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17 February 2005

Rumsfeld Says Number of Iraqi Insurgents Fluctuates

General Myers says insurgency's capacity is limited

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

Washington –- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tackled controversial subjects such as the potency of the Iraqi insurgency and the viability of the missile defense program during a second day of congressional testimony on the new defense budget and the Pentagon’s supplemental request.

While testifying about the specifics of the $419 billion fiscal year 2006 defense budget and the $75 billion supplemental fiscal year 2005 request for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee February 17 that the classified numbers on the size of Iraq’s insurgency are not static.  The numbers change and are, in many ways, what he described as “a moving target.”

Under questioning about the scope of the Iraqi insurgency by Republican Senator John McCain, Rumsfeld said “it would be nice to have a hard number” to offer, but there are varying intelligence assessments and the numbers are difficult to pin down.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Air Force General Richard Myers also addressed the insurgency question, saying he is not sure that even the Iraqi insurgents themselves know how many members are associated with their movement.  But rather than trying to pin down a number, he said the more important issue is their ability to inflict pain on the Iraqi population and coalition forces.  He described the insurgency as having a limited capacity, meaning there are only around 50 to 60 insurgent operations across Iraq on any given day (with occasional surges in the numbers of attacks).

Myers indicated that the number of hard-core insurgents represents a relatively small percentage of the overall force.  He also said attacks by the insurgents are causing them to lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the general Iraqi population.  As the insurgents fight on, he noted, they are meeting an increasingly confident Iraqi security force of 130,000 individuals organized into 70 combat battalions.

Rumsfeld said 14 of the 18 Iraqi provinces are experiencing low levels of insurgent attacks, but the remaining four are suffering high rates of violence, and, he said, those few provinces -– which include Baghdad -- contain a very large percentage of Iraq’s total population.

In his written testimony, submitted for the record, Myers said the Iraqi insurgency “is primarily Sunni extremist-based and focused on getting coalition forces out of Iraq and regaining illegitimate power in Iraq.”  Leaders of the insurgency are drawn predominately from past regime elements including the Ba’ath Party, the former intelligence and security structures, and tribal and religious organizations.

He singled out the al-Qaida associated movement in Iraq as posing the greatest threat to stability.  He said it is part of a global network of terrorists, with other elements of the movement responsible for terrorist attacks in Madrid, Jakarta and Mosul.

Myers' fourth and last posture statement may be viewed on the Internet at 02-17-05.pdf


During the course of the hearing, Rumsfeld was asked about the status of the missile-defense program.  He noted that financial provisions for the missile-defense program have been reduced from last year’s $8.8 billion request to $7.8 billion in the 2006 budget request (slowing plans to field ground-based missile interceptors in Europe and pushing the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program back by a year).  His answer came during questioning by Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton about the degree of realism being used to test U.S. missile defenses.  The secretary described the overall program as generally successful and pointed out that past test failures have not been systemic, nor have they undermined confidence in the system.

Clinton’s questioning followed a missile-defense test on February 14 when a missile interceptor failed to take flight from its test site in the Marshall Islands.   The ground-support equipment is being investigated as a potential cause of the failure, rather than the interceptor itself, according to the Missile Defense Agency.  Despite the latest test result, Rumsfeld said, the engineers learn something each time, successful or not.

The past two failures, the secretary said, “have clearly, thus far inhibited us from conducting a system test for all its capabilities, but we are in the early stage of engineering this complex and unprecedented capability.”  The United States remains committed to producing and deploying a missile-defense capability, he added, and the program director “has assured us that key aspects of the program are on track.”

There are six ground-based interceptors in Alaska and two in California designed to provide a rudimentary capability to address a ballistic missile attack against the United States.  Myers described the missile-defense system as undergoing “an operational shakedown” in his written statement.  Confidence in its readiness, he said, “will come from ongoing ground testing, flight-testing, modeling and simulation, war games and exercises.”

As the program progresses and operational procedures are refined, Myers said, the secretary of defense would decide “when to place the system in a higher state of readiness.”  Right now, the notion is to get the system in the ground and keep testing it,” according to Rumsfeld.

Clinton questioned the deterrent value of the system, prompting Rumsfeld to say: “I agree with the point that there is no deterrent if something is known to not work.”  He urged caution in using the term “missile deployment,” saying, instead, that what is going on is neither a pure test nor deployment, “but deploying the pieces of the capability that will evolve into an early missile defense capability.”

The engineers are pursuing a measured approach to a complicated problem, Rumsfeld said, and given what is being written about North Korea’s and Iran’s weapons programs this “ought to be reassuring to us that we’re doing what we’re doing and, at least, we’re on track to have the capability in the period ahead, assuming we can continue to work out the kinks.”

Committee business during the hearing also included approval of Admiral William Fallon to be the next commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific.  Fallon’s nomination now goes to the full Senate for its advice and consent.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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