Rumsfeld Says U.S. Will Stand by Afghans,
Would Do the Same for Iraqis

Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA, AFPS

NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2003 — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told an audience of civic and business leaders that the U.S. remains steadfast to its promise to aid Afghanistan’s stability.

And he said experiences in Afghanistan could apply to a post-Saddam Iraq.

"Let me be clear," he said, "No matter whatever else happens in the world, we will not abandon Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains an important ally, not only in the war against terrorism, but in that larger struggle for freedom and moderation in the Muslim world."

Rumsfeld made those remarks at a black tie dinner of the Intrepid Freedom Foundation, where he also received the Intrepid Freedom Award, the foundation’s highest honor. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads up U.S. Central Command and was last year’s recipient, presented the award.

In a speech often interrupted by applause, Rumsfeld told the audience that the results of the terrorist attack on America actually helped liberate the Afghan people and transform their country.

"Before Sept. 11, Afghans lived in fear. Freedom to them was but a distant dream — today they are free," Rumsfeld said. "Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists, girls and boys are back in school, and over 1 million refugees are back at home. This is a remarkable transformation," he added.

Much of that transformation is because of U.S. support, Rumsfeld said, including an investment of some $850 million for reconstruction in Afghanistan and another $3.3 billion pledged over the next four years. That investment has included the United States assistance to the Afghan national army.

Rumsfeld said that U.S. strategy in the war in Afghanistan was never to occupy to country. "From the onset of the war, our guiding principle has been that Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans. The United States does not aspire to own it or run it," he said.

For example, he said the U.S. did not send a massive invasion force to occupy the country, but instead teamed with coalition and Afghan forces that opposed Taliban rule. As part of the military campaign, U.S. Air Force planes dropped thousands of leaflets over the country that carried the message that America was not coming as a force of occupation but as a force of liberation, the secretary noted. "As a result we did not alienate the Afghan people," he added.

The same philosophy would apply if the United States were to lead an international coalition against Iraq, Rumsfeld stated. He emphasized that President Bush has yet to make any decision on the use of force in Iraq. But "the same principles would hold true, that Iraq belong to the Iraqis," he said.

"We’d hope to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and liberate the Iraqi people," Rumsfeld continued. He said that America’s commitment in Iraq would be to stay as long as necessary, but leave as soon as possible.

Furthermore, he said the U.S. would work with coalition partners, just as they have in Afghanistan, to help the Iraqi people establish their own new government in "a single country free of weapons of mass destruction."

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon is looking at post-war planning for an Iraqi government. The secretary said the process would be made easy with solid infrastructure already in place in Iraq: working road networks and resources such as oil that will provide the Iraqi people the means to get back on their feet.

He also refuted rumors spread among the Iraqi people that the United States seeks war with their country because of oil and even, as some believe, religion.

"(The Iraqis) are being told lies, that the U.S. wants to take their oil. This is utter nonsense," Rumsfeld said. "This has nothing to do with oil in my modest opinion. He recounted how history and the facts have documented America’s respected work with other countries in the Middle East and the Balkans with Muslim populations.

Responding to a media question on North Korea’s threat to the United States, Rumsfeld said nuclear weapons are a "real threat to the world."

Rumsfeld said terrorist states are in the process of making a good deal of progress toward having a variety of ranges of ballistic missiles as well as a nuclear program, "What they need in many instances is the nuclear material," Rumsfeld said, pointing to North Korea as the world’s leading proliferator of missile technologies.

"What that means is that the world we are living in in the next five to 10 years could end up with another four, five or six countries with nuclear weapons, several of which are on the terrorist state list. That would be a notably different world than the world we’re living in."

The Intrepid Freedom Award is presented to leaders who have distinguished themselves by promoting and defending the values of freedom and democracy. Past winners have included Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Richard Cheney.

Prior to receiving the award, Rumsfeld said that he and the aircraft carrier Intrepid, now moored at a New York pier and serves as a museum drawing more than 600,000 visitors annually, share much in common.

"She was commissioned into naval service in the middle of the 20th century — and so was I. She went on to serve the Navy in various capacities for more than three decades — and so have I. She retired from government service in the late 1970s but she was brought back from the scrap yard—and so was I."

Rumsfeld concluded that the Intrepid is living proof "that a couple of broken down Navy vessels can still strive to serve this great country."