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The Air Combat Command: The Backbone of the U.S. Military Says Rumsfeld

The Air Combat Command: The Backbone of the U.S. Military Says Rumsfeld

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Tuesday, February 20, 2002 - 1:30 p.m. EST. Town-hall Meeting at Nellis Air Force Base.

Rumsfeld: My goodness gracious. (Applause.) Well, thank you very much for that wonderful, wonderful welcome, General Johnston. Men and women of Team Nellis, good morning. Thank you. Thank you for what you do for the country. Thank you for your hospitality, and thank you for your dedication.

The president and indeed the people of the United States of America are all deeply grateful to you for what you do to help defend peace and freedom across the globe. I know this is a busy day for you, so I particularly appreciate your being here and giving me a chance to say hello, and towards the end respond to some of your questions and hear what you have to say.

To some, the Thunderbirds and Predators and the high-tech equipment that make up this Air Combat Command are the stuff of movies and imagination and novels. We know, however, more importantly, that they are the backbone of the U.S. military, and they're proving their worth today in Afghanistan as we visit here.

It's because of all of you here at Nellis, from the crews, the pilots and to everyone in between, that the United States and allied forces are so well prepared to guard our freedoms and serve our nation and the world in contributing to peace and stability. Because you train like you fight and fight like you train, we're winning the war against terrorism and making not just America but our world a safer place.

Hundreds of your comrades and friends and neighbors are deployed to the far corners of the world, and they're fighting the enemies of freedom, and they're really doing a great job. I have an opportunity to see them in Bosnia and Kosovo and Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and we'll be going over to Asia to see the folks in Korea and Japan very soon.

Some of you may join them. Others will be part of other missions; I know that. But one thing's for sure: When you get there, you'll be ready. I'm told that it's been some 60 years that Nellis has been in business keeping pace with the explosion of technology that's taking place, not just in combat aircraft and equipment but in testing, training, tactics, command and control, and all the things that really determine the outcome of combat on the battlefield.

Certainly the most recent proof can be seen in Afghanistan, with the results that people across the globe have been able to watch, from the rapid development of munitions that blasted Taliban and al Qaeda fighters from caves and tunnels to the drones that can Hellfire weapons to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance that make missions so successful. You truly are the leading edge of the 21st century warfare.

The wars of the future will likely be as different from Afghanistan as Afghanistan has been different from Desert Storm. But if there's one lesson we've learned, and learned well, it's that we will continue to be surprised in the future.

It's interesting to me that -- I guess I went to Washington in 1957, working for a congressman, fresh out of the Navy. I was a -- I'm a broken-down ex-Navy pilot. I hope you won't hold that against me. (Laughter.) All the planes I used to fly are in museums now.

But when I went there, Eisenhower was president. And shortly thereafter, President Kennedy was elected, and he nominated Robert McNamara to be secretary of Defense. And in Secretary of Defense McNamara's hearing, confirmation hearings in the Senate, he never mentioned Vietnam and no senator ever mentioned Vietnam, and Vietnam dominated his service.

When Dick Cheney was nominated for secretary of Defense, in his confirmation hearings, he was never asked a word about Iraq. No senator asked any question. He didn't bring it up. And, needless to say, the war in Iraq and Desert Storm was an important part of his tenure as secretary of Defense.

And, interestingly, a year ago, when I was in my confirmation hearings before the United States Senate, not one senator mentioned the word Afghanistan. Not one senator nor I mentioned al Qaeda. And here we are.

If it teaches us anything, it seems to me, it is that we need to recognize that we have to expect the unexpected. We have to recognize that it is not possible to know every conceivable threat that can be posed against our country, our friends, our allies and our deployed forces. And we have to recognize the kinds of capabilities that exist and be ready to deal with those capabilities wherever they happen to come from.

That's why the transformation of our military, our mindset, the way we train, the way we exercise and the way we fight, is so important. And I am personally convinced that the Department of Defense and the defense establishment is up to the task.

