Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers
DoD News Briefing
Rumsfeld: General Myers?
Myers: Well good afternoon. And thank you, Mr. Secretary.
While things in Washington have in some respects been somewhat quiet during the traditional summer lull, the war on terrorism has continued. In Afghanistan, coalition forces over the past month have found several caches of weapons, to include totaling five truckloads of 82mm mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, machine-gun rounds, 105mm tank rounds, aerial rockets, and small-arms ammunition. We also recovered some caches totaling three truckloads of RPG rounds, rockets with fuses, heavy ammunition and anti-personnel, anti-tank mines.
In other operational news, on Saturday, August 31st, a U.S. patrol was attacked between Jalalabad and Asadabad with a command- detonated mine. The explosion occurred five meters in front of the convoy, but there were no U.S. casualties.
And finally, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize another outstanding group who have been also very busy here in August and over the past year, and that's the civilian contractors who have been working on renovation of the damaged wedge. I think all of us here in the building and the armed forces around the world appreciate what they've been doing this past year to make sure we're going to be ready for September 11th.
Rumsfeld: Since our last visit, I -- Dick Myers and I went down to Crawford, of course, and met with the president and discussed a series of Defense Department-related matters. I went from there to Fort Hood and had a very good visit with the troops there. Later in the week I was able to visit Fort Irwin in California and see an exercise that was taking place. I went to the Naval Station in San Diego and visited the Naval Space Systems Command, among other things. Saw the -- met the troops aboard the Bonhomme Richard and the Constellation; visited the Naval Air Station at North Island, where I used to live during World War II, which was enjoyable for me. And then, of course, we went up to Camp Pendleton and had a session with the Marines. So it's been a good number of stops during that period. I always find it's enormously helpful to me to have a chance to visit with the troops and talk to them and respond to questions and get a sense from them as to the things they're thinking about.
And with that, I'll be happy to respond to questions. Charlie?
Q: Mr. Secretary, much has been said and reported about alleged differences between you and the vice president, on one hand, and Secretary Powell on the other, on a possible preemptive invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Secretary Powell indicated over the weekend that he is willing to -- in fact, wants inspectors to go back into Iraq. Do you think that there's anything that inspectors in Iraq could do to change this administration's policy to remove Saddam Hussein from power for a regime change?
Rumsfeld: Well, with respect to the first part of the question, I came to this town in 1957 to work up on Capitol Hill, and I don't suppose there's been a year in the period since that there haven't been stories just like the ones you're citing here that there are differences of opinions. The truth of the matter is that the president's national security team meets together frequently. We do so in person, we do so on the phone. We have excellent discussions and it is a very friendly, professional and constructive set of discussions that take place in that process.
I don't know of differences that -- there are always differences of perspective, there are differences of -- institutional differences from time to time. But the president is the president. He is the one who ran for that office and was elected to that office. He's the one who makes decisions and calibrations and guidance, and he does it very well. I don't know quite why it is that it seems so much easier for folks to personalize things rather than to go to substance.
The subject you raised second, with respect to inspections, is clearly a complicated set of issues. And my understanding -- and I hate to even talk about this because someone will contrast it with something that somebody else said that I haven't read or seen and attempt to find a seam between what I'm going to say and what somebody else may have said. But it obviously has been the position of this administration to favor inspections. It is the Iraqis that ended the inspections. That we all know. We protested when the Iraqis threw the inspectors out.
The Iraqis made a conscious decision to tell the international community that the arrangement that they had entered into at the end of the Gulf War involving inspections, and the other undertakings with respect to not developing weapons of mass destruction and the like -- they made a conscious decision at various points to negate those agreements, to tell the international community that they no longer would abide by them. And so the offense, if there is one, is committed against the United Nations and the international community.
Would it be nice if they had not thrown the inspectors out? Yes, that would have been preferable. Would it be preferable for inspectors to be able to have any-time/any-place access so that at least some additional knowledge could be gained? Sure it would. Are the Iraqis -- do they have a pattern of denying that? Yes, they do.
