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Defense Department Briefing, September 27

Defense Department Briefing, September 27

Iraq/freedom of the press, combatant commanders/Iraq, Myers/retiring, increased military role/natural disasters, military operations/changing nature of conflict, Iraq/Vietnam War comparisons, Abu Azzam/Al Qaida, Iranian intervention/Iraq, detainee abuse/new reports, Katrina/National Guard forces

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed the press at a Pentagon briefing September 27.

Following is the Defense Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

United States Department of Defense

DoD News Briefing
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005 - 1:05 p.m. EDT

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon, folks.

Recently, an Iraqi journalist recounted what life was like for him and so many others during Saddam Hussein's regime. One month after his wedding, his wife was found dead with four bullets in her head. Her murder was an apparent retribution for her husband's reporting for a Western media outlet. Today, that journalist has -- his country has some 170 independent news publications. Reporters now have the freedom to ask their leaders questions without fear of a visit from the secret police.

I mention this because it sometimes seems that we've forgotten what Iraq was really like before Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March of 2003. The new Iraq, for all its difficulties -- and it does have difficulties -- is on a path towards freedom and democracy, where it once pursued tyranny and terror. As that Iraqi journalist put it: We'll never go back to that because now, yes, it's dangerous, but we have promise. We have possibilities. We have a future.

In the coming days, General John Abizaid and General George Casey, the commanders of the CENTCOM and the Multinational Forces in Iraq, will be in Washington for the Combatant Commanders Conference, which, I guess, we're doing it now about three times a year?

GEN. MYERS: Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: And they'll also have the chance to update the president and the Congress and the American people on the challenges they see ahead. They've been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out our missions in that region, and they're performing their responsibilities exceedingly well, as are the forces under their command. They'll report on the progress over the past year in the efforts to help create conditions for self-government in Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, they'll focus on the growing responsibilities of the Afghan and the Iraqi security forces.

Though the terrorists have been trying to intimidate Iraqis and Afghans from volunteering to defend their new found freedoms, they've failed. As Iraqi President Talabani noted recently, every terrorist attack on Iraqi forces leads to a surge in recruitment for these local security forces. But as the coalition moves forward with its strategy, it's worth mentioning that the enemy has as strategy as well. They have brains to make their pattern of defeats look like progress, to hold on long enough and to inflict enough damage -- often to innocent men, women and children, Iraqis -- in the hope that the coalition decides that the cause isn't worth the price, and that the U.S. and the coalition will abandon the millions who have put their faith in democracy and risked their lives for freedom.

I believe that the coalition will prove the enemy wrong, and that we'll persevere with patience and steadiness and resolve. As it happens, each of those attributes can be found in the man standing to my right. This will be his last press conference as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For four decades -- not his last press conference, possibly, in his life, but just as chairman; you know, who knows what he might do. For four decades, Dick Myers has served, and for the past six years, he's been a powerful presence in the Department of Defense. (Pause.) Look at that. (Referring to something in the room.) Two years as vice chairman, four years as chairman, you've been a wise and a valued counselor to the president, to the National Security Council, to me and to the leadership of the department.

When the history of this time is written, an era of tragedy and turmoil and triumph, I believe, it will be said of Dick Myers that he was one of the most consequential chairman of the Joint Chiefs in our history. No chairman has been more deeply involved in more critical decisions involving our country and our security and certainly involving the men and women in uniform. At a time of historic challenges and opportunities, our country needed the best, and America found it in Dick Myers, whose courage I've seen, whose counsel I will miss, and whose friendship I value.

Dick Myers.

GEN. MYERS: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary and good afternoon. Thank you for the kind words. Hopefully this is my last press conference.

And I would like to one last time from this podium, first of all, express my condolences to the families and friends of those who have been killed or wounded in this war on terrorism. I know these words may fall short of conveying the depth of pain and sacrifice that these families have endured, but it's a genuine and sincere attempt to try to recognize and remember those who have made such sacrifices for our country, such important sacrifices.

