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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired December 9, 2003 - 13:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: ... strengthen their ties to NATO and to further link their countries to the West.

RUMSFELD: In Georgia, the transition leaders are working to set Georgia on a path of reform -- political, economic and defense -- and to greater integration with the West. We wish them success in what obviously are important months ahead.

This was my fifth visit to Afghanistan since the country was liberated. Each time I return I see progress. Micro-businesses are flourishing. The highway linking Kandahar to the capital in Kabul is finished and will be dedicated, I believe, in a day or two. The road linking Kabul with Mazar is near completion.

Fortunately, there is strong growth, with very little inflation. President Karzai has strengthened his leadership team. Ministry of defense reforms have been initiated. Demobilization of militias is beginning. And all in all the progress is encouraging.

In Iraq we were in Kirkuk, Baghdad, to meet with U.S. military and also with those folks that are training the new recruits in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

Across the country, Iraqi security forces -- now number close to 160,000 -- are assuming more responsibility for the security of their country.

In Kirkuk, General Odierno reports that today nearly all crime is now dealt with by the 2,200 coalition-trained Iraqi security police. Joint patrols have largely ended and Iraqis have stepped forward in that particular area to patrol on their own.

I should underline that each portion of the country is different, and that's not the pattern everywhere, to be sure. But it is the pattern there.

There's a city jail, a functioning Iraqi court system. So Iraqis now can begin to handle crime from arrest to trial to sentencing.

As Iraqis take on more responsibility, the U.S. presence in the city has gone down from three battalions to a couple of hundred soldiers, with our forces assisting in various types of reconstruction.

RUMSFELD: Meanwhile, coalition forces continue taking the battle to the terrorists. Commanders we met with in Kirkuk and Baghdad report they have made good progress in the past several weeks.

That's not to say that attacks are over. They're not. We can expect that the terrorists will continue to adjust their tactics.

The road ahead, I'm afraid, will be difficult and dangers do remain. But the coalition will prevail and we will continue training Iraqis to step forward to serve their country. We'll continue taking the battle to the terrorists. And, as the president has said, the coalition will stay as long as it takes to finish the job and leave only when the task is finished.

General Myers?

MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

And good afternoon.

Let me first extend the secretary's condolences and my condolences to the families of the soldiers that were killed in yesterday's Stryker accident, as well as the soldier killed in a drive-by shooting at a gas station in Mosul. These soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and we are very, very grateful for their service.

Operations throughout continue. Over the last six weeks, we have been aggressively attacking former regime elements who are attacking the future of Iraq.

While the number of attacks on coalition forces are down, they do continue, as witnessed by the truck bomb that exploded west of Mosul earlier this morning. The alert actions of the soldiers on the ground prevented this attack from achieving its intended loss of life.

Our soldiers also continue to reduce the impact of other attacks, such as improvised explosive devices, as we counter enemy tactics.

We also continue to apprehend former regime elements, including those suspected of attacking coalition forces and the Iraqi people. Over the last 24 hours, 76 suspected enemy personnel were captured, and we rounded up 66 grenades and confiscated 4,200 small arm rounds along with three SA-7s.

Operations in Afghanistan continue as well. Operation Avalanche is designed to destroy anti-coalition forces across the southeastern portion of Afghanistan. By doing this, we deny the enemy's ability to operate in this region.

MYERS: Coalition forces will be able to establish a permissive environment and allow for long-term reconstruction efforts to take hold in that part of Afghanistan.

And with that, we'll take your questions. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Myers said the number of attacks is going down, the number of attacks on U.S. troops, as have your commanders there.

RUMSFELD: It's a bit early to call it a trend. It's a fact, but where it'll be next week or the week after I think remains to be seen.

QUESTION: Nearly 50 soldiers were injured today in this attack today in this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) U.S. base. A U.S. helicopter was forced down, made a hard landing after coming under fire; nobody was hurt badly in that. A Sunni mosque was also bombed.

While do you say that the security situation appears to be improving at least for the time being...

RUMSFELD: The number of attacks have gone down.

