adjustments. You have to bring in different types of troops. For example, you saw that as the 3rd Infantry Division, a heavy force, left, we brought in the 82nd Airborne Division -- lighter troops.
As foreign troops come in, as other coalition comes in, and as Iraqi forces become more mature, we intend to turn over some of the security duties, the internal security duties that we're currently doing, to them, and we'll adopt a more aggressive posture on external duties, such as borders or other sorts of things.
So, the number of troops, boots per square inch, is not the issue. It also -- the real issue, by the way, Martha, is intelligence. You have to have good, solid intelligence in a conflict such as this so you can get at the terrorists. That's the number one thing we've got to have, and we're working hard at it.
Rumsfeld: And I would add this, that the forces there are as General Abizaid has indicated. They are comprised of Americans, coalition forces and Iraqis. And the numbers of each change from time to time. The overall number is going up, and the reason it's going up is because the Iraqis have gone from zero up to 50,000 or 60,000 people with arms in participating in this process of providing security in the country.
The president has said -- and General Abizaid knows this -- that as far as the U.S. element, that we're -- we intend to see this through to success. And the president has indicated that whatever level of U.S. forces is appropriate, that the general will have that level. And he knows that.
And so it is important that we continue to bring in other countries, and Secretary Powell and General Abizaid and others have been working very hard on including other countries and trying to get them to send troops, and more are coming in continuously, and there's a very aggressive program going on to increase Iraqi forces.
Q: So it wouldn't necessary bring down the number of U.S. forces? So it wouldn't necessary bring down the number of U.S. forces?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think I answered it rather well. The level of U.S. forces will be totally a function of the general's recommendations to the president and to me.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Rumsfeld: And the movement of the Iraqis or the coalition forces will -- it depends on what they're capable of doing, how they're organized and arranged, what's happening on the ground in the country. And trying to look ahead and anticipate and predict all of that is very difficult.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there have been four or five terrorist-type incidents in the last week or so, starting with the bombing outside the Jordanian embassy, the pipeline being blown up. Does this indicate that the country is turning into a magnet for terrorism? And where are the people coming from that are doing this? Are they people that are coming across the borders? Are they foreigners? Do you have anything you can share on that?
Rumsfeld: Well, I'll answer the first part and let John answer the second part. There have been four of five terrorist actions around the world, which -- in various places around the world in any given period of time.
Q: I was talking about Iraq-proper.
Rumsfeld: I understand, but it is -- terrorist activity has been going on in our world for a long time. It is going on today. There's hardly a month that goes by where there is not some relatively significant terrorist act that occurs somewhere. The types of activities that are taking place in Iraq, you're right, there are -- there have been some very clearly identifiable terrorist acts. And you're wondering what kinds of people are doing it. And I'll let John -- he's been doing an analysis of that.
Abizaid: The terrorist problem -- I don't know whether I'd say that it's growing or has grown from what we might have expected otherwise, but, I mean, clearly, it is emerging as the number-one security threat, and we are applying a lot of time, energy and resources to identify it, understand it and deal with it. I've mentioned to you here before that we definitely knew we had a increase in Ansar al-Islam. We think they've migrated from the north down into Baghdad, and we think that they're established there. It's not good for us when they get established in an urban area, as you can well appreciate. And we know that there are other foreign fighters -- and we've captured many of them -- that have come across from Syria. The lines of infiltration are difficult to stop because of the wide expanse of the border. But we're working very hard at getting a handle on what we need to do to stop infiltration there, in conjunction with Iraqis.
Q: Is there any increase in those numbers coming through?
Abizaid: I wouldn't want to characterize it as an increase in numbers. I think that the terrorists cells are definitely established, primarily in Baghdad, operating through some of the western areas, and that the threat from the terrorists is increasing. And we will counter their actions appropriately.
Q: General, you said you've got enough troops. And, as you know, a number of outside military analysts have suggested you might need more to deal with the kinds of attacks that you're facing now. Is there a downside -- is there no benefit to adding more troops? Would that not be a more conservative approach?
Abizaid: Sure, there's -- if I may, Mr. Secretary.
I mean, there is a downside to having too many troops there. I mean, clearly, there's a downside where you increase your lines of communication, you increase your number of logistics troops, you increase the -- you know, the energy that you have to expend just to guard yourself. I have never been one in favor of huge, ponderous forces, but light, agile, mobile forces that not only can deal with the problem in Iraq, but throughout the theater.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you referred in your statement to the Ba'athists and their terrorist allies. Are you suggesting that there has now been a hook-up, so to speak, between Saddam Hussein loyalists and Ansar al-Islam and foreigners who are coming in across the borders?