You know, in the past year, the year 2001, the Defense Department people -- civilian, military, men and women, all services -- have worked, and we have fashioned a new defense strategy. We've replaced the decade-old, two-major-regional-conflict construct with a new approach that is more appropriate to the 21st century. We've adopted a new way to balance risks -- the war risks, one against each other, the risk of not investing in our people, which is so central to our success, the risk of not modernizing and the risk of not transforming.

Our department has been able to balance any one of those against -- war risk against war risk, or modernization risk against modernization risk. But to balance all four of those against each other, we've not done very well. And we, we believe, have been able to find the ways to do that that ought to avoid having the kinds of underfunding that we've seen in the past.

We have reorganized and revitalized our missile defense research and testing program, free of the constraints of the ABM Treaty. We've reorganized the Department of Defense to deal with the importance of space, the growing importance of space to our country. And we've adopted a new nuclear posture for the United States that permits deep reductions in strategic offensive weapons and still provides, importantly, for our security.

Next month we will be announcing a new unified command plan for the world, which is going to recognize the need we have for homeland security. And we'll have a Northern Command for the first time in our history, and we'll be making a variety of other adjustments across the globe, which will improve our capabilities.

And all of this has been accomplished while we've been fighting a war on terrorism. The reason I bring it up is our department, of course, is big. It's a big bureaucracy. We all know it doesn't work perfectly. I don't suppose there's a person in this room who hasn't been a little irritated or frustrated every once in a while that something didn't happen right; it didn't work out right. And it's hard when you've got a large bureaucracy, and we know that.

But for an organization that is supposed to be so resistant to change, I must say, what's been accomplished in the last year has been impressive, and it does show that we as an institution are capable of transforming in every aspect of what we do. And it takes the kinds of wonderful people that we have here in this hangar today.

As you know, we've also been working to try to provide the pay and the housing and the benefit improvements that you all need and deserve to do your work. But not everything changes. General Johnston said that I was secretary of Defense a quarter of a century ago, and that's true. And if I can say anything about what hasn't changed, it's the dedication of the men and women in uniform, the people who voluntarily put your lives at risk so that all of us can live in peace and freedom.

Today the world does face a new threat to peace and freedom. It's not an Adolf Hitler, fascism. It's not communism. But it's one that can be as destructive as any -- or all, for that matter -- and one that has implications for the future that are every bit as momentous as those that we have faced in the past.

Your mission is a matter of profound consequence not only for the people of Afghanistan -- and we have seen really just thrilling improvements in their lives. It is not yet a peaceful place. It is still a dangerous and untidy place, and there are still pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban throughout that country. But the people are no longer being repressed by a terribly repressive regime. The women are free to go out in the street and go to schools, to go to a hospital and to be treated.

But the work that's being done goes well beyond Afghanistan, and it really affects the future of all people across this land, people who long to live as free men and free women. And like your parents and your grandparents, your generation has an opportunity to help shape the world for the better, well beyond the war on terrorism.

Will it be a world where freedom is allowed to flourish, or will it be a war where terror spreads like a creeping evil from country to country until the world is infected with fear and with hate? You're the people who stand on the very front line between freedom and fear. And it's a wonderful thing to not be fearful, to be able to get up in the morning and walk out of the door of your house and not have to look around the corner and see if there's someone who's going to shoot you or throw a grenade at you, but to be free and to send your children off to school and know that they'll be coming home.

You stand against an evil that cannot be appeased. It cannot be ignored, and it must, most certainly, not be allowed to win. And you're doing a magnificent job. So I thank you for your service.

And now I would be delighted to respond to some questions, to hear what you have to say. And I thank you so very much for all you do.


Way in the back.

Question: I am Senior Airman (Jennifer) Rhodes from the Air Warfare Center flight safety office. And my question is; what do you expect from the men and women who serve in the U.S. military today?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, what the whole world expects is the kind of professionalism and well-trained, well-disciplined, professional people who are willing to risk their lives to try to help this world be a more stable and peaceful place.