QUESTION: Is the security situation then improving, and are these attacks becoming, I guess, more -- are they becoming more effective despite the fact that the number is going down?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think I answered the part of whether the security situation is improving. I think it's too early to call it a trend line. And we'll just have to see. We'll just have to go through the next month or two and three and see how effective the adjustment in tactics and techniques and procedures that the U.S. military forces are adopting, how effective they are.

It's also true that the terrorists are adjusting their tactics. And they have in the past. They undoubtedly will continue to go to school on what we do and we'll go to school on what they do. And it will be a process that will go on for a period. And it'll end favorably.

QUESTION: You've changed your tactics in recent weeks to, perhaps in many instances, destroyed buildings where attacks are being planned or arms are being stored for attack on U.S. troops. The Israeli security sources are saying the United States is considering possibly increasing attacks on insurgents possibly dressed as Arabs. Have you any plans to do that?

MYERS: You know, one of the things we try not to do here in the Pentagon is design tactics for the field.

MYERS: I have no idea. I have no idea.

Let me take on a little about the continuing attacks and what's going on over there. If you were to ask any of the division commanders or General Sanchez or any of his folks, I think they would tell you that our ability to gather intelligence and target specifically folks that are in the bomb-making business has gone up dramatically; that we have had a real spike up in Iraqis coming forward to provide intelligence.

So that trend does continue. There are more Iraqis coming forward all the time, and most of these arms caches, in many cases, are pointed out to us by Iraqis.

So there are lots of -- I don't know about the one you mentioned, about people dressed up as anything. U.S. soldiers will be dressed up as U.S. soldiers when we do our business. I think that's the way we do our business.

RUMSFELD: With more than 160,000 Iraqis involved in providing home security, some of which are probably Arabs.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there seems to be somewhat of a disagreement between you and senior Army officers as to the state of readiness. Army officials are saying that into next year, as four divisions rotate back from Iraq, that those four divisions will not be combat ready for three to six months, and that's about 40 percent of the force.

I understand that you have a different take on it. Would you clarify your position, please?

RUMSFELD: Sure, I had a good long talk with Pete Schumacher about it yesterday and there's no difference at all.

The metrics are what they are, and the taxpayers pay $400 billion a year to support the Department of Defense and the men and women in uniform. And the purpose is to deter and defend, where appropriate, and, in the case of what's going on now, fight a war.

Obviously, the metrics are designed for peacetime. They say, "Here's the things that one ought to do to be ready to fight a war." Then you go fight a war.

Now, at the end of that war, clearly things have to be reconstituted.

RUMSFELD: This should come as no surprise to anybody.

I think it might be a good idea -- I'm no expert on the subject, but Pete Schoomaker is, and I haven't talked to him about it, but I'm sure he'd be happy to come down and give a briefing and explain what takes place.

I think that the forces that are coming back have just experienced something that you cannot experience in peacetime. They have just fought a war, and they have developed skills and knowledge about deployments and about combat and about logistics and about redeployment that is -- it's the kind of thing you'd spend billions of dollars conducting an exercise to give them that kind of experience.

And to suggest that they're therefore not ready because they weren't back here in peacetime conducting themselves in a manner that would be consistent with the readiness metrics that one would use in peacetime so that you would be prepared to engage in a conflict is obvious. It's self-evident that they were not back here doing those things.

So clearly, when you look at the metrics, you're going to see, I would guess, any element that was over there in combat is going to have to come back and they're going to have to get their equipment fixed, they're going to have to engage in the kind of training that their unit is designed to deal with because they had to not do that during the time they were engaged in battle.

And one has to say, "Ready for what?" if you're looking at readiness metrics. If you're looking at our metrics, basically they say that you have to do certain things so that you would be ready to fight a war, and these forces are just coming back having just done that.

You want to comment on that?

MYERS: I think that's exactly perfect, and we shouldn't get -- it really is -- we get sometimes tangled up in the metrics that we use, because they are peacetime metrics.

And everything the secretary said is exactly right. It'll take time for these forces to reconstitute themselves. That's been built into the timelines.

MYERS: It's also built into all the risk assessments that we do with the secretary on our readiness for other missions around the globe.

QUESTION: But supposing there is another war? I mean, there are possibilities out there that could happen fairly quickly; are we ready to take on another country?