As the secretary mentioned, the terrorists, the violent extremists are determined to commit despicable acts of violence in an effort to shatter the will of the United States and our coalition partners. They want to see us leave Iraq without completing the mission. The enemy knows very clearly they cannot defeat us militarily, so they rely on acts of terrorism to try to chip away at our resolve, our resolve to win. And that's -- of which Iraq is a part, but it's not the only part because we're talking here about the long war against terrorism.

So consequently, we must remain steadfast in our fight against this very determined enemy. As a nation, our best weapons are patience and resolve, or in one word, our will. We simply cannot afford to lose the will to finish the job at hand. We have the people, we have the plans, and we have the leadership to see this to the end and to see victory.

As I conclude my tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and 40 years of service, a little over 40 years, I have to say that I am most proud of the accomplishments of our military servicemembers; their determination, their dedication, their courage, and their professionalism. And I know General Pete Pace feels exactly the same way.

Mr. Secretary, I would like to thank you for your service and your dedicated leadership. I treasure the candid and professional relationship that we've had over these years, and I value the opportunity to come to this room and stand beside you and try to tell the American people and the international community about their military, about our operations, and about the war on terrorism. It's been a real honor, sir.

To the Pentagon press corps, it's also been an honor to work with you. We've talked about this before; in this war on terrorism, where there are no frontlines, then accurate information is as important a part of the landscape as anything we do. Essentially, your words replace those frontlines that we draw on a map in more traditional warfare. So you have a very important job, and I appreciate your daily efforts to getting the story right and to offering context that helps the audience understand the complex nature of this business that we're involved in.

And I've traveled with most of you and have talked with all of you; only left one of you behind -- (laughter). Well, I didn't leave -- actually leave him behind, he got left. But there was -- we can talk about that later --

SEC. RUMSFELD: You could have waited.

GEN. MYERS: It was almost impossible, sir. We were in a combat zone. (Laughs.) Could have, actually, if we had known he was missing -- and talked with all you, traveled with you, and it's actually been a pleasure most of the time to work with such a fine groups of professionals. Thank you for all you do to do your job and to communicate with the American public and the international community.

And with that, we'll take your questions.


Q: Mr. Secretary and Mr. Chairman, the president has suggested in the wake of problems with Katrina an increased role for the military in initial response to major national disasters. And this building is studying lessons learned, and Congress and other agencies of government are now beginning to study that. I will ask you, how do you all involve, how do you see such an increased involvement by the military, and perhaps even law enforcement, by active duty troops, which is somewhat controversial in light of -- posse comitatus would be changed? How do you all see such an increased role?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I think it's a bit early to say. The president has made some statements that he is interested in discussing lessons learned in the executive branch, and then thinking about how our country can best be arranged to best serve the American people. The -- what we saw in the case of Katrina was a situation where our federal system -- the federal government relies on the state and local governments to be the first responders under the Constitution and under our current arrangements. The reality was that the first responders at the state and local level were, in large measure, victims themselves, and as such, somewhat overwhelmed by the catastrophic nature of the Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed.

So we had a situation that was distinctively different than the normal situation, which works pretty well for a normal natural disaster, or even a normal man-made disaster. And the president's point was that there are some things that are of sufficient magnitude that they require something to substitute for the overwhelmed first responders at the state and local level. And that is the issue that he's thinking about.

There's a great deal that, of course, the National Guard can do and has done in each of these instances -- Katrina and Rita. There's a great deal that active duty forces can do, even in -- apart from law enforcement. And that's a very narrow piece of the task of dealing with a catastrophic difficulty or problem, a disaster of that nature.

Even in the security area there's a great deal that active forces can do that would not be considered law enforcement, by way of assisting and filling a need that exists.

