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Defense Department Media Roundtable With Secretary Of Defense Robert Gates And Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff General Peter Pace

Presenter: Secretary Of Defense Robert Gates
February 15, 2007
            SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. Just a few comments very quickly about travel that the chairman and I have had over the past week. 
 
            I spent Thursday and Friday at the NATO Defense Ministers Informal Meeting in Seville. It was largely a get-acquainted meeting for me. I had a number of bilateral meetings. We obviously focused a lot on Afghanistan and discussions of meeting commitments and the importance of NATO doing more. Then, went to the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich, where I met a number of additional people I hadn't met before, including Chancellor Merkel, Ukrainian President Yushchenko, various others. I heard some interesting speakers. And then, 30 hours to and from Pakistan for an hour-and-20-minute meeting with President Musharraf largely focused on the Taliban and the spring offensive. 
 
            So three countries, and these meetings very useful, very productive for me. 
 
            Mr. Chairman? 
 
            GEN. PACE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. 
 
            I had a very good trip to the South Pacific; first to Australia, a very long-standing, solid ally. We've been together in every conflict since World War I. They're with us now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it gave us a chance to have some dialogue about the way ahead in both of those countries. 
 
            And then, over to Indonesia, a large democracy with whom we are reestablishing really good military-to-military ties. Talked there mostly about peacekeeping and humanitarian disaster relief operations, again, an opportunity for us to look to the future and find ways to partner together military to military, to the benefit of both Indonesia and the United States. 
 
            With that, we'll take your questions. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Pam? 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, General Pace, there's been a lot of back- and-forth about the extent of the Iranian involvement in weapons that have made their way into Iraq. Can you tell us how high up in the government you think that this involvement goes? And can you both please address the question and what it is you think the United States needs to do about this? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, we know that the Qods Force is involved. We know the Qods Force is a paramilitary arm of the IRGC. So we assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this.   
 
            Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we don't know. And frankly, for me, either way, it's a worry. Either they do know and have approved it, or they don't know and the IRGC may be acting on their own in Iraq.   
 
            So the honest answer is basically the same answer I gave you a couple of weeks ago. We don't know how high it is. That, I think, is consistent with all the facts that we know. 
 
            Q     General, you expressed --  
 
            GEN. PACE: Yeah, I appreciate the opportunity, because a lot of folks have been reporting what they think I said. So let me tell you what I did say.   
 
            I think it's very important to be extremely precise when we're talking about what we know are facts and then what conclusions or assessments we make based on those facts. So the facts are what the secretary says. We know that there are explosives and weapons being used inside of Iraq that were manufactured in Iran. 
 
            We know that on two occasions in aggressively attacking the IED network that we had policed up Iranians. We know that those Iranians are Qods Force members. Those are facts. Another fact is that the Qods Force is a subordinate to the IRGC. What I tried to say when I said I didn't know about the Iranian government, I'm talking about the top two or three people in the government. 
 
            I cannot -- we do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq, but as the secretary just pointed out, either way, either they are -- and that's not good -- or they don't know -- and that's not good. And I was trying to be very precise about what facts are and what conclusions are. 
 
            Q     General, if I could follow up. If it's so important to be precise about such a(n) important subject, why was this handled with a briefing -- an anonymous briefing in Baghdad on a Sunday by low-level officials who then ended up leveling a fairly serious charge which you both now are backing away from, that this official assessed that the Qods Force was operating on direct orders from the highest level of the government? That was a very explosive charge. You've tried to put it back in context. But why is something that -- if it's that important to be precise, why was that handled in the way it was handled? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Go ahead.  
 
            GEN. PACE: First of all, you used the key word, which is "that official assessed," and that's what I tried to clarify when I was asked the question in Australia. 
 
            The facts are the facts that I laid out. The assessment was based on those facts, the assessment by that individual was what he said. We worked -- all of us -- on the information that was going to be discussed in Baghdad, because it is an issue of security in Baghdad. And the right people who will be talking about what's impacting the lives of our soldiers and Marines on the battlefield are the commanders and the staff that is out there. We worked on that briefing back here, and we worked very hard to ensure that the data that was going to be put out was in fact accurate, and the data that was put out was accurate. 
 