Rumsfeld: All of those are active -- the remnants of the Ba'athists, the foreigners that are coming in to participate in terrorists activities, as well as criminals that ought to be mentioned.
The linkages. (To General Abizaid) Do you want to comment on any linkages between them?
Q: Have they established operational linkages?
Abizaid: We have clear indication of how the former Ba'athists are working. They work in cellular structure. We talked about it before. And the terrorists work in cellular structure. I wouldn't say that they have become allies per se, but I believe that there are some indications of cooperation in specific areas. And, of course, ideologically, they are not at all compatible. But on the other hand, you sometimes cooperate against what you consider a common enemy.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I was wondering, sir, while these terrorist activities were going on in Iraq, there was an uptick as well in activities in Afghanistan, which is also part of your command. Now, with NATO formally taking over there a couple weeks ago, do you think --
Rumsfeld: I think it's important to clarify, NATO took over the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.
Q: And that goes to the heart of my question. Is it perhaps time to reconsider the request of President Karzai and others that the ISAF force that we were just talking about be permitted to expand beyond Kabul?
Rumsfeld: We have always -- the United States has always been happy to see the ISAF expand. The ISAF has not wanted to expand, and the people in charge of ISAF have not wanted to expand. And there have not -- in fact, we have spent a great deal of time just keeping an appropriate level of forces in the ISAF doing Kabul. But I do know that the people that were just relieved had a very specific indication that they did not want to extend it beyond Kabul. And I believe the leadership today that's doing it for NATO feels that way, is that not correct?
Abizaid: That's correct, sir.
Rumsfeld: So we'd be happy to have them expand.
Q: Mr. Secretary.
Q: General Abizaid. I'd like to just ask General Abizaid a question. Secretary Rumsfeld mentioned the capture of "Chemical Ali." Can you fill in some of the details of how that happened? And did you get any indication that he's had any hand in the anti-American violence or the sabotage that's been going on?
Abizaid: I really wouldn't want to talk about the details of the capture, because it would -- it would give away some things that we don't want to give away. But I would say that "Chemical Ali" has been active in some ways in influencing people in and around him in a regional way, and I think I would leave it at that.
Q: (Inaudible) -- where in Iraq he was captured?
Q: Arabic television has broadcast a statement from a group just a little while ago claiming responsibility for the Baghdad attack, and it's a group called the Armed Vanguards of the Second Mohammed Army. I'm not sure if this is fresh information. And number one, if you can tell us anything about this group, whether you're ever heard of it. And General Abizaid, just to make sure we really understand what you were saying about terrorism emerging as the number-one security threat, can you help us understand -- can you put a time frame on that? And when you say terrorism is the number-one threat, are you also including the Ba'athists and the criminals, or are you really talking about what might be generally understood as these terrorist groups themselves, the outside fighters, so to speak?
Abizaid: The terrorist threat that is emerging and is certainly becoming a problem for us is clearly being fueled by extremists within a fairly distinct geographical area -- Tikrit; Ar Ramadi; Baghdad. They are clearly a problem for us because of the sophistication of their attacks and because of what I would call their tactics to go after Iraqis. Clearly they're going after Iraqis that are cooperating with us. They're going after soft targets of the international community. They're still seeking to inflict casualties upon the United States, and they will also seek to go after the infrastructure. But it's also interesting to me that as the -- as the Iraqi Governing Council becomes more assertive and as we've become more successful against the Ba'athist threat, you've seen people reverting or resorting to more terrorism. I think that's an indication, to a certain extent, of some success of some or our tactics against others.
Q: And have you ever heard of this group before?
Abizaid: I have heard of a group -- not the Second Vanguard but the First Vanguard. So I presume it's --
Q: Mr. Secretary, you've talked and Ambassador Bremer have talked about foreign fighters coming in across Syria, the border with Syria, and also through Iran. Do you believe any of these foreign fighters in Iraq are state-sponsored?
Rumsfeld: We've just been talking about these foreign fighters -- (laughs) -- as a matter of fact up at lunch.
Abizaid: I think the extremists are ideologically motivated to attack the United States and its interests wherever it may be. I believe that they are misguided. They're anti-Islamic. And they have determined that to kill innocent women and children, regardless of the cost, that they can be successful and break our will.
