CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Pentagon Press Briefing
Aired April 7, 2003 - 14:03 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: We're are going to now take you to the Pentagon briefing we've been telling you about, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers.
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DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... forces are operating in and around Baghdad, on the ground, in the air. The regime's leaders are increasingly isolated. The circle is closing and their options are running out.
As his regime collapses around him, the question is asked: Where is he? There are three possibilities: He's either dead or injured or not willing to show himself.
We may not know if or where he is, but we do know that he no longer runs much of Iraq. His forces continue to surrender and capitulate, his regime is running out of real soldiers and soon all that will be left will be the war criminals.
In the south, the U.K. forces now control much of Basra. They're performing well in liberating the city from the regime death squads that have terrorized the local population for some days now.
We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end. To Iraqis who have suffered at his hand, particularly in the last few weeks in that southern part of the country, he will never again terrorize you or your families.
Despite the dire predictions about the forces and the plan, coalition forces have come a long way in a short time. But there is dangerous and difficult work ahead.
As the forces continue their work, I want to remember the U.S. forces who have given their lives in this struggle. The names are on the screen behind me. They volunteered to risk their lives for a cause they believed in. Their sacrifice has helped protect their fellow countrymen and the world from a very dangerous regime, and it will soon be giving the gift of freedom to the long-oppressed Iraqi people.
We're deeply grateful for their service and their sacrifice, and our hearts and prayers go out to their families and their loved ones.
I also want to say a word about the families and loved ones of those who were captured, missing or wounded. I saw many of the wounded at Bethesda Naval Hospital yesterday.
And, Dick, I believe you were at Walter Reed.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Yes, sir.
RUMSFELD: I can report that they are true heroes. Their spirits are high. And certainly it is a privilege to be able to thank them in person.
And to the loved ones of the missing or captured: Know that they are on our minds and that we join you in keeping them in our prayers.
If one contrasts the noble example of the fine young men and women on the scroll behind with the conduct of the Iraqi regime, regime death squads have used schools as armories and hospitals as military headquarters. They've executed POWs. They use children as human shields. And they have forced civilians to fight at gun point, executing those who refused. They are moving their artillery into residential neighborhoods in Baghdad, hoping to draw coalition fire.
By contrast, coalition forces have demonstrated their respect for the Iraqi people, going to extraordinary lengths to protect innocent lives and to safeguard Muslim holy sites.
U.S. Army civil affairs teams are delivering humanitarian aid and fixing schools where Iraqi children returned to their classrooms on April 4. As the coalition makes progress, the Iraqi people are losing their fears of the regime, and many are daring for the first time to imagine life without Saddam Hussein.
Let me assure all Iraqis listening today that life without Saddam Hussein is not a distant dream. Coalition forces will not stop until they have accomplished their mission, and they will remove Saddam Hussein from power and give Iraq back to the Iraqi people.
We share your aspirations for an Iraq that is free of tyranny and we'll help to prepare for an early and smooth transition from Saddam Hussein's rule to a new Iraqi government, chosen by the Iraqi people, that no longer threatens its neighbors or the world, and you will be needed to help build a new Iraq, whole, free and at peace.
Finally, before I conclude, I do want to say a word about Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Fisher, who died in a plane crash on Friday. The Fisher family has done and continues to do so much for the men and women in uniform. Many of the families of the service men that we visited yesterday have their families staying in Fisher Houses. They are at Bethesda, they are also at Walter Reed, and there are other locations around the country and the world. And they're funded by the Fisher Foundation.
Their assistance to the military families is deeply appreciated, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of the Fisher family.
MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
The 85 brave U.S. service members killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom remind us of the heavy price we often pay for freedom. They're indeed American heroes and we will not forget their sacrifice or their families' sacrifice.
And as the secretary said, we should also remember those missing or being held prisoner.
Our thoughts are with you and your families, and I can guarantee you we will make every effort to find you and return you safely home.
Also, more than 150 have been wounded in battle. And, as the secretary said, I was out at Walter Reed when he was over at Bethesda Hospital -- met some of these brave Americans yesterday.
Each and every time I visit them I guess I'm amazed at their dedication and their strength. Often their primary concern is to want to rejoin their comrades as quickly as possible.