            I think what happened, though, was that those who -- and I wasn't there, so I don't know -- but either those who were speaking didn't make a clear enough break between fact and assessment or those listening didn't hear the break between fact and assessment, and that's all I was trying to do in my -- when I was talking in Australia, which is to make sure that everybody understood that there are things you know for sure and then things that you then use your experience to assess. 
 
            (Cross talk.) 
 
            Q     General, if we had indications top leaders in Iran knew about these activities in Iraq, would that change our response, which to date has been limited to going after the networks inside Iraq? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, I don't think so. I think our goal is to stop -- is to bring about an end to the use of these IEDs and these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops. It was in the process of trying to disrupt those networks that we picked up the Qods Force officers. We will continue those efforts. Our goal is to stop these people from killing our troops, period.   
 
            Q     If we knew the top leadership were ordering this, that would amount to an act of war by the Iranians against the U.S.   
 
            SEC. GATES: That's a hypothetical, because we don't know that.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, as a career intelligence professional, how do you feel the evidence against Iran was presented on Sunday? And do you feel the way in which it was presented has harmed the case you were trying to make?   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, all I can say in the latter case is, I hope not. I think that it was, as the chairman described, it was very important to present the facts as we know them. And to the degree I had any involvement it was to say, I want factual statements; I don't want adjectives; I don't want adverbs; I want declarative sentences; and make it exactly clear what we know and what we don't know. And I think in the factual part of the briefing that was achieved, in terms of the evidence of the weapons that are being brought into Iraq.   
 
            Q     But if credibility is an issue, why use anonymous officials? If you said you want factual statements that can stand the scrutiny, why use anonymous officials and then not allow a taped transcript to be made so that everyone knows exactly what was said?   
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't know what the circumstances were for the arrangements for the briefing in Baghdad and how that came about. But as the chairman suggested, I think all of us here thought that because the threat is in the theater, and that the theater is the one that has -- it's MNF-I that has been involved in taking these people into custody and tracking these networks, that it was better for the briefing to be in Baghdad by MNF-I.   
 
            Why it was anonymous, why it wasn't allowed to be taped, I don't know. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, on -- (inaudible) -- there are reports that not only Iranian IEDs but also sniper rifles that have been delivered from Austria, sold to the Iranian police in huge quantities, showed up in the hands of Iraqi insurgents. Are these reports correct? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't know. 
 
            GEN. PACE: I have heard those reports. I do not know whether or not we have the factual data to claim that as a fact. We can find out. I just don't know. 
 
            Q     Are you worried that weapons that are on a legitimate base (sic) delivered to Iranian organizations from Europe end up in Iraq, in the hands of insurgents? 
 
            GEN. PACE: I'm worried that any weapons end up in Iraq to be used against coalition forces, regardless of their home of origin. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, last week the inspector general released a critical report on the prewar intelligence provided by this department linking al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein. Given the increasing national skepticism over intelligence claims made by the administration, why should the American public now believe the link's strong between Iran and terror groups in Iraq? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, that was the reason -- I mean, we're sensitive to that skepticism. And it's one of the reasons why we were so concerned that the briefing on these materials be factual and be able to be substantiated by evidence, so it wasn't hypothesis, it wasn't assumption, it wasn't assessment; these are hard facts based on the technologies and the actual weapons themselves. 
 
            I think that that evidence speaks for itself, and I hope that the people will see that evidence in that respect. We are not, you know -- for the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran. What we are trying to do is inside Iraq disrupt the networks that put these weapons in the hands of those who kill our troops. That's it. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, the chief of staff of the Russian army today said that Russia was considering pulling out of the INF Treaty for two reasons. One, because of the U.S. plans to put missile defense in Europe; and second, because the treaty is outdated, repeating the concerns that Mr. Putin made to you of suggesting they'll actually go that one step further. Two years ago when Ivanov braved it with Rumsfeld, he said he wouldn't care. 
 
            Do you think it will be a problem if they pulled out of the treaty? And what would be the repercussions and the ramifications? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, if they pull out of the treaty, it has nothing to do with ballistic missile defense. They know perfectly well that the ballistic missile defense that we're contemplating and proceeding to negotiate in Europe is no threat to Europe, is no threat to Russia. And in fact, Defense Minister Ivanov said that much on his trip to India; that it was no threat to Russia and no threat to the Russian deterrent. So that's a kind of a false issue. 
 