Q: Do you think it's possible for inspectors to go in there -- you've repeatedly said you don't -- do you think it's possible for inspectors to go in there and somehow change this administration's push for a regime change in Baghdad? Do you think it's possible?
Rumsfeld: I just simply don't know. Those are judgments that the president will have to make. First of all, I think that the intrusiveness of any inspection regime that would be sufficiently permissive to enable the rest of the world to know that in fact the U.N. resolutions were being fulfilled and lived up to would be such that it's unlikely for the folks there to agree to it. And I haven't seen any inclination on their part to agree to anything except as a ploy from time to time to muse over the possibility we might do this or we might do that and kind of play the international community and the U.N. process like a guitar, plucking the right string at the right moment to delay something. But it would clearly have to be a -- for -- to fulfill the import of the U.N. resolutions and the understandings that were agreed upon, it would require an inspection regime of such intrusiveness that it -- at least thus far, it's unlikely, I think, that those folks would be inclined to agree to even half of it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, if I could just follow up on -- the other thing that Colin Powell said in that BBC interview over the weekend --
Rumsfeld: I must confess, I did not see the full interview. I saw a snippet on television and therefore am purposely not commenting on his statement, because I haven't had a chance to read it. I'm just stating what the president has said and what our policy has been and what I see to be our current policy. And anyone who goes out of here thinking that there's some difference between anything I'm saying and what Colin said I think is -- would be a total misunderstanding of the situation.
Q: I'm not trying to draw a distinction between what you said, but I just want to point --
Rumsfeld: Well, but I want to make sure everyone understood that.
Q: I want to point to something he said and then ask you what flows from that, which is, in answer to the question from David Frost about whether the rest of the world agreed that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, a clear and present threat, Powell said, "I think the world has to be presented with the information, with the intelligence that's available, that debate is needed within the international community so that everybody can make a judgment about this." And my question is, when might we see some of this intelligence, some of the hard evidence about the threat from Saddam Hussein, other than the general statements that have already been made?
Rumsfeld: Well, needless to say, I agree with what Colin said in the quote you just indicated. I think those are decisions that the president will make. I believe very strongly that we are living in a new security environment. The president believes that and has said so. It is notably different; it's different in a variety of different ways.
And the debate and discussion that's taking place in the world I think is a healthy one and a good thing. And I think it'll be taking place -- it's taking place here in Washington. It's taking place in other capitals. It very likely will take place in the Congress, when Congress returns and begins to have the hearings that they have indicated that they may very well have. And I know the president has indicated that he wants to be cooperative and have administrative --
Q: But -- but he --
Rumsfeld: -- witnesses participate in those. And one would think that it would be in that context that the discussions about what the fact patterns are would be most appropriately presented.
Q: Well, let me just ask you, is there hard evidence, are there -- I don't know -- intelligence, are there photographs, is there other intelligence, are you assembling that kind of information so that when the appropriate time comes the president will be able to make the case and convince the world?
Rumsfeld: Well, you're suggesting the president wants to make a particular case. But what the president wants to do is to -- and will do, in his own time, is to provide information that he feels is important with respect to any judgment he decides to make. And he has not decided what judgments he may make. But he certainly would underpin those judgments with factual information.
Q: Tariq Aziz said this morning -- he characterized you and several other people in the Bush administration as warmongers, as using the issue of inspections as a pretext to try to topple the regime. And he said he is willing to sit down and talk about all of the issues involving Iraq. Do you take that to be a serious offer? Do you take that to be further maneuvering, as you indicated earlier?
Rumsfeld: Well, I have met with Tariq Aziz a number of times, both in Baghdad and in Washington and elsewhere. (Pauses.) And clearly, he does the bidding of his master, Saddam Hussein. They have over a good many years demonstrated a wonderful talent and skill at manipulating the media. And they -- and international organizations, and other countries. When it's the right moment to lean forward, they lean forward. When it's the right moment to lean back, they lean back. And it's a dance. It's a dance they engage in. They will go week after week after week stiffing the international community, the U.N. and others. They then will find that things are going in a way that they're uncomfortable with, and then they will throw out an opportunity of one sort or another and get people -- hopeful people leaning forward, saying, "See, there's our opportunity. We do have a chance to work with those people. All we need to do is be more accommodating to them." And therefore they'll swing the discussion and the debate that way. There might be inspections. The inspections might be this, that or the other thing. And then you'll find at the last moment they'll withdraw that carrot or that opportunity and go back into their other mode of thumbing their nose at the international community.