So I think we all thank them for their inspiration and their service to our nation, and to their families, as well, we thank them, many of whom were there yesterday.
And, like the secretary, I also want to extend my sympathies and our sympathies to the Fisher family. Tony and Anne, as you know, died last week in a plane crash. They were great supporters of our service members.
The Fisher Houses at military hospitals are a great resource for families visiting their injured or seriously ill loved ones, and we will miss Tony and Anne very much.
Operation Iraqi Freedom continues. The battlefield has certainly shifted since the last time we were at this podium on Thursday.
We have over 340,000 coalition forces in the region, more than 125,000 inside Iraq. We've secured Baghdad International Airport and have begun using it for coalition missions. We've secured most of the major roads into and out of Baghdad.
We visited two of Saddam's presidential palaces. Republican Guard divisions have only been able to conduct sporadic attacks on our forces.
Of the 800-plus tanks they began with, all but a couple of dozen have been destroyed or abandoned. We have more than 7,000 enemy prisoners of war.
We are restoring powers to cities throughout southern Iraq. And we're delivering a growing amount of humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people in various locations.
Iraqi citizens are assisting coalition forces in identifying locations of weapons caches, as well as the hideouts of the remaining elements of Fedayeen Saddam and the Baath Party members. But as I did on Thursday, I need to add a caution to this discussion because there is still much more work to be done, and some of it will, no doubt, be very, very difficult.
In the last 24 hours, coalition air forces have flown more than 1,000 sorties over Iraq. Since the war began, we have fired over 750 Tomahawks and dropped over 18,000 precision-guided munitions.
Today I've got a couple of videos for you. The first video is of a strike on the home of Chemical Ali. We dropped two weapons on this target, but missed the first time, as you can see it from the black mark on the pavement. The second hit its mark and, just as the secretary just mentioned, we believe we were successful with that strike.
This is a second video. The last video's a little long, but I think it makes a point. It's of an AV-8B Harrier targeting a rocket launcher on a bridge southwest of Baghdad. After the pilot released his weapon, civilian vehicles entered his field of view, so he guided the munition into the river to avoid killing innocent civilians. You can see the truck pull up trying to get around the rocket launcher, and so he adjusted his aim to put the weapon into the river.
And we'll play this again in slower speed to point out the munition as it's steered into the river. If you watch the red line inserted in the clip, you will see the weapon fly parallel to it. Here's the red line. You see the weapon.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about a report that Reuters has from an embed reporter in Karbala.
Quoting a spokesperson for the 101st Airborne Division as saying that the substances found at a training camp in central Iraq between Karbala and Hilla, apparently include nerve agent sarin and tabin and the blister agent luicite (ph), and that preliminary tests indicate that they are WMD, but that traces are being sent back to the United States for final testing.
Could you give us your comment on that, sir? And might this be the smoking gun that you've been looking for?
RUMSFELD: Once we decided to put reporters in with units that were out, it was obvious that they would be there when things were discovered and that they would report on them. Which is fine. And they've reported -- I haven't seen the report, but it sounded -- you used the word apparently and you used the world preliminary -- so it sounds like a very responsible report.
We don't do that. We have to recognize that almost all first reports that we get turn out to be wrong. There tend to be changes in them. And as a result, we have to take our time, and look at it.
We have -- I don't know, Dick, how many of these things we've seen in the last couple of years, but there's literally dozens and dozens of instances where the first report comes in, and perfectly good reporting, but it's wrong.
And therefore we don't do that. We don't do first reports, and we don't speculate.
And I can tell you, it takes days to get samples of things from wherever they are in the battlefield into a first place where they take a look, and then to a second place where things get checked. And I think that the prudent thing in a case like this would be to, kind of, let the thing play itself out, and we'll see -- we'll eventually know.
QUESTION: Given the intense skepticism by many governments around the world about the U.S. government's WMD case, are there procedures in place to establish, in the event you do find something, what in civilian law enforcement would be called a chain of custody?
RUMSFELD: Yes, to the extent you can do that on the battlefield, the answer is yes. We've got people who have been alerted to the importance of chain of custody, and they're attentive to that, and will be to the extent it is possible in a battlefield environment.