We forget it; all of us do, I know. We go about our daily lives. But the thing that underpins freedom in this country and underpins the economy of the world are the men and women in uniform. We have, at this moment in history, really not only the opportunity but also the responsibility to contribute to that peace and stability. And without that peace and stability, none of our other hopes and aspirations for the world are possible.

Questions. Yes.

Question: Staff Sergeant (James) Mitchell from the 57th AGS (Aircraft Generation Squadron). I'm an F-16 crew chief, sir, and we're constantly battling for parts. I was wondering, how do you see us getting aircraft parts in the future?

Rumsfeld: What we have tried to do -- we went through a drawdown after the end of the Cold War, and the United States brought down the number of forces and brought down the funding in the department. And the reality is that they overshot. They went a little bit too far. And as a result, some choices had to be made.

And the choices were looking at war risks, as I mentioned. Then they were looking at modernization or maintenance and readiness and the other types of risks. And some things got shorted. The reality is that we have been -- in this budget, the last two budgets, we have been attempting to see that we fully fund those accounts. And I believe we have in the last budget and the budget we're currently building right now for 2003.

I hope what you'll see is that the problem you've been living with and so many others have, not just in the Air Force but also in the other services, will be something that will be a thing of the past as we go forward.

Is that Staff Sergeant James W. Mitchell? I don't think your mike's on there, General. There you go.

Gen. Johnston: That was a wonderful question, sir. This young man has been just recently rated as our number one crew chief on the base.

Rumsfeld: Here, here. (Applause.) Congratulations to you. That's very nice. Wonderful. Hi there. How are you? Congratulations. Why don't we get a picture here?

Gen. Johnston: The only thing wrong is he's just a staff sergeant. Though there's nothing wrong with being a staff sergeant, it'd be a lot better if he was a tech sergeant, don't you think, sir?

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) I think that's a good idea. (Laughs.)

(Band plays Air Force Song)

Rumsfeld: That's great. Good for you. Congratulations. (Applause.)

Questions. Yes. How about that -- a spot promotion.

(Applause.) Son of a gun. I never got one of those.

(Laughter.) Yes.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I'm Staff Sergeant Brandy Erven from the Air Force Thunderbirds. My question is regarding --

Rumsfeld: The Thunderbirds?

Question: The Thunderbirds, sir.

Rumsfeld: Kind of like the Blue Angels? (Chorus of boos.) I thought that would get that rise. (Laughter.)

Question: Sir, with the tragic events of 9/11 and the creation of the homeland defense office, we've seen the roles of the military change to almost a dual capacity, not only force projection but also protection of our shores here. Can we see in the near future a plus- up of military personnel, both in retention and recruiting, to help cover us? Or are we going to continue working as a lighter and leaner force, as we've become accustomed to?

Rumsfeld: That is a question -- thank you very much. That's a tough question. It's a question we're wrestling with in the Pentagon right now. Let me put it this way. We are doing a lot of things with the men and women in the armed forces that are not, strictly speaking, tasks for people in the armed forces.

And what we're trying to do is to not immediately raise end strength, despite the fact that the force is clearly stressed. We have some 70,000, 80,000 people today from the Guard and Reserve and people who have been activated, plus we have the stop orders for people who would normally have been leaving, and we were holding them in because of the difficult situation we face with respect to homeland security.

My hope is that what we can do is see that the tasks we're performing today domestically that are really not the kind of jobs that men and women in the armed forces normally would be doing -- for example, airport security in civilian airports. That's a civilian function, and there isn't any reason why people can't be trained to do that. But we're assisting in this immediate period until, in fact, those people are trained and capable of taking over those responsibilities.

At the moment, we have a great many people, as you know, on strip alert and combat air patrols and AWACS flights, which has been very stressful on the force. My hope is that we can get ourselves managed and arranged in the period going forward where that won't be necessary to have them on to the extent that they currently are.

Third, we have some people that we've had to dispatch to the Customs office, to the Border Patrol, to the INS and different civilian agencies like that, because our folks are ready, trained, available and capable and disciplined and organized, and so they're there for a brief period.