Where they'll be at any given moment is, of course, something that's entirely up to them. But at least thus far we do know certain facts. We know that they have rejected inspections. We know they have not lived up to their obligations under the U.N. resolutions and the agreements that they signed at the conclusion of the Gulf War.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: In your view, what would be the merit of inspections if they in fact verified disarmament and left Saddam Hussein in power? It would not seem to achieve your goal or the administration's policy goal of removing him.
Rumsfeld: Again, that's a call for the president, really; it's not for me. The policy of our government has been regime change. It's been regime change by the Congress, by the successive executive branch over the past two administrations. And it was rooted in several things. It was rooted in the conviction that the world would be a better place if there were a government in that part of the world that was not developing weapons of mass destruction, was not on the terrorist list, did not pose threats to its neighbors, did not repress its people and subject its minorities to abuses and did not have any development of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, inspections have a role with respect of one of those elements, and obviously the world would be a better place if those folks were not developing weapons of mass destruction. But the other elements of the problem would remain.
Q: Along that line, Mr. Secretary, Vice President Cheney said last week that Iraq was once close to producing or obtaining nuclear weapons, and said that they're getting close again. What evidence does the U.S. have that Iraq, Saddam Hussein, may be getting close again to obtaining a nuclear weapon?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I think I'll leave that for the coming days and weeks. I mean, we know the obvious. We know that they were a lot closer than any of the experts had estimated they would be with respect to a nuclear weapon, and that was discovered during the post- 1991 period by actually seeing what was there. To the extent inspectors have been out now for a number of years, we know that we don't know what's taken place during those period of years. To the extent that they have kept their nuclear scientists together and working on these efforts, one has to assume they have not been playing tiddly-winks, that they have been focusing on nuclear weapons. And so we know what we know.
We know that they have an enormous appetite, that they were very close, within a short period of time, to having a weapon. We know that our estimate had been that it was multiples of years compared to what it actually was; and therefore, we know we weren't very good at what we were supposedly doing -- that is to say, estimating that. And we also know that since the end of the Cold War, that the proliferation of these technologies has been pervasive. And we know that they have porous borders. And we know some other things, but those are the kinds of things that would come out if and when the president decides that he thinks it's appropriate.
Q: If I could follow up, when you said you'd leave that for the coming days and weeks, does that mean the administration intends to in the coming weeks reveal some of this evidence that maybe --
Rumsfeld: Those are judgments that have to be made down the road depending what the president decides he wants to do.
Q: Mr. Secretary, about the vice president's speech, twice last week he said that the consequences of inaction against Saddam Hussein far outweigh the consequences of some preemptive strike. Yet we repeatedly hear from the president that he has not made a decision and that he's a patient man. In your assessment, is there a mixed message here, or are we just reading it wrong?
Rumsfeld: Well, you know, any time four, five, six, seven people all talk and they talk about these subjects and they are asked specific questions by people that are cast in a certain way and the question contains a reference to something that someone else said, not the full context of it, not the whole text, but some blurb or piece that happened to appear on television or happened to appear in the newspaper, and then somebody responds to that, why, it is -- there's no question but that if every -- someone wanted to take all the column inches or all the minutes on television by the top people in any government at any given time on the same subjects and ignore how the question was asked and ignore the context of the quote, that you could end up juxtaposing things in ways that would sell newspapers, by saying, "Aha! There's a disagreement there. He said this; she said that. What about this? What about that?"
That's baloney! These people meet together all the time. They know what each other thinks. Do they sometimes say things one way, and someone else might have said it some other, different way? Sure they do. But what's important is what the president says. And what's important is what the president decides. And what's important is the documentation that's provided at some point, if he decides that he feels that's appropriate.