The reality is that the Department of Defense has capabilities. Now, we're not organized, trained or equipped or resourced to step in and do domestic events of that type. On the other hand, because we are organized, trained and equipped to do a vast variety of other things, there is a certain parallel capability that can be brought to bear, as we've seen in Katrina and Rita. I mean, we've ended up with 72,000 people down on Katrina -- and I've forgotten the number in Rita, but it's a large number -- very rapidly, with all kinds of ability to do -- to move debris, to assist with clearing harbors and fixing levees -- the Corps of Engineers; and providing food and medical assistance, and all the things that have been done; rescuing people by helicopter. We went from up to 72,000 people and something like 350 helicopters, and 20 ships.

So these capabilities exist, and I think that it's up to the country, the government, to think that through and decide how they want to be arranged for a catastrophic event of that type, and how the responsibilities and relationships ought to be laid out. And of course, it will be these lessons learned that will help to inform those discussions and deliberations that are currently under review.

Q: Mr. Chairman, the idea -- just a brief -- the idea to most senior officers, I think, alarms them a bit that active duty troops might be used to arrest, perhaps even shoot looters. Do you think posse comitatus needs to be changed? Or do you think that perhaps by increasing the role of active duty troops in other areas that it would free up, say, the National Guard under state control, or local law enforcement to handle that job?

GEN. MYERS: Well, it's a good point, because you bring up the fact that the National Guard has those authorities today. And as we know, in Katrina there were over 50,000 National Guard troops involved with Katrina operations, and 22,000 active duty, if you will. And so it does beg the question, do you need that kind of authority. And that's going to have to be part of the long discussion.

You know, I wouldn't say that senior officers feel one way or another about this in particular. It's something we've thought about, we thought we could do the job in terms of the responsibilities of Northern Command the troops that support it, in the support role we've had without it. If we had a more prominent role, we'd have to look at that again, I think, and decide whether we have the proper authorities or not.

But certainly there are lots of -- there are a lot of ways to go before you get to the fact -- the point where you -- as the secretary said, before you decide you want to give active duty forces law enforcement authority.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: General Myers, I just wanted to ask you to take a look back and step back for a minute, so perhaps a much broader question. You began your military service, I guess, during the Vietnam years, when life was a little more simple; the military goal was military defeat of that stated enemy. You came to office right after 9/11; you leave during Iraq. In both the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, you've spoken many times that it's not a sole military victory, you need political and economic progress, and that contributes to the victory -- if I understand everything correctly.

What I'm interested in is your long-term views. What does it mean to have soldiers -- is that where life is headed, into conflicts where it's no longer a military victory solely? Is it more complex now? What does it mean to ask a soldier to go into combat and perhaps die, but not to have the goal of clear military defeat of his enemy?

GEN. MYERS: Well, I hope, Barbara, nothing that I've said has been misconstrued as --

Q: No, just a -- you said that against the insurgency --

GEN. MYERS: Right. It's more complex. It requires -- I think the modern security environment requires all instruments of national power, of which the military is one. But it doesn't mean that you don't have to be victorious. I think we were clearly victorious in Afghanistan. The United States military was victorious in Afghanistan. I'm speaking about my current term. I think we will be victorious and will help with victory in Iraq, but Iraq's going to be perhaps a longer-term issue. It's an insurgency that has to be dealt with probably over a longer period of time in which the political and economic instruments of power are going to play a major -- major role.

And then if you go to the long war -- and the long war is to get to the point where young men and women don't want to join jihad, that they have other opportunities, be they political or economic or combinations of those, the military will certainly have a role, but maybe not even the predominant role in the long war. But in the end, when victory is achieved -- and I believe we have to win, in a very traditional sense, the long war, the war against terrorism. It has to be won; otherwise, our future and our way of life is truly at stake. And the military will play a role in that. But it's a more complex battle space today.

