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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, and Commander, U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid
Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Media Availability Preceding Senate Operations/Intelligence Briefing

NOTE: [Questions have been paraphrased due to poor audio.]


            Rumsfeld: Sure. I've got General Abizaid here and General Myers.


            Press:  [Should women be banned from forward companies in order to avoid combat in Iraq?]


            Rumsfeld:  The Army is working with the commanders on that subject.  There are a couple of things that are unusual right now.  One is that there isn't a battlefield line.  It's an asymmetrical battlefield so there are not clear lines where battles are taking place on one side and not on the other.


            A second thing that's unusual is that the Army is in the process of reorganizing and moving capabilities from the division level down to the brigade and the battalion level, so those two moving parts create a situation where the Army is reviewing how they do things.  They're working with the Congress and they're working with the battlefield commanders to find an appropriate way that's consistent with our country's view on that subject.


            There's a law, there are rules and procedures, and the question is how do they apply with these two new moving parts.


            Press:  [How would it affect operations if women were removed from those forward companies?]


            Rumsfeld:  I don't think I'm going to get into the hypotheticals.  I'd rather wait and see how the Army sorts that out.


            Press:  [What would be the impact of this?] [Inaudible]


            Rumsfeld:  See, you're presuming that could happen, and what I'm saying is the Army is considering these things as to how best to do it, and at some point they will have a written declaratory statement that presents their conclusions in a manner that will be understandable by certainly the people in the Army and certainly the people outside the Army.


            Press:  [So you’re waiting to see?]


            Rumsfeld:  I'm not just sitting around waiting. I'm having meetings with them and discussing it.


            Press:  [Well, when you’re talking to Chairman Hunter, what is your position?]


            Rumsfeld:  My position is that I want to learn and get better informed so that I can participate in a discussion on the thing in an intelligent way.


            Press:  [Your reaction to reports that Zarkawi held a meeting about a month ago in Syria?  Do you think that meeting has led to the rise in violence that we have seen in the last few weeks?]


            Abizaid:  I saw the reports.  I can't really confirm or deny whether the reports are correct, but clearly we do know there are activities that are taking place in Syria - not with the collusion of the Syrian government - but that are activities that are insurgent inspired that are taking place over there.  It's very important that the Syrian government do everything within its power to keep violence from migrating or being planned in Syria into Iraq.


            Press:  [Inaudible]?


            Abizaid:  No, I do not think the Syrian government's doing enough.


            Press:  [Have you heard the new Zarkawi recording that has been released?]


            Abizaid:  Yes, I have.


            Press:  [How would you respond to it]?


            Abizaid:  I have no response to it.  It's the same old thing.  He says that it's okay to kill Muslims and that it's an Islamic duty and he's incorrect.  That's not true.


            Myers:  Think about it.  What he says is it's okay for Muslims to kill Muslims, and not just any Muslims, but innocent men, women and children.  That's what he's been doing.  If you lo at the statistics over the last couple of weeks, a lot of Iraqi men, women and children have died because this violent extremist is trying to convince others to do it.  That's -- Talk about a guy that just has absolutely no moral foundation, it's an outrage.


            Press:  [Is he trying to provoke a civil war?]


            Myers:  Absolutely.  He's already said it.  He said he's trying to provoke a civil war.  He's trying to keep freedom from happening in the Middle East.  He is a violent extremist aligned with UBL.  That's all clear, well documented, and that's clearly what they want to do and they'll go to any lengths.  They'll run into the World Trade Center or they'll kill several hundred Iraqi men, women and children in the last couple of weeks.  It's an absolute outrage.  He's a criminal, for sure; probably worse if we had --


            Press:  [Do you feel that the tactics he is using might be making progress towards that civil war?]


            Myers:  Me personally, no.  The Iraqi government is strong and the Iraqi public in the recent polling shows that they're strong as well and understand what this is all about.  The Iraqi public is as outraged as the world is and should be against his tactics and his methods.


            Abizaid:  People like Zarkawi and bin Laden are regarded by the whole region as being extremists.  The people out there don't want them to win.  They have no vision of the future.  It's just a dark, dark way ahead.  People don't believe in them, and they don't want them to win.  They want to enable their own government to win the battle and that's why the Iraqis are going to win on their own.


            Rumsfeld:  It may be not be newsworthy, but the reality is that in many parts of that section of the world moderates are prevailing and in the struggle between the extremists and the moderates in that faith, if you look in Afghanistan, you look in Iraq, you look in other parts of the region, the Palestinian Authority had an election.  There are things happening that are encouraging that suggest that there is a movement towards moderation as opposed to extremism


            Press:  General Abizaid, you're in a tough fight in Iraq.  [Wouldn’t it have a devastating affect to remove women from forward companies?]


            Abizaid:  I really can't comment on that at all.  I have just come from the region, I'm not involved in the debate right now.  We're looking at it.  I'll have to wait to get my instructions from the department.


            Myers:  The fact is -- it is a debate.  There is a policy.  We're following the policy as it stands.  There's a debate going on.  We all want to become better informed, so that step is a ways off.


            Press:  [Afghanistan riots caused by the Newsweek article or other factors]?


            Myers:  I have not talked to General Eikenberry since, but what I said was that his initial thought based on what he knew at the time, and there were lots of caveats there, that he thought the political unrest had been previously planned and was more about internal Afghan politics.


            I think he probably would go on to say that it was probably fueled, you'd have to ask him, but I think he'd probably say that once it gets going of course anything can fuel unrest like that, and perhaps that article did.  I don't know for a fact, I just don't know.  It certainly wasn't helpful.  Inaccurate reporting like that is not helpful in that part of the world when we're trying our best and we have our men and women in uniform and our DoD civilians and State Department people and people from Treasury and Justice trying to help people have a better life, it's not helpful when you have inaccurate reporting that incites people to violence.  It's just not helpful.


            Press:  [Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit about what you're doing here and what you may have discussed earlier today over at the White House?]


            Rumsfeld:  Well, we had a meeting, General Abizaid and General Craddock and I, General Myers, had a meeting with the President.  We do that every week.  I do.  And we obviously talked about this hemisphere and we talked about the Central Command's AOR.


            Press:  [What's on the agenda today?]


            Rumsfeld:  Well, I meet with the Members of the Senate and the Members of the House every period of weeks, five, six weeks, and General Myers and I generally brief, and when General Abizaid's in town he comes along.  Last time I think General Barno came along and talked about Afghanistan.  And there are always 50, 60-plus members of the United States Senate who ask questions and we have a chance on a classified basis to discuss things that are important to them and important to the country.


            Press:  [Mr. Secretary, has there been any progress made in finding Usama bin Laden?]


            Rumsfeld:  I will make sure we let you know when we find him.


            Press:  [Has any progress been made at all?]


            Rumsfeld:  I don't think -- When you're hunting for someone and you haven't found them, you haven't found them.  At some point you will find them.  At the moment we haven't.


            Abizaid:  Mr. Secretary, if I may.


            Rumsfeld:  Yeah.


            Abizaid:  Let me just say we've made an awful lot of progress against al-Qaida as an organization.  That's a very important point for people to understand.  And when I say we I mean we, the international community, we with our Pakistani partners, we with the United States military and the interagency of the United States.


            Rumsfeld:  Thank you, folks.

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