And I think also what's important is that people lift their eyes up off their shoelaces and go back to the fundamental and the fundamental issue is that we live in a different world today. We live in the 21st century. We're not back in the 20th century, where the principal focus is conventional weapons. We're in the 21st century, where the principal focus must be weapons -- unconventional weapons -- weapons potentially that could involve killing not hundreds of people but tens of thousands of people -- chemical weapons, biological weapons, potentially nuclear weapons.
And that means that we have to take that aboard as a people, and we have to talk about it, and we have to consider it. What does it mean? How does it conceivably affect our behavior? There are clearly risks to acting in any instance. But there are also risks to not acting. And those have to be weighed. People have to talk about them intelligently. These are important subjects for Congress, for the press, for the academic institutions, for the world community. And that's what this process is.
And I keep hearing people say, "Oh, Europe's unhappy with this" or "Somebody doesn't agree with that" or "Some general said this" or "Some civilian said that." I think what's important is the substance of this discussion. And I see too little attention to it and too much attention to the personality aspects of it, if you will, and to the trying to juxtapose what one person said against what somebody else said for the personality aspect of it, rather than for the substance of it. And if you think about our circumstance, when the penalty for not acting is September 11th, if you will, or a Pearl Harbor, where hundreds and a few thousand people are killed, that is a very serious thing. You've made a conscious decision not to act. And the penalty with that, for those people, it's a hundred percent. It's not one thousand or two thousand, it's that person is gone. If, on the other hand, the penalty for not acting is not a conventional or a terrorist attack of that magnitude, but one of many multiples of that, it forces people to stop and have the kind of debate we're having. What ought we to be thinking about? How ought we, if at all, to be changing our behavior? How ought we to live in this new 21st century world? What does it mean that tens of thousands of human beings can be killed in a biological attack if we allow it to happen as a society? Are we comfortable with that? Is that something that we've decided that it's so disadvantageous to take an action without proof that you could go into a court of law and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that something was going to happen, that the capabilities existed for -- of absolute certain knowledge, and that the intent to use those was imminent and clear, and you don't -- you may not have the type of certain knowledge. You may want that kind of knowledge in a law enforcement case, where we're interested in protecting the rights of the accused. You may have a different conclusion if you're talking about the death of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. We're not talking about combatants here, we're talking about the kinds of people who were killed on September 11th. So it is that construct that needs to be considered. And it ought to be -- it ought to be talked about and well read through and thought about, it seems to me.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: You -- you said just now that one of the reasons Saddam is so dangerous is because he's threatening his neighbors. Now the very neighbors say that they don't feel threatened today because of containment and they oppose a military intervention. So what do you say to them?
Rumsfeld: Well, I suppose -- first of all, it depends on who you're talking to, and it depends on when you're talking to them, and it depends on whether you're talking in public or in private. All anyone has to do is go back and read the statements that Saddam Hussein has made about the "illegitimacy", quote-unquote, the alleged "illegitimacy" of his neighboring regimes, and the hostility he feels towards them. So it seems to me the truth is self-evident.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned Congress several times, as you already have said, that's coming back today and tomorrow. And of course you and the president have also said that you believe Congress should be consulted. But do you think it's prudent that you should seek the consent of Congress? Do you think it's a wise idea for Congress to approve an action before it might be decided?
Rumsfeld: The -- under our Constitution, Article 1 is the Congress of the United States, the people's branch. They're there for a reason, and there is no question but that they have a role. What that role is, is a subject for lawyers; how they want to execute it is a subject for Congress; how the president wants to interact with them is a subject for the executive branch. And that will all play out over the coming days and weeks. But there's no question but that the Congress has an important role, in my view.