            Sure, it's a problem. We have a treaty with the Russians, I think, that interestingly enough, given their concerns about -- that they say they have about our ballistic missile defense, I think that they are concerned about the developing medium-range ballistic missile threat to their south and to their east. And I think if they have concerns with the INF Treaty, it probably derives from that. 
 
            Q     How concerned would you be if they abrogated the treaty unilaterally? Is that a problem for the U.S. or -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think it's a problem for us. I think it's especially a problem -- I think that the Europeans will have special problem with it. 
 
            Yes. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, the president today gave a major speech about Afghanistan and the war there and in Pakistan. General Eikenberry, of course, has just now said that the -- a couple of days ago that the trail for Osama bin Laden has gone cold. The president gave this speech today. He never mentioned the hunt for Osama bin Laden. At your confirmation hearing, you said you had not yet been briefed on the hunt for bin Laden. 
 
            But now that you've been to Pakistan, did you discuss with President Musharraf anything about the hunt for bin Laden? What can you now tell us, assuming now that you have been briefed on the hunt for bin Laden? Nobody talks about him anymore. What's going on? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I'm not going to get into the specifics of what I discussed with President Musharraf. But I guess I'd put it this way: If I were Osama bin Laden, I'd keep looking over my shoulder. 
 
            Q     General Eikenberry, sir, says that the trail has gone cold. 
 
            SEC. GATES: I stand by what I said. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, you mentioned earlier that we're not going to war with Iran. But if in fact Iran is supplying these arms that are killing Americans and coalition forces, what steps are being taken to stop these arms, both in terms of on the ground in Iraq and in terms of any diplomatic confrontations with the Iranians over them? Has the Iranian government been put on notice over these shipments? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, all I will say is that all of these efforts in which we have picked up these Qods Force officers are part of the effort to disrupt these supply networks. Look, the explosively formed projectiles are a real problem because they're so lethal. But the fact is that a bigger problem is the IED problem in general, and those are coming from a lot of sources, including from inside Iraq. So the IED problem -- as I've said before, the IEDs account for about 70 percent of our casualties in Iraq. These explosively formed projectiles, as I understand it, account for a relatively small percentage of the IEDs we encounter through attacks or through finding them. So our focus is more broadly on disrupting these IED networks throughout Iraq. The Iranian responsibility for one set of them is a concern. We are taking action to try to deal with that, but it's part of a much larger problem. 
 
            Yeah? 
 
            Q     You're overseeing a wholesale change in strategy in Iraq right now. What do you foresee for Afghanistan? Do you think that now that you've had a chance to find out more about what the United States is doing there, do you think we will see a significant shift in our strategy there? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well first of all, let me be very clear. What's going on in Afghanistan is a NATO undertaking. The commander is a NATO commander. 
 
            There are dozens of countries, including most -- nearly all of the NATO countries are involved there, many of them with forces of their own, in addition to a number of other countries that are providing developmental, economic development, money and projects, overseeing projects and so on.   
 
            I think that the strategy in Iraq -- in Afghanistan is essentially the same, except that this spring it's our objective that -- what we've seen the last several springs is an increasing level of violence by the Taliban coming back after the winter. What we want to do this spring is have this spring's offensive be our offensive and have the initiative in our hands rather than reacting to them. So I don't think there's any basic change in the strategy, it's just that we are going to aggressively take this on this spring. 
 
            Q     Do you consider it a surge? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No. 
 
            Q     The U.S. is supposed to spend up to $4 billion between now and 2013 to develop the sites in Poland and Czechoslovakia, radar missiles to counter an alleged Iranian threat, ballistic missile threat. This is in your lane now. What are some of the assumptions about Iran's ballistic missile program in terms of its growth? The Shahab-3, as you know, can only get into southern Turkey, basically, certainly not into the middle of Europe. But what are some of the assumptions -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, if somebody will guarantee me that Iran will freeze their missile technology as of today, then maybe I'll have a higher comfort level. If someone will guarantee me that Iran will not be able to buy ballistic missile technology from others that would give them greater capabilities, then maybe I'd rest easier. I don't have those assurances. 
 
            Q     What about emerging intelligence saying that they have an indigenous capability to go beyond the Shahab-3, though, that would justify the expenses -- (off mike)? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, personally I think that, you know, it has to do with both our own ballistic missile defense and ballistic missile defense in Europe. 
 