MYERS: That's an unqualified yes. Maybe I said it to cryptically in the last piece of my little statement there, but that's something we look at all the time is the readiness to go carry out the defense strategy that came out of the Quadrennial Defense Review that was conducted a couple of years ago.

And we look at that all the time. We're almost in continuous process of evaluating our capability to handle future contingencies.

QUESTION: Some lawmakers -- Jack Reed from Rhode Island and Ike Skelton from Missouri -- say that this shows the Army's too small, that you need more people, that 40 percent of your Army is not ready. Any comment?

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: Well, sure. I mean, we...

RUMSFELD: I'll take it. You take it.

MYERS: I'll take it for awhile and...

RUMSFELD: Good, then I'll have a play with it.

MYERS: This is obviously not a new issue. It's an issue when you use the force as hard as we're using the force right now, that you have to have time to regenerate the force when it comes back home. This is another thing that you ought to talk to General Schoomaker about, but if you make the assumption that we're as efficient as we could possibly be today in how we alert, mobilize and deploy our force, then you might come to the conclusion -- and how we utilize military manpower in our services. If you think we're just really running close to 100 percent efficiency in that business, then you could come to the conclusion that we need perhaps more end- strength.

But I don't think any service chief will say that we've got all our processes down and we've got our military manpower organized as efficiently as they can be organized for the security environment we're in.

QUESTION: Do you mean you should draw on the Guard more than you are now?

MYERS: I'm not talking -- I'm talking about when we draw on the Guard or Reserve, that the mobilization timelines are long. And the question is, do they need to be that long? Are there other methods for getting people ready, are there other paradigms we could use? And that's exactly what we're looking at, and to make us more efficient in how we bring these units, and present them and provide them to combatant commanders.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the lawmakers who say you need more forced in the Army?

MYERS: At this time, I don't think we can say that.

And then that's not to say that the United States Army is not very, very busy. In the next four months, we're going to pull off a logistics feat that'll rival any in history, I think, as we move a major part of the Army -- well over the majority of the Army combat units and a lot of the reserve component will move: those in Iraq home, and those here in the United States and other places in the world to Iraq or to Afghanistan.

It's going to be a very big project that we've been planning for a very long time. So there's going to be a lot of turbulence in the system, as you would expect. But I don't know that the necessarily means that you need more end-strength at this point.

RUMSFELD: We have 1.4 million men and women in uniform and we have another 700,000 to 800,000 in the Guard and Reserve. That comes to 2.5 million. And we have 123,000 in Iraq and they'll be coming home, a large fraction, in the early part of next year -- January through May -- and they will be replaced by roughly the same number. That is 250,000 out of 2.2 million men and women in uniform.

I would just add to what Dick said, if at any moment there was an analysis that suggested one of the services was too small, obviously we would recommend an increase in it. We just don't have that kind of analysis at the present time. And I don't believe anyone else does.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you think that does to the mission to have so many of the most experienced commanders and troops leaving at, you know, essentially the same time -- I know they're being transitioned -- and then having so many people who are just coming in and experiencing these things for the first time? What does that do to the mission?

RUMSFELD: It is a very important issue. We spent a great deal of time on it. Dick Myers and I talk about it a good deal and General Abizaid and I discussed it in Baghdad on Saturday.

RUMSFELD: Turbulence is always undesirable. The turnover of people, you lose situational awareness, you lose relationships, you lose the experience.

And that goes to your readiness question. The people going over are ready, but the people there are experienced and really know their stuff. And who would you rather have there?

So what we're going to have to do is to manage that transition very carefully. There's going to have to be overlap. We're going to have to be sensitive to the fact that the knowledge that's built up there and the relationships have to be transferred and they have to be transferred in a manner that's appropriate.

The one thing I would say, however, is that the forces going in, according to General Abizaid, are going to be better designed for the current tasks than the ones that will be leaving. So that's a good thing.

So there are some pluses and minuses and we're attentive to it and it's appropriate to be worried about it.

QUESTION: Over the weekend Senator Hillary Clinton again repeated her charge that the administration's planning on Iraq seems to be driven by the political schedule. And there have also been a number of reports where they quote unknown Army colonels saying that they believe that their instructions they're getting are basically tied to politics and the political calendar in terms of the force.