Q: But not just legally whether they should give their consent, but is -- politically is prudent? And I would also wonder what General Myers thinks -- would it be valuable to have the consent of Congress, not just whether --
Rumsfeld: I think I've answered it as well as I can. I think that the exact formula that the president or the Congress prefers to take is something that will evolve in the coming days. With respect to the first part of the question, unambiguously, the Congress has a role. It's for them and the president to define it.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: General Myers, General Zinni, about 10 days ago, made a speech in which he said that the people who are most enthusiastic about taking action in Iraq have not themselves been in combat, or something to that effect, and that generals, as a group, tend to see it differently. And he even listed a few, most of them retired, actually.
Do you have any thoughts about -- I'm sure you've seen what he said. Do you have any thoughts about what he said?
Myers: I've only seen what was reported that he said in the paper. I've not seen his actual remarks. And so it's hard to comment. He made his remarks -- I think I've stood up here before and talked about the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others involved in all our processes in this war on terrorism, and that I don't think -- I think people tend to read things into statements that really don't reflect the true nature of the deliberations and advice we're providing.
But, I don't know what else to say about it. Everybody's entitled to their opinion.
Q: But do the responsibilities of -- you know, for military officers mean that they have any different perspective in this instance than civilian leadership might have?
Myers: Well, I think in some cases it may be slightly different, but not different than the civilian leadership of the department. I don't know anybody that cares more passionately about the people of this department than the secretary and the deputy secretary and those civilian leaders. So in one sense, no, and in another sense, in terms of just pure military expertise, I think the military brings something to the equation that's valuable, and we do so in a very unconstrained way.
Q: General Myers, a couple of days ago there was a story reporting that many military officers in the Pentagon are concerned that if we mounted a military operation against Iraq, it would be a huge distraction and drain on resources from the search for al Qaeda and the greater war on terrorism. Is that an issue that you and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are discussing? Is that a serious issue?
Myers: An issue that we discus and that the staff works almost continuously is how U.S. armed forces are used around the world. For those parts of the force that are under particular stress, what steps can we take to mitigate it? If we're asked to do something else, whatever that is, are we prepared to do that? Do we have the logistics? Do we have the command and control structure? Do we have the people? Do we have the right skill sets? And if not, then how do we -- that's something we talk about all the time. We talk about that with the secretary. We don't just talk about it, but the secretary probes us to respond to lots of those types of questions. So that is not unusual -- that that goes on. It goes on -- it went on before September 11th. It's -- it'll go on as we continue this war.
Q: Well, but would a major regional conflict be a serious drain on the resources that are being devoted to the war on terrorism, or is the war on terrorism using so few of those resources that there are plenty left?
Myers: Let me just say it this way: that if you go back to the Quadrennial Defense Review, in the defense strategy that was laid out in that review, it says we want our forces to be able to do a series of things. And in that series of things, we cover the cases that you just mentioned -- the war on terrorism, another major regional conflict, and we think we can do that. And we've looked at that several times, and I've stood up here and I've said that we have the resources to do -- now does that -- to do what we need to do.
Does that mean we're not going to have to prioritize, that there won't be certain resources that will be -- could possibly be in scarce demand, given different scenarios? Well, sure. But that's what we do. We do that even today. So --
Rumsfeld: Plus homeland security, which Dick might have mentioned, plus some other, lesser contingencies, such as Bosnia and the other things we're doing.
Myers: Yeah. It's not just a war on terrorism; it is -- as the secretary said, it's -- if you go back and read the QDR and take the -- I don't want to go through that now. But if you take the defense strategy out of that, which does include homeland security for the first time as a mission that we need to put resources towards and which we're doing in a fairly major way that we have not done in the past, at least accounted for them -- we put forces toward it, but we never accounted for them -- I think we have a great strategy with a very good way to account for how busy people are going to be.
Q: Mr. Secretary, could I just ask you quickly, would you feel that you have failed in your job if you left office and Saddam Hussein was still in power?
Rumsfeld: No. Look -- (laughs) -- it is an interesting question. I haven't thought about it that way. But there is a constitution, and the president is the president, and the president and the Congress make those kinds of judgments; secretaries of Defense do not.