QUESTION: Back in February 5th, Colin Powell, in his case before the U.N., specifically alluded to a missile unit -- an Iraqi missile unit that had been moved to the west, that had launchers and biological warheads. He used that as a piece of proof.
Has the U.S. been tracking that unit, and do you have any insight into the whereabouts of that one very specific example of WMD weaponry?
MYERS: I'm trying to recall his specific example. I can't connect it to other intel that I know right now, but I know we were tracking -- at the time Secretary Powell was speaking we were talking about some Frogs, the short-range surface-to-surface missiles, moved up into the northeast. We had had some movements to the south. I'm not sure about the warheads.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) specific example of moving to the west...
MYERS: I'd have to go look at it. Are you talking about moving to another country?
QUESTION: No, no. Western Iraq, warheads with biological agents and missile launchers. He used that as a primary...
MYERS: I'd have to check the wording. I'll get back to you on that.
QUESTION: Has anything been found in the west maybe similar to that type of weaponry?
MYERS: As the secretary said, we've done several sensitive side exploitations in the west and in other parts of Iraq. And we've really focused hard on delivery means. We've really paid a lot of attention to delivery means, trying to preclude their use on U.S. and other coalition forces. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what can you tell us about the presence of exiled Iraqis in southern Iraq in some kind of military role, and the presence of Akmed Chalabi among them? Does that signify any broader role for him after this is over?
RUMSFELD: No, I wouldn't think so. The Iraqi people are going to sort out what their Iraqi government ought to look like. And that is very clear.
What's happening is that the United States has a done a variety of different things. We've been working with two Kurdish groups in the north, and have special forces with them, and they've been cooperating on various things, the PUK and the KDP.
The other thing that's been going on is we trained some folks from -- who were Iraqis and have brought them in to assist. And then there has been this group that you described that has moved south and is involved. There are also, I think, four Shia groups that are involved in various ways.
So there are, you know, six, eight, 10 different activities going on on the part of people whom are Iraqis, either Kurds or Shia or expatriates or people from within the country. And that's a good thing. They can be very helpful to us in a variety of ways, and we appreciate it.
QUESTION: Are they offering direct military assistance? In other words are they engaging in combat-related activities?
RUMSFELD: There's no question but that there are some that are doing that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about the British gains in Basra over the last 24 hours or so. To what extent do you think that might accelerate the erosion of resistance in Baghdad and advance your case there?
RUMSFELD: Oh, it's unclear. I don't know how good the communications is between Basra and Baghdad at the present time. A good deal of the communications in the country are out, in terms of telephone lines and radio and some television.
There's some spotty local television in places, but I just don't know how good the communications happens to be. So I think it's a little premature to know.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you want to comment on these reports that either State Department personnel or General Garner's people have nominated (OFF-MIKE) and you have vetoed those nominations and suggested ones of your own?
RUMSFELD: Sure, I'd be happy to. I have not read a lot of these articles, although I've been told that there are -- from somewhere there's a hemorrhaging of these articles that seem to be flying around. The short answer to it is that the president has asked us to put in place an activity. Jay Garner is the person who has been helping us with that. It has currently moved from the United States to Kuwait, and it will eventually move into Iraq. There are people from the Department of Agriculture, from the Department of Interior, from the Department of Defense, there are people from the Department of State, there are people from outside the government who are helping with it. And the -- my understanding is that they've sorted through most of the jobs and that they're now either en route or there and will be beginning that process of trying to help -- well, for example, take an agriculture ministry; they'll be trying to help figure out what do you do with the agricultural related ministries in Iraq and how do you fix that so that it goes forward? Which people can you use, which people do you not want to use?
And we'll have Americans, along with other coalition partners, and eventually additional coalition partners, involved.
The thought is that within a relatively short period of time a number of those ministries could be put into the hands of Iraqis. The ones that -- for example, not the Defense Department for a bit, and certainly not the intelligence services, but there are some activities that it might very well be proper to move over to Iraqis as soon as possible.
And that's, sort of, who's going to do what is taking place, and my understanding is it's pretty well sorted through. I just, I don't know all the details, but I think it's pretty well agreed and it's decided.