Also we have some foreign assignments. We have men and women serving in the Sinai. They've been there for 22 years -- not the same people, but (laughter) -- but we are not needed in the same numbers in the Sinai desert to the extent we were 22 years ago. So we ought to be able to find a way to draw that down.

We have forces in Bosnia and Kosovo that, over a period of years, begin doing activities that are really somewhat more police-like rather than the kind of tasks that men and women in the armed services normally do.

So what I'm trying to do is to keep the end strength hopefully where it is, reduce the number of tasks that we're doing around the world, and even domestically, that are not truly military assignments, and see if we can't take the funds we have and invest in the kinds of transformation and modernization and the pay and benefits and housing that the people in the force need.

And we will not know if we're going to be able to do that, oh, probably for a period of a year or so. It depends on how successful we are in calming down the number of non-military activities that we seem to get drawn into.

Thank you. Way in the back there in the bleachers.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Senior Airman (Jeffrey) Manning, 99th Supply Squadron POL (Petroleum, Oil, Lubricants). What kind of measures are we taking to work towards retention and keeping it where it's at right now, stabilize the force?

Rumsfeld: There are so many things. Everyone in this room knows better than I what leads to retention. The first thing people think about is pay, but I don't think pay is really the only thing. We have had now two pay raises, and there's one in this bill that has just been sent up to the Congress this month, earlier this month, by the president; a second pay raise.

Housing. The housing situation worldwide has really become unfortunate. And we simply have to put the kind of money into housing that the people in the service deserve.

There are various types of other benefits. They're all important.

I think other things are important too, however. And it's the kind of training. It's whether or not people see the spare parts that are needed, that show that we're willing to invest and have the kinds of capabilities that we need to do our job.

And I think opportunities for people are important. Every one of you has things you'd like to learn or like to do or like to be able to contribute. And seeing that a big organization has, oh, the deftness to try to treat people as human beings, to the extent it's possible, and give them those kinds of opportunities, all are important.

One other thing that's important is to feel needed. And goodness knows certainly everyone in this room has to feel needed. So we're looking at all of those kinds of things and at the moment, retention is good and is roughly at the level that we need to maintain the force, particularly if we're able to, as I say, calm down some of these non-military activities.

Thank you. Yes, sir.

Question: Good morning, sir. Senior Master Sergeant Bruce Harayda, Flight Aircraft Maintenance Flight. The military has continually identified excessive base infrastructure. With that being said, do you foresee another round of base closures under BRAC? And, if so, how do you get that past the congressional attitudes that "You can close a base, but not in my district"?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think we're going to have another BRAC round. You're quite right; we have to. Every one of the members of the Joint Chiefs knows we have about 25 percent more base structure than we need for our force structure. Every former living secretary of Defense has agreed to try to be helpful.

We proposed it to the Congress last year. The Congress agreed, but they delayed it, I believe, into 2005. And that's unfortunate, because not only do we have to keep maintaining bases we don't need, but we now have to provide force protection for bases we don't need, given the changed security situation in the United States.

One of the other things that was unfortunate in our budget proposal for this year -- we went up and, rather than plusing up infrastructure and military construction and housing, we held housing relatively level and actually reduced other military construction, because you don't know which base you want to go ahead and make an investment in. So it's been a difficult thing.

I'm a former congressman, so I understand that if you've got a constituency and someone talks about closing a base, that it worries you and concerns you. On the other hand, if you look around the United States, you can find lots of bases that were BRAC'd and closed where the circumstance for the economy in that particular town or community has really been quite fine and improved, as a matter of fact, from time to time.

So it's a tough issue for members of the House and Senate, but we're pushing hard on it. We hope to get it. We simply -- we don't have the luxury of having the taxpayer spend that kind of money for things we don't need, because there are so many things we do need. Thank you.

Thank you. Yes?