I have a set of statutory responsibilities. And I have obligations to the president, and I have obligations to the Congress under their statute, and I have various international responsibilities. And to the extent I do them in a manner that is consistent with the best interests of our country, then I'm happy and feel that I've been successful. And to the extent that I ever felt that something was being done in a way that I did not feel in the best interests of the country, it would be my obligation to step aside. But that -- I don't feel that way at all. I feel we've got a very orderly process that is benefiting from 24 hour, seven day a week examination by everybody in the world, to look for flaws and little things on it that might be questioned or elaborated on. And that's fine, too. That's all part of the Constitution, too.
Q: Following the heightened sensitivity to the threat since September 11th and linear and perhaps logical inferences about Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, is there any concrete difference in the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq today than there was, say, one year ago today?
Rumsfeld: Well, without putting an adjective to it, the short answer is yes, there is a difference today from a year ago. When you're dealing with any entity -- let's call it the moon -- that -- (laughter) -- give credit -- give credit where's credit's due -- where there -- where you know of certain knowledge that the moon has in the past had weapons of mass destruction capabilities and that the moon has been continuing free of inspections and with relatively open borders, with a great deal of dual use capabilities, has been proceeding aggressively to further develop those capabilities and make them more mature, more robust, with greater lethality, greater distances and greater variety, then one has to say that the situation has changed, and not for the better.
Q: Mr. Secretary -- or either one of you -- could you help us put just a couple of newspaper accounts into perspective? One is the New York Times story today that suggests some Special Operations commanders, having concluded on their own that bin Laden is dead, would like to see their Special Operations forces doing more special things somewhere else. The other one was in this Israeli newspaper, a report over the weekend that says Syria has allowed 150 to 200 al Qaeda, including, perhaps, some top leadership, to locate in a Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon, in Lebanon. Can you help us put those two stories into perspective, maybe?
General Myers, maybe you could take the first one. It's up to you.
Myers: In terms of the question about Special Operations Command and any analysis, to my knowledge and to the knowledge of the commander of Special Operations Command, there's been no analysis done by anybody in his command on whether or not I think the story went that bin Laden was killed in Tora Bora. I don't think there's -- there's nothing to back up the fact that that's been analyzed to any degree that I'm aware of or that General Holland is aware of. To the rest of the story, I mean, I don't know. I -- depends who you talk to. I suppose everybody's got ideas.
The one thing that we have to keep in mind, though, is that as -- we found the adversary, in this case al Qaeda, being very adaptive, very flexible. And as we pursue one line of tactics and techniques and procedures in operating against them, they will -- they will change, and they'll morph into some other capability. And we've got to be able to react to that. And I think clearly, I would expect the folks in the field to understand that, and we understand it, as well. So there are always opportunities to change the way we're doing business or change priorities, and it's something we do routinely. We've done it since September 11th; we'll continue to do that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what about al Qaeda in Lebanon?
Rumsfeld: I don't think I care to get into it. We do know that al Qaeda are all over the world. They're in 40 or 50 countries, unquestionably. They have dispersed, in many cases out of Afghanistan, where there were high concentrations. But to be perfectly straightforward, they also dispersed before we went to Afghanistan. They trained thousands of terrorists in those training camps in Afghanistan and dispersed them around the world even before the beginning of kinetics on October 7th of last year.
So they are in a lot of countries. I don't doubt for a minute that if they're in that many countries, they're in a third of the countries of the world, so you can name any number of countries where they might be.
Q: Follow-up on the Special Forces. To either of you, is there a plan or consideration being given to a wider role for Special Forces in the overall war on terrorism? What might that entail? And would that overlap somewhat into what are traditionally law enforcement obligations?
Rumsfeld: Well, let me just start in on it. Number one, Special Operations -- you're talking Special Forces or Special Operations?
Q: Special Operations.
Rumsfeld: Special Operations are in limited supply. And clearly, in the global war on terrorism they have a role that is different and more extensive than they might in a more conventional conflict. So we need to see that we have the right numbers and in the right places, working on the right problems. To the extent they're in places that it's not useful or doing things that are less useful, one would obviously find ways to replace them from those functions and have them do the higher priority activities.