But if you go back to World War II, I mean the military victory was one thing, and then we -- and then this country and the international community set about trying to establish a Europe and a Japan that were free and had democratic institutions and had economic viability. And so I don't think -- I think it's almost parallel.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: But what's your view, sir, on whether the U.S. military should stay in Iraq until the insurgency is defeated? Because you said yesterday on the record, "As soon as we leave Iraq, perhaps having not won, the next 9/11 will be right around the corner." So do you stay until there's military victory?

GEN. MYERS: What I was referring to then was if we were to -- the United States military and our coalition partners were to leave Iraq before Iraq security forces and the Iraq political process is capable of handling the insurgency, and the insurgents then and the al Qaeda dominated Iraq, then, in my view, we would have lost and the next 9/11 would be right around the next -- right around the corner, absolutely.

But make no mistake about it, we can win in Iraq. And when I say "we," it's the coalition. The coalition is -- a major part of the coalition today are Iraqi forces. And again, it's like all insurgencies, they don't just yield to military solutions, they yield to political, economic -- the whole spectrum of elements of national power need to be brought on the problem.

Q: Mr. Secretary -- and perhaps General Myers in his "farewell to arms" would want to jump in too -- you have often said, sir, there is no comparison between Iraq and Vietnam, and yet this past weekend some 100,000-plus people demonstrating against the war marched on the Mall. It was reminiscent of when you and I were both here in 1969 when a comparable number marched against the war in Vietnam. And it was the lack of public support that in many ways forced the United States to withdraw from Vietnam, even though many military people said we were winning. And I know you don't like polls, but current polls show there is a dwindling or waning public support about the war in Iraq.

Are these not comparisons? And is there a danger, perhaps, sir, that these polls and the lack of public support would force the president to withdraw and cut and run?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I think anyone knowledgeable about history will note a great many more dissimilarities than similarities between the war on terror, or the situation in Iraq, and the situation in Vietnam. The differences are notable, many and marked.

The answer to the other question is no. The president has been very clear repeatedly that he will -- is determined to see this through and will see it through, and I have every confidence that that's the case.

GEN. MYERS: Can I tack onto that? Obviously, you know, I fought in Vietnam and have a lot of comrades and friends that did likewise. But I think in comparing the two efforts, that the stakes today in the war on terrorism, of which Iraq is a key part, certainly to the al Qaeda -- a victory there would be huge for al Qaeda and their interests -- that the stakes are much higher today. I mean, if we are not successful in the global war on terrorism, then our way of life is, indeed, at stake. I mean, it's just -- it's just that simple.

Another thing I would say is today, and we -- I kind of briefed this once before, but I -- I went -- went around the world in 10 days, talking to our troops. They are so articulate about what this is about. You can pick any of them at random and say, Why are you here in Afghanistan, why are you here in Iraq, what are you doing in Djibouti, they know the mission, they know the importance of the mission, they believe it can be done, they believe it can be done, and they want to do it. And they want to do a little bit more. They always go just a little bit more than just the mission they've been given, whether it's an orphanage or helping out in a village clinic somewhere, or whatever it is. There's so many differences, Ivan. I mean, it's almost -- I mean, people that try to make comparisons --

Now, the one thing they have in common is public will. And that's why I mentioned it in my statement. Of course it's important.


Q: Mr. Secretary, General Myers, can you talk about the capture of Abu Azzam -- the killing, rather, of him, and what this says about the chances of catching Zarqawi himself?

SEC. RUMSFELD: (Pause.) Go ahead.


Well, I think we considered him the number two al Qaeda operative in Iraq, next to Zarqawi. And we put pressure on all the senior leaders; clearly Zarqawi knows that he's under a lot of pressure. I think we've come close to stepping on his tail several times, but he always seem to escape. But his lieutenants haven't, and now the number two person, the person that is his primary facilitator, his -- the one that is -- organizes things, operationally, but certainly in Baghdad, and has a lot of responsibility for the al Qaeda finances in Iraq, he's no longer on the scene. So they're going to have to go to the bench and find somebody that's probably less knowledgeable, less qualified. I think it's a -- it's like -- it's like fighting the al Qaeda network. It's a -- it will have some impact. But over time they'll replace people, and that's why the long war issue is getting to a point where politically and economically and -- people have opportunities, they don't want a joint jihad, that they find another way forward, that they're -- that they're -- they're exposed for what they are, and this is uncivilized folks that are terrorizing not only the region, but the world.