            It seems to me that if we see a threat out there, and we're looking out to 2015 or beyond, that we would be making a very serious mistake, looking at the acceleration of technological progress in these countries over a period of years, to assume that they would not by that timeframe have the capability to reach targets much further away than southern Turkey. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, what are your thoughts on the unprecedented role of private contractors on the battlefield? CENTCOM has acknowledged that there about 100,000 private contractors who support U.S. troops or the coalition in Iraq. There's been recent change in law which would place contractors under the UCMJ. Is this something you've been briefed on? Is this something that you've given thought to? Do you see any need for possible change? 
 
            SEC. GATES: To be honest, this is something that I haven't had the chance to look into yet. 
 
            Yes. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, Muqtada al-Sadr has gone to Iran. Does that suggest to you that he is taking the security crackdown quite seriously? And what assessment, both of you, are you getting from your commanders out in the field about the latest developments in terms of the security crackdown in Iraq? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think it's an assumption that he's gone to Iran. I hear that. I haven't seen any factual proof of it at this point, but that's what people -- that's what I hear people think. 
 
            I don't think he went there for a vacation. I think they're very concerned about this operation, and, frankly, I think one -- one possible outcome is that these guys will go to ground. And the question is, during that space, can we move -- can we and the Iraqis provide enough security so that economic development, improvements in governance, political reconciliation can all begin to make real progress in Iraq? 
 
            GEN. PACE: And if I may, the forces are still moving into position. You've got two of the Iraqi brigades in -- that were going to plussed up in Baghdad in Baghdad now. The third one is moving this month. So the major thrust in Baghdad has not yet started. However, there have been a couple of operations that are instructive. I think one was the one about three weeks ago in Haifa Street, where the Iraqi army went against a Sunni stronghold and acquitted themselves extremely well; the other was about a week or so ago in Al-Najaf when the Iraqi police and Iraqi army went against a Shi'a stronghold and acquitted themselves extremely well. 
 
            So to date in the operations that have taken place since the prime minister has announced that he wants to have a very balanced approach to the problem, his armed forces have done just that. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, Chairman, some of the CENTCOM documents on the war plan back from 2002 have now been declassified and showed that at that time CENTCOM was projecting that there would be just 5,000 troops, if that, in Iraq at this point, four years after the invasion. 
 
            How is it war planners were so wildly off the mark about what it would take to secure Iraq? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, since I was just reporting to Texas A&M in the fall of 2002, I think I'll turn that question over to the chairman. (Chuckles.)  
 
            GEN. PACE: It's a fair question.   
 
            There were some assumptions going in that turned out to not come out to be true. One assumption was that the Iraqi army, once freed of Saddam's dictatorship, would become a force of good for the people and that it would be a standing army at the time of liberation. As you know, it disintegrated in the very early hours of the fight, and therefore there was no army of some 400,000 Iraqis who were able to then provide security for their country. 
 
            If you had asked me this question this time last year, maybe January of last year, I would have sat here and said we were on track to train the 328,000 Iraqis by the end of December of 2006, which we did, and that we would be able to bring down the number of forces. 
 
            What happened in between was the bombing of the holy mosque in Samarra. That created enormous sectarian violence, which is exactly what al Qaeda wanted it to do. As a result of that unknown enemy action, the projection of being able to come down in size during the -- 2006 was not executable. 
 
            So there are assumptions you make that turn out to be wrong, and there are actions by the enemy that alter your plans.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Yes? 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, your counterpart in Tokyo, Japanese Defense Minister Mr. Kyuma, has been -- in the last couple of months has been -- repeatedly and publicly criticizing U.S. policy, especially regarding Iraq, saying the decision to go to war was a mistake. And how do you think the U.S. and Japan can maintain a healthy alliance relationship in the case of such remarks? Did you -- have you had any chance to talk with the defense minister privately? And if not, would you -- do you have any intention to do so? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I have not at this point had any communication with him. My impression is that the prime minister and the government of Japan have been supportive and continue to be supportive. 
 
            STAFF: One more question. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yes? 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, the -- as you know, the units that are going to Iraq, the five brigades of the surge, are being equipped, in large part, by taking stuff out of war reserve stocks and borrowing equipment from non-deploying units. What is the readiness of the non-deploying units to respond to some unforeseen crisis? The units I'm talking about -- brigades that are still staying here.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Let me ask the chairman to respond to that. 
 