One of the things we've done early on, of course, was for the first time in history to get the Marine Corps to develop a closer relationship with Special Operations people and allow Marines to be drawn into that pool. So we've expanded the size of the pool.
Another thing we've decided to do, some weeks or months ago, was to recognize that there is a seam between what conventional forces do and what Special Operating forces might do, and to find ways to have people in the more conventional force activities move slightly over and be able to pick up earlier some activities that previously or maybe initially had been done by Special Operating forces, and have, therefore, a way for the Special Operating forces to be somewhat -- freed up somewhat earlier. And we've been looking at a host of things like that.
With respect to law enforcement -- doubtful. I mean, law enforcement is law enforcement. Certainly in the United States we have people that do that. With respect to other countries, what is law enforcement, it varies from country to country how they're organized, how they're equipped, what their laws require. In friendly countries, to the extent they have good law enforcement capabilities, we always prefer to use that, their capabilities. To the extent they don't have good law enforcement capabilities or they don't have good special-operations capabilities, we have a pattern of trying to help train them and assist them and maybe give them some intel if they're friendly countries. If they're unfriendly countries, then -- like Afghanistan -- then we do something else.
Q: But you've described this as an unconventional war on terrorism. Does that mean that America's unconventional forces may have to become even more unconventional themselves and perhaps go covertly into countries where we have not declared war or they are not invited?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that we -- our thinking has evolved in a way that I'd want to get into that.
Q: Mr. Secretary and General Myers, you started off by kind of giving us your progress report on the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, but it doesn't appear that we have done much in finding large numbers of al Qaeda or Taliban recently, and our troops seem to be becoming the target. You know, we may be the hunted rather than the hunter. Are we shifting into an uncomfortable stage in that conflict?
Rumsfeld: I don't think the question's accurate, first of all. We may not be finding large numbers, but that's because we've been successful, not unsuccessful. We've been successful in dispersing large numbers wherever they were, and what's left are bits and scraps. And we've been arresting and detaining people in Afghanistan almost every week. I keep looking at the number of detainees, and the number's going up, not down. So it seems to me that your assessment is not correct.
Second, you say they're targeting Americans. There's no question but that Taliban and al Qaeda would like to target Americans, not just in Afghanistan but in the United States and other countries around the world. And periodically, they'll be successful. And it's our task to see that we keep them on the move and keep them on the run.
Afghanistan is essentially in a circumstance that it's moved from being a country occupied by the Taliban and the al Qaeda to a country that is now governed by a transitional government under Mr. Karzai. It is not a perfectly tidy place, but it is a very stable place, for the most part, around the country.
The southeastern area, area southeast of Kabul, is clearly not stable. And there are competing warlords in that area.
Does that mean people aren't going to get killed from time to time? No. They will. Does it mean there aren't going to be land mines from time to time? Of course there will be. It's a country that's been at war for decades. There are more land mines in that country than there are people. There -- it's one of the most heavily armed populations on the face of this earth.
And you're quite right; every once in a while, a rocket gets fired off, or an RPG gets fired off, or someone gets shot at and -- by someone who's a Taliban or an al Qaeda in the local area.
But on the other hand, four, five, six times a day locals are coming up to the U.S. forces in that country and saying, "Look, come here. There's some bad guys over here. We'll point them out to you. There's a cache of weapons in here." And they'll find hundreds and hundreds of weapons. We find caches of weapons that -- not because we're geniuses, but because people come and tell us, "There they are. Look! Pick them up. Get them out of here. We don't want them here." People are going to school.
I think your question was, you know, seriously flawed. (Laughter.)
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Rumsfeld: But that question was to Dick.
Myers: Nice answer, sir.
Myers: We'll stick with this.
Q: Can we get a clarification here, real quickly -- just a clarification? You said that Special Ops troops -- they may be moved around to higher-priority things. Is one of the less useful jobs the hunt for bin Laden, even though the fact is that you still operate under the assumption that he is alive?