Q: Well, is there anything you found in this raid that makes you -- puts you closer to Zarqawi or any evidence that --

SEC. RUMSFELD: If there were, we wouldn't discuss it.


Q: Secretary, this week the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said many times that the Iranian intervention in Iraq will have negative impact on the region.

SEC. RUMSFELD: We agree.

Q: Do you agree with him?



Q: Mr. Secretary, last week three former members of the 82nd Airborne Division reported to a human rights organization new abuses regarding detainee abuse in Iraq that occurred in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. One of these, a captain, who's still on active duty, said he tried to report these allegations to his chain of command -- company -- (inaudible) -- brigade level -- and was basically put off for various reasons. I'm wondering to how much -- what concern you have that there still may be reticence out there to report these kind of abuses up the chain of command, for whatever reason, and how serious do you believe these current allegations are?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, we take every allegation seriously. My recollection in this case -- it's all secondhand information. I don't believe he has any firsthand -- at least I have not -- what I have seen -- read in the press doesn't suggest that he had firsthand information. It sounds like it's what -- things he's heard.

All I know is that the Army is taking it seriously. They're -- they have -- the CID is investigating it, and they will pursue it. And to the extent somebody's done something that they shouldn't have done, they'll be punished for it. And in any event, we'll know the truth.


Q: Could I go back to the National Guard question? Given the extent to which you're relying now on the National Guard for overseas deployment, would there be merit in setting aside some certain proportion of Guard troops exclusively for domestic duties, like disasters, et cetera?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It's a useful question, and I think it's something that in the lessons learned people may very well discuss.

We of course use Guard for a lot of things all the time. They fight fires. They do all kinds of things around the country.

The fact of the matter is that in the next rotation, we're going to be using only 20 percent Guard and Reserve, instead of the 40 percent Guard and Reserve in the current rotation. So there will be vastly more Guard available in -- for non-deployed -- deployment activities.

Second, General Blum pointed out that even at the peak, when we had, I think, over 50,000 involved in Katrina, National Guard, and another 22,000 active forces, he said he still had 270 [,000] or 300,000 Guard people available in the country. So it's not like they were strapped. They weren't strapped. They had an ample number of people they could draw on for all of the things that were needed to be done.

And of course the Guard, as opposed to the active force, tends to have a higher proportion of people who do things that are appropriate in a domestic setting -- civil affairs, military police, combat support, combat service support, various types of things like that -- as opposed to the active force, which is heavier on artillery, tanks, shooters of various type, and who are less appropriate for the domestic activities.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you talked in the response to Hurricane Katrina, local authorities being overwhelmed and --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I didn't say "local authorities"; I think I said the designated first responders -- policemen, firemen, county officials -- all of those people who have that task under the federal system and the federal response plan.

Q: Right. And as I read that federal response plan, that's the very consequence that's supposed to trigger the federal response, when the local folks are overwhelmed.

That being the case, what is it that in your after-action- analyses went wrong? Why wasn't there a quicker DOD response? And would it have helped to have had General Honore dual-hatted, as opposed to active and Guard commander?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, the forces, the DOD forces, went in very rapidly and peaked very fast. And they tend not to go in until asked for. So that's part of the arrangement, that you don't tend to put forces into a state without being asked, unless there's some situation that's distinctly different under the law, which could be done. But the pattern has been that the request is made.

And what was the second question?

Q: Dual-hatting General Honore.

SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, we've done that for some -- first of all, there has to be an agreement between the governor and the president to do a dual-hatting. We've done it in a couple of instances for very small activities; a convention or an APEC meeting, or something like that. It's never been done for something of that magnitude, where you'd put that many tens of thousands of troops under the control of a single person. It could be done, but it does take an agreement between the two, under the normal circumstance.

Q: Would that have helped, in this case?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It's hard to tell. I think the after-action reports will tell. I mean, my impression of General Honore is that he worked very, very well with the state and local officials and with the adjutant general in all the states.

And I also think that one size doesn't fit all. I mean, if you think about it, we've had major problems in three states: Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. And the situation in Texas and Mississippi went along one way. And in Louisiana, where the flooding came after the fact, the situation was somewhat different. But I did not have the impression that General Honore and his interaction with those people, absent a dual-hatting arrangement, caused a problem. Now, maybe the after-action will suggest that it did, but I thought he handled it very, very well and they worked quite cooperatively in all three situations.

GEN. MYERS: My impression was that General Honore was able to achieve unity of effort with the response because he worked so well with the adjutant generals of the two states involved in the first one -- Mississippi and -- two major states -- Mississippi and Louisiana, where the major damage was done.

And the secretary is exactly right, in my mind; you have to wait till the after-action to see if it could have been improved to the point where you could have brought resources to bear faster and quicker.

Q: General Myers, we've heard reports before of this top lieutenant of Zarqawi being killed or captured, that top lieutenant of Zarqawi being killed or captured. Just how serious a blow do you think the killing of Abu Azzam is to the Zarqawi organization? And why, even if that kind of progress is being made against the Zarqawi operation, is his al Qaeda in Iraq able to continue to operate so effectively?

GEN. MYERS: We have captured or killed almost every time they name new lieutenants. But the number one person we're after in the al Qaeda organization in Iraq currently is Zarqawi. The number two person was this fellow. So he was not just a lieutenant, he was the number two person, and he's responsible for operations in Baghdad, which is the capital, of course, of the country, which is -- it's important. And since he was so involved operationally in what was going on, and some say, you know, kind of ran the day-to-day operations because Zarqawi wasn't always in good communications because he's running a lot of the time, and because he was so involved financially in making sure these operations are properly resourced that, no, I think it will have some effect.

But it's -- but there are others -- you know, there's foreign fighters marching to the guns on a regular basis. So no doubt they'll try -- I don't know of anybody this caliber; probably not. So it will take them a while to replace somebody like that. It will have an effect.

Q: Kind of a related question maybe for both of you. We're talking about Zarqawi is the number one target in Iraq; obviously Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri is still alive. How much do you think the fact that these three are still at large has hurt the wider effort against terrorism in terms of symbolism? We know that these are just individuals; there are many in the ranks; there will be for many years to come. But there seems to be a lot of experts, people in other countries, particularly in that part of the world, who will say the fact that the United States has not killed or captured these top three has really hurt the overall American effort just in terms of symbolism; that young recruits out there see that their leaders, or their inspirers, if you will, are still on the run and, you know, the greatest army in the world can't find them.

GEN. MYERS: I would say that -- you've named three individuals. I don't know how many al Qaeda leaders that we have captured, but we've -- I mean, it's over 600 of their leadership. The leadership that was sitting on 9/11 have all been, except for the ones you mentioned, have been wrapped up. We have to keep redoing our charts. And the last one was al-Libbi.

So we're -- you know, I don't think they would take much heart out of the fact that there are three at the top that are still remaining. I think the conclusion they would probably draw is that the coalition, along with our friends and allies in this -- and I'd say notably Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, those countries and others that have gone very aggressively after the al Qaeda -- are having some effect. I mean, the leadership -- al Qaeda leadership in Saudi Arabia has, again, been virtually wiped out. This is -- I don't think that's what they'd be saying. I think they'd be saying, "Gee, it's getting hard to have a poker hand around here."

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thanks, folks.

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