Question: Dr. Kate Wilman, Air Warfare Center Historian. You were talking earlier about total force and how everybody in the room has a stake in what we do. This administration has not supported parity in civilian and military pay raises and benefits. Could you address that question, please?

Rumsfeld: I know what we've done on the military side. I'm not as knowledgeable on the civilian side, because my recollection is that the civilian, which is terribly important, the civilian workforce for the Department of Defense, but they tend to be treated across the entire scope of the government. And there has been a civilian pay increase, but my recollection is it has not been at the same pace that the military pay increase has been. Is that roughly correct?

Question: Yes, sir. And I'm wondering if there's anything that can be done to assist -- if it's a total force, then the civilians are part of it and you can't go to war without us.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Question: So how do you intend to -- is there any -- are there any plans to address the issue of pay parity within the Department of Defense specifically?

Rumsfeld: Not that I know. As I say, my recollection is that civilian employees are treated across the civilian sector of the entire government, including the Department of Defense, and they are dealt with not through the Armed Services Committees in the House or Senate but by the different committees that deal with a civilian workforce.

Question: Thank you, sir.

Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed. Yes, sir. I guess you folks weren't supposed to ask questions behind me. (Laughter. )

Question: Good morning, Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Good morning.

Question: We've seen that, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, we have maintained a presence in the Saudi peninsula. Do you foresee, in the extended future, maintaining forces in Afghanistan also?

Rumsfeld: It is unlikely that the United States will leave a sizable peacekeeping force of any type in Afghanistan. What we've decided to do is to try to be helpful to the Afghan people by assisting them in figuring out how they can fashion a national army, which they really don't have. They have a whole series of forces that are loyal not to the national government but to a variety of military leaders scattered across the land.

We have agreed to try to help them develop a national army. There's no question we will have a military-to-military relationship where we will be providing training and various types of assistance. There is, as you know, an international security assistance force in Afghanistan which is now, I think, up around 4,000 or 5,000 people from four or five different countries.

We have not participated in it with troops. We have agreed to assist the international security assistance force with logistic assistance, intelligence assistance. And, in addition, we are kind of the backup, quick-reaction force in the event they get in difficulty. We have forces in the country, Special Forces, who are capable of going in and providing assistance.

The dilemma that the country is facing right now, Afghanistan, is what should they do about their security situation. They have got Taliban and al Qaeda milling around, that have blended into the countryside, into the villages, across the borders and are ready to come back in in the event they feel they have the opportunity. We have a brand-new government that's an interim government for six months that is trying to find its way and create the kind of structures so that it can allow a secure environment for humanitarian assistance to come in -- food assistance, medical assistance and the like.

The question is, Do you want to put your time and effort and money into adding and increasing the International Security Assistance Force -- you know, take it from, say, 5,000 to 20,000 people? That's -- there's one school of thought that thinks that's a desirable thing to do. Another school of thought, which is where my brain is, is that why put all the time and money and effort in that? Why not put it into helping them develop a national army, so that they can look out for themselves over time? Because otherwise the International Security Assistance Force would be the thing providing peace and stability and security in the country, and at some point it would leave -- or ought to leave -- because it's an unnatural thing -- you'd much prefer that countries look out for themselves, and have their own force.

So my guess is it will be the latter that will happen, that the time and money and effort will go into helping them develop their own army, and we will be a part of helping them do that, but not leaving a permanent U.S. force in that country.

Questions? Yes?

Question: Good morning, sir. I'm Airman First Class (Joshua) Copenhaver, 99th Supply Receiving Section. My question is: Do you foresee how long this mission will last? Will it be between 5 or 10 years? And through that time, are we going to have help from other nations military-wise? And how much are we going to receive?

Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed. Well, first, let me take the last part. We are getting truly wonderful assistance from dozens and dozens and dozens of countries all across the globe today. What we hear about in this country mostly is what the Americans are doing and what our pilots are doing and what our ships are doing and what our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines are doing. There are -- I can't quite remember the number, but it's going to be like 70 or 80 nations that are helping in a variety of different ways. They are sharing intelligence. They are providing over-flight rights. They are providing basing rights and ports. They're providing ships for the maritime interception programs taking place. At the present time in Afghanistan there are more coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan than there are American forces. Now, we don't realize that, but that is a fact. And they have been doing some terrific work.