Rumsfeld: Look, the senior al Qaeda and the senior Taliban are still people we'd like to find. And to the extent we should use law enforcement, we do. Should we -- extent we use the agency, we do. To the extent we use Special Forces or Special Ops, we do.
That list of -- whatever it is at any given time -- 12, 15, 20, 25 people are still of interest. One has to assume that these folks have knowledge, training, access to bank accounts, access to individuals who were trained and may be in sleeper cells, and that to the extent there are going to be additional terrorist acts, that one or more of them have a reasonable probability of being involved in it. Therefore, they are of interest.
Q: Have you seen evidence that gold is being transferred to the Sudan in any quantity from al Qaeda coffers?
Rumsfeld: Not that I know of.
Q: General Myers, you very carefully indicated earlier -- or you just sort of avoided specifically addressing the issue of stress on Special Operations. They are stressed now, are they not, because of the many different things that are being asked of that command? And that is a concern, is it not, of the Joint Chiefs as more and more things are asked of this particular specialized soldier?
Myers: We have a lot of forces really busy. The Special Operations Command has lots of forces that are very, very busy. In fact, they're in, you know, about 140 countries, 143 countries a year. So they're continually out there with our allies and partners in training exercises and so forth.
Like any force, some parts of it are more stressed than others -- let me just say that -- and that they have to be carefully husbanded more than others. But it's not true as a general statement to say Special Operations Command is stressed at this point. There are pieces of it that are stressed. But you can go to any community in armed forces, you can pick out pieces of it that are working very hard right now just because of the nature of the requirements.
Q: General Myers, are they still operating in Yemen? Are they still doing training or some other kind of cooperative anti-terror activity in Yemen?
Myers: Yes, they are.
Q: Is it the training part or is it some new effort?
Myers: Let me check on that. We'll get back to you on exactly. I know some training is finished, and I just need to find out what's --
Q: Mr. Secretary, don't you feel a little bit foolish about lecturing --
Rumsfeld: No! (Laughter.) Well what's the question?
Q: Don't you feel a bit foolish about lecturing the press about the "frenzy" over Iraq when you went and spoke to the troops who might have to fight there, and that was the first thing they wanted to know about, and Vice President Cheney came out and made two hard-hitting speeches on Iraq? In retrospect, don't you think maybe that subject wasn't entirely just a press-generated frenzy?
Q: Now we're going to be here -- (off mike) -- (laughter) --
Rumsfeld: Did I use the word "frenzy"?
THE PRESS: Yes!
Q: Many times.
Q: You said it to the president as well.
Q: Caught on tape.
Q: You said it to the president.
Q: The president repeated your word.
Rumsfeld: Well, let me have an agonizing reappraisal here for -- (laughter). Or as one used to say, let me look down the long tunnel of retrospect and see how I feel about that today.
No, I don't feel even the slightest foolish, I mean, really, really. Not even close. What is the right word for what's been going on? I don't know. I have been, as an idealist, always hopeful that the issue would be seized, discussed in a thoughtful, constructive way. And I have been discouraged, but not surprised, I suppose, that it tends to always get tugged down to be particularized. It tends to be constantly cast in personalities. And -- do I fault the press? Never! (Laughter.) Could I have found a better word than "frenzy"? Maybe. "Feeding frenzy" would be -- no that would be wrong, too. (Laughs.) I don't know what the right word would be.
But it -- there's no question but that this world of ours is living in a different time. This country of ours is. And the people deserve to have some time and reflection on what are critically important issues. And they ought to have the benefit of being able to think them through. The Congress, the American people, other countries, they ought to have the benefit of being able to think them through without being constantly blown from side to side with trivia and irrelevancies and misinformation by the juxtapositioning of one person's statement against another person's statement. Maybe "frenzy" isn't the right word, but I have seen some darned good commentary on television, and I have seen some excellent articles in the press. So I don't mean to paint a brush over this. I really don't. But I think this is important. And I think it is being excessively simplified, personalized, and in some instances, trivialized.
Now, have I gotten myself into deeper water?
Q: We'll get back to you on that. (Laughter.)