Q: But do you believe that they're being supported or somehow supported by Syria or Iran?
Abizaid: I don't believe that I would say that they're state-supported, but they are supported by misguided people who think that sending money to them is okay.
Q: And finally --
Rumsfeld: And they're clearly being -- you want four questions or five? (Laughter.) They clearly are not being stopped by the countries from which they're coming.
Q: Mr. Secretary, going back to "Chemical Ali," could you, just in general, though, talk about the significance of his capture? Obviously it's an important capture. Could you explain the obvious reasons why, such as perhaps information about weapons, such as perhaps clues about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein? Why is it significant that he was captured?
Rumsfeld: Well, we won't know, will we, until we have an opportunity to visit with him. And after that, we'll know a little bit more.
Q: General Abizaid, just to be clear on this troop issue, are these troops you're now negotiating for from coalition countries in addition to the second division that you're hoping to fill? In other words, are you hoping to get more than that second division to, in essence, increase the troop strength in Iraq?
Abizaid: Sure. We have a British framework division. We have a Polish framework division that -- and the Polish framework division will be ready to go and fully up, operational, on about the 3rd of September. And we are looking for another framework division above and beyond that, if not two.
Q: So in other words, that would take over one of the rotations for the U.S., or that would be in addition to the current plan for the rotation?
Abizaid: It depends upon the security situation. So it doesn't necessarily mean that additional foreign troops would cause a corresponding drawdown of American forces.
Q: Mr. Secretary, according to Ahmed Chalabi, he warned the U.S. troops about the possibility of this attack against the U.N. Do you have any reports about it?
Rumsfeld: I do. It's not true. And I was handed, when I came down here, a statement by the Iraqi National Congress that apparently they have issued today, pointing out that that did not happen. And if somebody wants it, it's here.
Q: Do you promise to protect the U.N. since now on, maybe, to avoid that?
Rumsfeld: That's something that Ambassador Bremer and General Abizaid will sort through with the United Nations as they think through where they're going to be. And they made a conscious decision that they wanted to have contract protection, and that's what they've had for some period of time. And I don't know whether that might or might not change, depending on where they want to be located or what they may want to do.
Q: In the case of the U.N. bombing, what's your understanding, General, as to, you know, what type of group caused that? Was it a suicide bombing? Were they Ba'athists? Were they foreigners? What do you know at this point?
Abizaid: I think it's best for me not to characterize it. I would prefer to see the FBI's report, our troops' report. Speculating on it now -- it could be nearly anything, so I don't want to speculate on it.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: General Abizaid -- and for both of you, please. General Abizaid was quoted recently, hopefully accurately, as saying that Iraq is now the central battle in the war on terrorism. Ambassador Bremer said recently that he would rather be fighting these people in Baghdad and Iraq than in New York and Washington, and I think he added Chicago and Buffalo, yesterday. When President Bush was asked about foreign fighters coming into the country a couple of weeks ago, he got in a little hot water for saying "bring them on."
Isn't there -- or is there some dimension to this battle that almost welcomes these foreign fighters coming in so that you have an opportunity to engage them there with the U.S. military rather than having to deal with them on their terms?
Rumsfeld: Well, if they're coming in, this is their terms, obviously. They're entering voluntarily; they're not being invited in. And to the extent they do come in, General Abizaid and his people intend to capture or kill them. And so I can well understand Ambassador Bremer's comment.
Q: But isn't it part of -- I mean a function of the U.S. military?
Rumsfeld: Wait, wait, wait.
(To General Abizaid) Do you want to comment?
Abizaid: Actually, I very much agree with what Ambassador Bremer said, and I think Iraq is at the center of the global war on terrorism, just like CENTCOM stands at the heart of the Global War On Terrorism. It's important for all of us to know, by the way, that most of the countries in the region are fighting with us. I was just recently in Saudi Arabia. They're fighting for their lives there and they're doing a great job.
So, wherever we find the terrorists, we will find them, capture them, kill them, fight them, and we welcome the opportunity to do that because the region will not be safe and will not be prosperous until that threat is dealt with.
Q: General, you mentioned that the Iraqis also are fighting and dying for their country. Can you give us a sense of the casualty rates among the Iraqi forces and civilian population?