I have adopted a policy of allowing other countries to characterize what it is they are doing in the war on terrorism rather than me trying to characterize it for them, because the truth is a number of countries are doing things for us that they would prefer not be known publicly. And my interest is having us get the most help we possibly can to deal with the problem of terrorism. And if we can get more help by allowing us to let them characterize what they are doing, then I am for it. And that's the case.

But we have four -- at least four other countries who have special forces on the ground in Afghanistan doing direct action operations right alongside of ours. We have -- oh, we must have at least two, three, four handfuls of countries who are supplying ships and various types of assistance of that nature. As I've said, there are four or five countries that have troops in the International Security Assistance Force. It has been a wonderful outpouring of assistance, and it is truly a coalition effort.

Normally we would use the word "coalition" singularly. We have said we have a coalition that is engaged in Desert Storm or it's engaged in the war on terrorism. In this situation we haven't done that. And the reason we haven't is because each country is a little different. Each country has a different circumstance, lives in a different neighborhood, has a different history. And we don't ask every country to participate with us in every aspect of what we are doing on the war on terrorism. So it's a set of floating coalitions. And in one project or task it may be 6, 10, 12, 15 countries; and in another project or task in another part of the world it might be 10 or 12 totally different countries, or half of them might be different. And the effect of that is that we are getting the maximum amount of assistance.

There's a phrase that I think makes an awful lot of sense. To the extent you have a single coalition, you have to get everyone's agreement to do everything you do, and the effect of that is to go down to the lowest common denominator. It's to do the very least that that total group is willing to do, and you dumb down the mission. So my view is you have to let the mission determine the coalition, and you don't let the colition determine the mission. (Applause.)

How long will it take? My wife Joyce is here. Every once in a while in the morning as I get up about five o'clock and get ready to take a shower and head for the office, she says, "Don, where is he?" (Laughter.) I tell her that if I want to bring up Osama bin Laden, I'll wake her up and bring it up myself.

(Laughter.) There's no way to know how long. It is not days, weeks, months. It's years, for sure.

The goal is to be able to live as free people. And there are a lot of people who have been trained in terrorist training camps in three, four, five, six, seven, eight countries -- trained very well, financed, who are determined to kill innocent people in large numbers. And it's our task to see that we work with other countries so that those folks have trouble raising money, they have trouble recruiting, they have trouble keeping the people in that they have, they have trouble moving from country to country, and their lives are difficult. And we keep chasing them and running them to ground and rooting them out, and dealing with the countries that harbor terrorists until such time as the world's a safer place. And I think it would be a misunderstanding of the complexity of the task to think that it can be done in a month or a year. How long it will take I think remains to be seen. But we have arrested an enormous number of people in country after country across the globe, and those people are being questioned, those people are being interrogated. The intelligence information from those people is being brought together in a fusion cell. And the effect of it is we have been able to stop terrorist attacks.

You have read about the ones in Singapore -- information found in Afghanistan in a relatively short period of time stopped major terrorist attacks in Singapore, because of the ability to take this kind of information and move it around fast, in a prompt way.

So I don't know how long it will take. I will say this: Finding Omar and Osama bin Laden would be nice. But the network under, in the al Qaeda organization -- there are any number of people who could pick up for UBL and go on the next day and manage that network and continue to commit terrorist acts. So it's a mistake to personalize it and think of it in terms of just a single individual. It's a big task, but we are going to do it. Thank you. (Applause.)

Yes, sir?

Question: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. My name is (Technical) Sergeant Dave Dennis. I am out of the 57th Component Repair Squadron, electronic workers shop, and I have three questions.

Rumsfeld: You should be in the press. (Laughter.)

Question: They'll be short, sir.