QUESTION: You've stated flatly today that some American POWs have been executed. On what basis do you make that statement? And now that there are at least nine remains that have come back from the ambush at Nasiriyah, how many of those do you believe were American soldiers that were executed?
RUMSFELD: Let me just see precisely what I said. I think I said they have executed prisoners of war. Did I say American prisoners of war?
QUESTION: That's been the understanding here.
RUMSFELD: I didn't. You just said I said American prisoners of war, and I'm not sure I said that.
Do you know?
QUESTION: Are you saying that there have not been American prisoners executed then?
RUMSFELD: I'm not saying either. There may very well have been, but I'm not announcing that, if that's what you're asking.
Would you check and see if I said that right now? You've got a copy of it. I'd be curious. If I did, I'd want to make it...
RUMSFELD: Just a minute. If I did say precisely American prisoners of war, I'd want to correct it, because I don't have the names of anyone who has -- any American prisoners of war who we know of certain knowledge has been executed.
We do know they executed a lot of prisoners of war over the years, and that's what I...
QUESTION: Do know of any of the nine sets of remains that have been returned, if the forensics -- preliminary forensics have shown any of those to have been executed?
RUMSFELD: I have not heard the report on that.
MYERS: I have not seen (OFF-MIKE)
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, many times from the podium here you've talked about a tipping point, the coalition reaching a tipping point when the Iraqi people will then realize the regime is essentially done. Do you get a sense that you're at that tipping point now? Or can you characterize in broad terms the successes you're seeing on the battlefield in relation to that?
RUMSFELD: Let me correct this. Your question was inaccurate. I said they have executed POWs. And I did not say from what country.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
RUMSFELD: No, I can't say we're at a tipping point. I think that there won't be a single point. I think a tipping point involves a single human being that makes a conscious judgment that, "The guy's going to be gone, that regime's going to be over, and I want to be a part of something new and fresh going forward and not a part of that." And it may happen to an individual, it may happen to a cluster of individuals, it may happen to an army unit, it may happen to a village -- the bulk of a village.
It's unlikely to happen, you know, instantaneously across a country, because the facts on the ground are so different in different parts of that country today that I think it would be unlikely.
I do think the concept of a tipping point is correct, and at some point, the aggregation of all of those individual tipping points having been reached, it will be in effect the country will have tipped. But it will be cumulative rather than at one moment.
QUESTION: Going into the palaces, what specifically was the purpose there? Is that primarily to send a message? MYERS: The purpose, probably manifold, but one of them is to send the message that for at least that portion of Baghdad that we're in there. That's an important message, I think, for the regime and the people of Iraq to understand, that this regime is gone when you go into a couple of presidential palaces.
Second is to exploit it and examine those to see what you might find that would be of interest that would lead you to other regime leadership targets or documentation of things you'd be interested in, WMD or whatever.
QUESTION: Anything found?
MYERS: No first reports.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, does it also provide you with a perspective on the adversary's ability to defend targets? What can you tell us about -- when you put a large armored force in the middle of his capital, what does that tell you about his ability to fight you still, the coherency of it?
MYERS: I think the command and control of the Republican Guards is at the point now where the most they can do are sporadic attacks from very, very small units. So the thought that there is enough of a Republican Guard division that can be put against our forces is probably -- our forces have been very successful in -- just as I mentioned in the remarks -- destroying Republican Guard.
In terms of Special Republican Guard, Special Security Organization and others who might be very loyal to the regime only because they're gone as soon as the regime is gone, and so their fighting spirit might be a little bit higher -- that's questionable actually.
MYERS: Well, I think, generally it does not appear very coherent at this point. It does not appear coherent.
That does not mean that there's not tough fighting, that we maybe have not gotten to the point where we're going to see some of those units that I just mentioned become tougher adversaries. That's quite likely that that would happen.
QUESTION: My question is related to what the military calls force protection. Last week, the Army charged a soldier with a grenade attack that killed two members of his own unit, was reported that he was a Muslim and that he was opposed to military operations in Iraq. In light of this incident, are you concerned that there could be other attacks like that, and are you doing anything to deal with it?
RUMSFELD: First of all, we don't know what that attack was. I don't disagree with you that there have been reports, but that doesn't make them so. It's a matter that's under investigation. Therefore, to try to compare something else that's like it is impossible since we don't know yet from the investigation what it's like.