So I wonder, what is your latest thinking for the force in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into politics, and that's obviously politics.

The department does not operate on political schedules or calendars. We don't discuss them. We don't deal with that. The commanders in the field are doing that which they believe is appropriate, and they are the ones that are making those decisions.

And I don't doubt for a minute that you can find some colonel or some major somewhere who wants to say something, but the truth is to the contrary.

And do you want to comment on that?

MYERS: No. That's exactly right. And the guidance we've been given in the military is to do the right thing. And as you know, on the current path to Iraqi sovereignty, if it happens in June -- the end of June, as currently on the schedule, if it happens in that way, that doesn't say anything about U.S. force strength in Iraq or any of that business.

MYERS: That is being worked in conjunction with as the security piece of that. But it says nothing about troop strength.

RUMSFELD: And that's an important point. Any indication that a transfer of sovereignty means U.S. forces leave is just false. The security circumstance on the ground is what'll determine the number and the types and the length of time that they are there.

QUESTION: And what is your latest position on the troops strength? Have you asked military commanders to take a reassessment situation? What is your latest thinking on that?

MYERS: They reassess that situation every time I have a phone call to General Abizaid, which is essentially daily or at least every other day, we have a reassessment of that situation.

And currently, it is what it is. And the troop rotations have been announced. There are no new additions to those troop rotations at the current time. There might be, but there are none planned that I know of.

RUMSFELD: And it could go higher or lower.

MYERS: And it could go higher or lower than what is planned.

And that is a call that General Abizaid makes. As you know, he's spending by far the majority of this time forward to help make judgments on those matters, with General Sanchez and his folks in the field.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if I could get your thinking please on the tactic of targeted killing, given what happened in Afghanistan in the last several days ago. There are reports that there are plans to do the same now in Iraq, acting on intelligence concerning the whereabouts of mid-level anti-coalition leaders. Special unit having been formed to do this.

I'm wondering if you could comment on that as well as report that Israeli experts are helping to train this force and will actually help advise this force.

RUMSFELD: On the latter portion, the answer is, no, certainly not to my knowledge. I have not heard that at all.

And with respect to an Iraqi unit...

MYERS: An American unit.

RUMSFELD: ... an American unit, maybe you'd better answer that. MYERS: Well, I think we've answered it before that we have forces trained to go after the high-value targets of interest to us over there.

MYERS: And when I'm talking about the high-value targets, I'm talking about essentially the top 55 of our deck of cards, if you will. And there are a little over 200 more that we're very interested in.

But the top 55, we have a unit that focuses on them, tries to fuse all the intel with operations to go get them. Saddam Hussein would be one of their targets. Al-Douri would be another one of those targets.

And I think we've gotten 44 out of the 55, so their numbers -- they're becoming an endangered species.

RUMSFELD: But to use the phrase "targeted killing" I think is a misunderstanding of the fact that we're in a war. Obviously, the people who don't surrender, who are terrorists trying to kill innocent Iraqis and coalition forces are people we want to stop.

We would be happy to capture them. We'd be happy to have them surrender. And if they don't, we'd be happy to kill them. And that's what's going on.

But the implication or the connotation of targeted killing I think is unfortunate, because it suggests an appetite to do that, which is not the case. The goal is to stop terrorists from killing innocent men, women and children -- Iraqis and coalition forces. Seems like a perfectly logical thing to me.

QUESTION: What happened in Afghanistan, sir? Doesn't that point out the risks of doing this, given...

MYERS: There are risks. There are risks any time you go after any target.

But I can tell you the kind of vetting that the process goes through, from the beginnings of intelligence to the final operation, is exquisite. And we're not going to be perfect. And we found that out in Afghanistan. And we haven't been perfect.

But I would offer -- and would offer again -- that both in Afghanistan and Iraq that the amount of force brought to bear that the progress that was made -- the success we've had -- has never been done with more care about bringing innocents into the line of fire, and that will continue. And that's what American service men and women do.

PHILLIPS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, joint chiefs of staff Richard Meyers, briefing reporters on the progress in Iraq. We'll continue to monitor what they have to say, and let you know if anything of great importance comes out of that discussion.

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