Rumsfeld: And then you've got four follow-ups, I bet. (Laughter.)

Question: No, sir. The first question is: Do you foresee -- how long do you see the stop-loss program continuing for?

Rumsfeld: And the answer to that one -- I'm going to do them one at a time -- is -- I have got a bunch of mikes on my belt. The reason I'm pulling my britches up is because they're pulling my britches down. (Laughter.) There we go.

It's impossible to know. What we are going to do is we are going to end that as soon as we can, because it is terribly difficult for people -- I understand that. It's been enormously stressful on our force to have the amount of activity that we have been forced to have since September 11th. But I can't -- I cannot tell you how fast we are going to be able to do that. I am working on six, eight, ten, twelve projects to reduce down the demand on the men and women in the armed services. We are starting to pull in military detailees from all over the government in Washington, D.C. -- there's hundreds and hundreds of them who work in different places around Washington, and it's a nice thing that they've done it. But we need those people, and we need them doing military jobs. And we are working, as I said, on four or five other things around the world as well.

Second question?

Question: Second question: Do you foresee us pulling out of Saudi Arabia? And, if so, do we have any alternate locations to support that region?

Rumsfeld: Well, we are constantly looking to adjust our footprint in various parts of the world. And we have had a very long relationship with Saudi Arabia. We have some very helpful support and assistance from them, and have had for any number of years, even preceding Desert Storm. We also have, as you know, various activities in other countries in the Gulf region -- at least four or five other nations in that general area where we have various types of assistance. My guess is that that footprint will continue to be adjusted as time goes on in a variety of different ways. But we don't have any major plans to adjust it at the present time.

Question: My third question, and last question: We have American forces, special forces, in the Philippines. Do you see us playing a bigger role in the Philippines?

Rumsfeld: No, I don't. The Philippines have a constitution that prohibits -- I'm not a lawyer, so let's pretend that the words are within 10 percent -- (laughter) -- which is not bad for government work. They have a constitution that has some restrictions with respect to foreign forces being involved in combat in their country. So the forces we have in the Philippines are assisting currently at the battalion level, providing various types of military advice and training, some communications assistance and various other things, to -- and it's a matter of a few hundred -- to the Filipino forces in that part of the Philippines, which number four or five thousand, I believe.

They have a terrorist problem in the country, and they have been working on it for a period of time. There are still two Americans that are being held hostage in the Philippines. But the heavy lifting is being done under their -- as their constitution provides, by the Philippine forces, and we are there with relatively small numbers, providing advice and assistance and training.

We also have a separate thing that may happen somewhere in the Philippines, that I believe the Ministry of Defense of the Philippines has discussed, and that would be some sort of an exercise at some point. But it's disconnected from the activities in Basilan Island.

Question: Thank you, sir.

Rumsfeld: Way in the back.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. I am Technical Sergeant (Robert) Bowers from the Fighting 15th, up in Indian Springs.

Rumsfeld: You look like a weight lifter from here. (Laughter.)

Question: Nature's candy, sir. (Laughter.) I would like to know your vision of how you intend to expand the role of unmanned aerial vehicles in the future.

Rumsfeld: Well, thank you. We are putting something like -- we are proposing to the Congress that we invest something like a billion dollars in a variety of unmanned vehicles for the coming fiscal year. I think that suggests that our country has to be serious about taking advantage of the opportunities that exist there.

To the extent we can develop a range of these capabilities, both armed and unarmed, and connect them with a host of other capabilities, as we have been doing in Afghanistan, there is no question but that we will be able to do a much better job in our tasks. So I think that what we have seen in Afghanistan is an example of the beginnings of how these capabilities can be used. And I suspect we'll be seeing more and more of it in the weeks, months and years ahead.


Question: Good morning, sir. Senior Airman (Blaser) Munger, 57th EMS (Equipment Maintenance) Squadron. I have a question. I've read where the Arab countries, specifically Saudi Arabia, will not support us in our strike against Iraq. Can you -- how do you foresee us executing a mission against Iraq without the help of the Saudi government?