Abizaid: No, I think that I don't have the numbers immediately available. But I think that you can go back and take a look and see that there are a substantial number of Iraqis fighting next to us for Iraq, that are fighting and dying for their country. And we respect that. In this fight against terrorism, they are fighting for terrorism.
I met with the Iraqi Governing Council the other day, and these are 25 of the most courageous people that I've seen in a long time, who are working day after day to make their country a better place. And they deserve our support, and they deserve our help. But they don't want us to win the war for them, they want to win the war on their own.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there are some initial reports out of Tokyo that the Japanese may have changed their minds about sending 1,000 SDF, self-defense forces, to join the coalition in Iraq. Do you have any information on that, sir? And what would that do to your plans to build a broader coalition?
Rumsfeld: Well, the coalition is already broad. And we're continuing -- other countries are continuing to come in. I have not seen these reports.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Can I ask you about your trip south? There have been reports out of the region that the government of Venezuela has been backing the FARC rebels or terrorists. What's your view on that?
Rumsfeld: I suppose the best thing I can say is that the -- clearly, the government of Colombia is concerned about their border and the advantage that terrorist organizations throughout the world take of border situations. And the government of Colombia has received good cooperation from some of its neighbors in terms of helping to try to avoid having a border become an advantage for a terrorist organization. And I have not commented on the border situation with Venezuela and Colombia. I'll leave that to Colombia.
Q: Mr. Secretary, for the average American, the continued U.S. casualties, and the U.N. bombing and what the General says about more foreign terrorists coming into Iraq probably suggests that things are going badly; that they're getting worse instead of better. Is that a wrong perception?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that you or anyone else can speak for the average American. (Laughs, laughter.) I don't think people would say that the Washington press corps is typical of the average American; now really, do you? (Laughter.)
Q: Don't be funny! (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) It's the preface that got me. (Laughter.)
I guess time will tell. My impression is that the American people have a very good center of gravity, and that they can kind of sort through and sift all they hear and all they see and all they read. And they were, as the world was, jolted on September 11th.
And the reality is that terrorists can attack in any country, at any time, in any place, using a whole host of different techniques. And we know that it is not possible to defend in every country on the face of the Earth against every type of technique at any time of the day or night. You can't do that. Therefore, the advantage is with the attacker. And therefore, the president has worked up a coalition now of some, I believe, 90 countries in the global war on terror that are exchanging intelligence information, that are cooperating in closing bank accounts, that are sharing information and police records, that are inhibiting people from moving across borders, that are trying to find ways to restrict funds from moving, because they're deeply concerned about the problem of terrorism. And the only way to deal with it is not to sit there and hope it doesn't hit you. The only way to deal with it is what the president is doing, and that is to put the enormous coalition together of 90 countries, put pressure on them all across the globe -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in other portions of CENTCOM and in other parts of the world -- as we've just seen in Colombia and Honduras, where they're working these problems successfully.
That's the task, and it is something that takes patience. It's going to take time. There will be continued attacks as that process goes forward. But in the last analysis, either we do it, and we do it successfully, or free people are not going to be able to live as free people. And we are going to be successful.
Thank you very much.
End of official press briefing.
Rumsfeld: (to (To General Abizaid) Follow me here a second.
Rumsfeld and General Abizaid walk to the rear of the briefing studio and met with Katie Hanks, 9, a visitor to today's press briefing:
Rumsfeld: Who is this young lady with a smile?
Hanks: Katy Hanks. (Inaudible) I've got a question for you.
Rumsfeld: Go on make it an easy one for me I've had a tough day.
Hanks: Can you please describe the most unreported eventful progress in Iraq?
Rumsfeld: The most unreported.
Hanks: Progress (inaudible).
Rumsfeld: That's a very good question. What do you think is the most unreported eventful progress in Iraq?
-- the most unreported
Abizaid: That's the hardest question you've gotten all day Mr. Secretary.
Abizaid: Man that's really good.
Rumsfeld: There's so many things happening, there are political like all the city councils that have been formed where the Iraqi people have come together and formed councils in the their little cities and are starting to take over governing responsibilities. There are economic things that are happening that are good.
Abizaid: Television dishes.
There are television dishes literarily everywhere in Baghdad that Saddam Hussein wouldn't let be in there. And if you go now and you fly around Iraq you see television dishes everywhere broadcasting all the bad news.
Rumsfeld: Come back and see us.
You've got a great smile.
Hanks: Pleasure to meet you.
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