            GEN. PACE: We've got about 40 percent of all of our equipment that is either currently in Iraq or Afghanistan or in depots for repair, which leaves you about 60 percent of your inventory, which is an enormous amount of equipment. 
 
            It is true that for the five brigades that are flowing to plus up in Iraq right now, that we are moving equipment from some units to those units, so that they, when they go, are fully trained and have all the equipment that they're required to have, so when we put those soldiers and Marines into combat, they are as well protected and trained as those who they are joining. 
 
            We need to make sure that audience -- there are other audiences here that need to make sure they receive the right message. And I need to put up front that our potential enemies around the world should not miscalculate, having to take from current active-duty units and Reserve units and sharing equipment, that we would not be able to respond elsewhere in the world to another threat, because if there was another threat, we would freeze the units that are in Iraq and Afghanistan in place and mobilize our Reserve and bring on line the enormous capacity of the United States that in a day-to-day war we don't have to tap.  
 
            It is a fact that a good portion of our equipment is under repair. Congress has allocated the money needed to repair. Our depots are working on that backlog as quickly as they can.   
 
            So the need is recognized and the funding has been provided, and we will get that work done. But we have sufficient equipment to man the new units that are going over. And we have sufficient reserve capacity -- don't forget, 2.4 million Americans active Guard and Reserve, about 200,000 in the gulf region, another 200,000 around the globe, leaving about two million Americans still available, with the vast fleet and air forces that we have, to respond to any other challenge that might come our way.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Last question.   
 
            Q     Yes.   
 
            Speaking of the Air Force, with the ongoing surge of forces to Iraq, the Air Force is telling us that they haven't really heard yet from CENTCOM. What is going to be required of the Air Force in terms of support for that surge? I'm guessing the Navy might be in the same situation. What additional support, if any, could be required of the Air Force in terms of manned aircraft, UAVs, and along with the Navy, individual augmentees or additional personnel on board to try to support the ground force surge?   
 
            GEN. PACE: If I may, and I think what the Air Force was talking about, if I heard your question right, was not what they were going to have to do in Afghanistan and Iraq, but rather, as the Army increases from its current size up to the additional 65,000 and as the Marine Corps increases an additional 27,000 -- how much of what the Air Force is going to be reduced may not be reduced, because they need to keep those individuals to provide support to the increased Army and the increased Marine Corps, not with specific regard to the gulf itself.   
 
            Q     What would their end-strength be?   
 
            GEN. PACE: I'm sorry.   
 
            Q     In other words --  
 
            SEC. GATES: On the end-strength issue? All right. The Air Force currently has a program to reduce its manpower by about 40,000. They are on track to do that as part of the decision that I recommended to the President and that he has now recommended to the Congress, or proposed to the Congress.   
 
            The Air Force is going to have to now go back and look at those plans in terms of the increase of 65,000 in the Army and 27,000 in the Marine Corps and see whether or not they can carry forward that full 40,000-person reduction and to see what the additional aircraft requirement might be to support those forces. 
 
            Q     Thanks. My first question, in terms of the surge into Iraq, what sort of additional support in terms of IAs, as well as manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft can be expected -- individual augmentees can be expected in the Navy and the Air Force as Army -- as ground forces surge into Iraq? 
 
            GEN. PACE: Well, the Navy and the Air Force have been extremely -- useful is the wrong term -- productive in key elements of the forces there on the ground right now. The exact number of Navy and Air Force individuals that would be added to the increase in the teams that support the Iraqi forces, I don't know. We can try to find that number for you. 
 
            But there were sufficient fixed-wing airplanes, for example, to provide the support needed as we plus up. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Thank you all very much. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can we get your take on the North Korean nuclear deal? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I'm sorry? 
 
            Q     Can we get your take on the North Korean nuclear deal? Do you think North Korea will disarm as part of this deal? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that -- I think this is a very -- that the deal is a very important first step. It involves commitments and actions by six different countries. The timelines are very tight. There will be continuing -- I mean, we're talking months, not years for actions that have to be taken. There will be continuing monitoring assessment each step of the way, and the ultimate objective goes beyond anything that has been contemplated before or negotiated before in terms of complete denuclearization. 
 
            And so I think that if the deal is structured in a way that we will be able to monitor compliance before the United States or the other countries have had to do very much, in terms of whether the North Koreas are complying with the agreement that they've signed. 
 
            Thank you all.
 
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