Rumsfeld: Well, let me say this about that. (Laughter.) I think that you are right, you have read those things. (Laughter.) That doesn't make them so. You may have noticed that I am taking my time answering this. (Laughter.) I am afraid the people in back thought I've gone to sleep, but I haven't. I'm thinking.

The first thing I should say is that a lot of the reports that have been circulating in recent months about the opinions of various people in Saudi Arabia are not being validated by our diplomatic contacts and military contacts. We are seeing things that are being reported anonymously, without attribution, that are somewhat different than the actual discussions that are taking place at the diplomatic and military levels.

Second, with respect to Iraq, what you have there is a country that is on the terrorist list. It is a country that has developed weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and had a very active nuclear program for a number of years. It's a country that invaded its neighbor, Kuwait. It's a country that has threatened and called illegitimate many of its other neighbors. It's a country that has had wars on both sides of its borders. It's a country that has used chemical weapons against its own people as well as its neighbors. I don't know anyone who would describe it as their first choice for a neighbor.

But what any country would do with respect to the possibility that you have posed is something that I think it's not a subject that I would like to get into, because those are decisions that presidents make, and those are -- what would happen depends on so many different variables that it's difficult to discuss, and it's impossible to discuss publicly. But it's a good question. (Laughter.)

Yes, sir?

Question: Hello, (Staff) Sergeant Keith Turney from 99th Security Support Squadron. With the events of 9-11 we have seen a lot of reaction to force protection, safety and security of our personnel here. I was wondering why that we may be addressing some of the issues that should have been addressed years ago, if we are going to be more proactive in the future rather than being reactive like we have to be now.

Rumsfeld: Give me an example of proactive.

Question: Just looking ahead and seeing what type of possible threats we are going to see, and making sure the money is there to be spent to protect all the assets and personnel at Nellis.

Rumsfeld: Oh, at Nellis you are thinking of.

Question: At all the bases.

Rumsfeld: Well, it would seem to me that if one thinks about it, a terrorist can attack at any time at any place, using any conceivable technique. You and I know it's impossible to defend in every single location at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable type of technique. It can't be done.

That means that the only way you can deal with terrorists is to go after them. The only defense against terrorism is offense. It is preemption. It is finding them and rooting them out and stopping them. And it's dealing with the countries that harbor them.

I was Middle East envoy back in the 1980s for President (Ronald) Reagan, and was involved in a conflict in the Middle East in Lebanon. And you may recall that we had 241 Marines killed in the Marine barracks at Beirut airport, where a truck bomb came in -- suicide -- drove into this building, blew it up, killed 241 Marines. They also hit the embassy and killed folks there. Pretty soon they started draping -- first they did -- they put these concrete barriers around buildings -- you've seen them -- so that trucks couldn't get in and blow up the buildings. So the next thing they did, they started firing rocket- propelled grenades over the tops of those barricades. So then pretty soon they started draping the buildings with a wire mesh to bounce off the rocket-propelled grenade. Then of course then they started going for soft targets. They started getting people going to and from work. So the point is it is not possible to spend your life -- you would have to hide all day long, if you decided the way to live with terrorists was to try to be defensive against them. You can't do it.

Therefore, we must be proactive. We must do a whole host of things. And I would characterize what President Bush has done and is doing in Afghanistan as proactive. (Applause.) And there's no question but that the war on terrorism cannot end there, because there's just too much to do. Thank you.

I've got a wrestler's neck -- it only turns that far -- so I have got to turn my whole body around. No questions back here. There's one. Yes, sir? We'll make this the next to the last question.

Question: Senior Airman 57th Wing, Command Post (Brett) Lochrie. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate what you guys have been doing up at the top in the Bush administration, the pay raises that we have received. I myself have a nice bonus to stay in. You can count on my reenlistment. And I just wanted to let you guys know that there's some people out there that appreciate what you're doing.

Rumsfeld: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Well, I'm not stupid -- that was the last question. Thank you very much!


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).