QUESTION: I wanted to go back to the reconstruction and ask you, because you so much has been -- Akmed Chalabi -- because so much has been attributed to you and Mr. Wolfowitz, very, very directly, are you supporting Akmed Chalabi, endorsing him for any role in post-war Iraq? And second... RUMSFELD: If anyone has attributed anything to me about that, it's inaccurate. I have not opined on that subject. That doesn't mean that people can't run around making misattributions.
QUESTION: That's why I'm asking you.
RUMSFELD: No, I've not said a word on the subject.
QUESTION: Well, do you endorse Akmed Chalabi for any role?
RUMSFELD: Of course not. I've just said that the Iraqi people are going to make these decisions. Clearly, the United States is not going to impose a government on Iraq.
It's going to be something of a kind with Afghanistan. It may not be called the loya jirgah, and it won't be. But at some moment the people from inside Iraq, who now are in a position -- they're not in a position today to speak.
RUMSFELD: They're still controlled in some parts of that country by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Those people need a voice at the table. The people from the areas that have been liberated need a voice at the table. The people from outside may want a voice at the table.
And that process, I couldn't even -- anyone who tells you that they know, that they have a mental picture, a cookie mold that they think is going to get pressed down on that, are the kinds of people who were talking about the war plan having never read it.
It is not possible to know that, because how it will evolve will depend on what the Iraqi people decide.
QUESTION: And just to further...
RUMSFELD: Confuse it.
QUESTION: ... illuminate your thinking on this, the Congress now -- some elements of the Congress have voted against funding the Pentagon effort for reconstruction, saying that should be a State Department effort, and there is the controversy about the United Nations taking a leading role in it.
RUMSFELD: You know, all this, what's happened here is we've seen people go from debating the war plan they haven't read, and the number of troops, and all of that, now they're debating the form of the government, which no one's decided, and what the post-Saddam Hussein regime exercise, activity, organization ought to look like. And I can tell you, we've spent a lot of time thinking about it. There's very good people from all the departments. In the last analysis it's the president's policy, and whatever is put forward by the Congress by way of money will be expended in a way that the president decides should be expended.
And what we're going to try to do is to do it in a way that makes sense for the people of Iraq.
QUESTION: So you are opposed then, sir, just to make sure I understand, to the congressional vote taking away funding the reconstruction of Iraq from the Pentagon? You want to see that stay here? RUMSFELD: All I can tell you is the president made a recommendation, and that is his preference and we'll see what the Congress ultimately decides.
But in the last analysis it doesn't matter which pocket it's in. It will be spent in a way that the president feels is appropriate to the circumstance.
QUESTION: This is a question for Egyptian television.
Sir, you were quoted as saying earlier on that there are certain governments giving comfort and confidence to Saddam Hussein. Could you characterize, sir, who were these governments you were referring to?
RUMSFELD: It has -- I don't remember the exact quote, but there's two things that have happened that would fit that category, in my view. One is the kind of situation where countries have supplied Iraq with military capabilities that we wish he did not have.
And even most recently I mentioned that they were -- some of these kinds of capabilities were coming in from Syria even during the course of the conflict, let alone before the conflict. And that was one type of thing that would fit that category.
The second thing that fit the category, I would say, is, and this is a little more nebulous, our goal has been to not have a war, which is why the president spent months in the United Nations trying to get the Iraqi regime to acquiesce in the U.N. inspections.
RUMSFELD: Then he issued an ultimatum and said, "Leave in 48 hours and let's avoid a war."
During that period, and even more recently, when people have speculated that there might be a cease-fire because some countries were running around talking about that possibility. I have felt that it would be better off -- we would all be better off the sooner it ends, the fewer people are killed. And the way to have it end sooner is for the Iraqi people to be persuaded that Saddam Hussein is in fact going to go.
And to the extent there were people during that buildup period that were behaving in a way that suggested that there was one other way for him to not leave or that there might be a cease-fire and he could survive, it tended to tell the people in the country, "Don't surrender, keep supporting the regime, he may tough it out one more time." And undoubtedly whatever I said was something of that type.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to interrupt the Pentagon briefing to go immediately to CNN's Ryan Chilcote.
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