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DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Ham from the Pentagon

Presenters: Director, J-3 Operations Joint Staff, Lt. Gen. Carter Ham
November 07, 2007 1:30 PM EDT
            GEN. HAM: Good afternoon.   
            Q     Good afternoon. 
            GEN. HAM: It's 1:30, so it must be time. If you'll allow me just a couple of opening comments, then I'd be glad to address your questions. 
            You know, the events of the past several days have reminded us that though we're involved in major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that United States military forces really have to be ready to face complex conditions in many other parts of the world. Off the coast of Somalia, U.S. naval forces have been working to counter piracy, and recently three vessels have been released, and U.S. naval forces have escorted ships and crews safely out of Somali waters, though two vessels do remain under pirate control. 
            As you're aware, the recent accident involving an F-15C aircraft has resulted in our Air Force directing a precautionary temporary suspension of F-15 operations. However, forces do remain available to provide for the defense of the homeland and forces are available for combat missions in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. 
            Though we are engaged in combat operations and responding to regional instability, we are on a daily basis also conducting humanitarian operations and engaging in strategic partnerships. Just this past week, we provided helicopter and C-130 airlift support to the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Noel, and I'd note especially the role of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard in this effort. 
            in Indonesia, U.S. Pacific Command is monitoring volcanic activity at Mount Kelut, and off the coast of West Africa, the USS Fort McHenry and the high-speed vessel Swift will arrive on station and visit several nations over the next few months.   
            And following the recent fires in Southern California, all Department of Defense assets that were assisting civilian authorities have now returned to their home bases.   
            We are, of course, monitoring events in Pakistan quite closely. We continue to support our Iraqi partners and Turkish allies against PKK terrorist activities near the Iraq-Turkey border.   
            From a military standpoint, we think our most valuable contribution to the ongoing diplomatic effort is to provide intelligence. To that end, United States European Command representatives are working with their Turkish counterparts to ensure they have timely and accurate intelligence. In Afghanistan, those who oppose the progress that has been achieved so far by the government of Afghanistan have seemingly increased their terrorist tactics against innocent Afghan people. Over the past year they've attacked in places around Kandahar in large formations, and each time took significant losses. They tried this again -- once again last week, and the result was the same.   
            Overall, though, they seem now increasingly reliant on kidnapping, murders, more IEDs and suicide bombings. The bombings in Baghlan yesterday that killed innocent civilians, including children, and wounded many others, underscore this. However, the vast majority of Afghans reject these brutal tactics and those who practice them.   
            You know that though I wear an Army uniform, I'm a Joint Staff officer, so I'd remind you all that on this Saturday, November 10th, we'll probably celebrate the 232nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps, the nation's second-oldest military force. (Laughter.)   
            And finally, it's important to recall that our nation will soon celebrate Veterans Day. And in towns, villages and cities, big and small, across America, and in solemn ground around the world, people will take pause to reflect on those who have so ably served under our nation's flag. Here in the nation's capital, many such ceremonies, parades and services will commemorate the proud heritage of the American veteran, and I encourage all to participate. We owe a deep debt to our veterans and to their families, and this weekend is an opportunity simply to say thanks. 
            And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions. Bob? 
            Q     General, on Pakistan, in this discussion in the administration about reviewing military-to-military relationship, military assistance to Pakistan, from a military point of view, from your point of view, what would be the minuses or pluses of scaling back or even cutting off any military-to-military cooperation or exercises? 
            GEN. HAM: Well, Pakistan of course has been a great partner so far in the war on terror. And there are a couple of things that from a military operations standpoint are pretty important to us.  
            First and foremost is the cooperation along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those military operations conducted by forces on either side of the border are done with increasing openness, collaboration, synchronization. There's good communication between U.S. and Afghan forces on the one and the Pakistan forces on the other, and we would certainly not want to see that jeopardized in any way. So that's a very valuable piece of what we've got. 
            Secondly, not surprisingly U.S. and other forces in Afghanistan receive much of their supply and reinforcements through Pakistan, both ground and air, so that would -- we obviously are very interested in making sure that that stays open as well. 
            So I would say those are -- from an operational standpoint, those are the two most significant concerns. 
            Q     But is there a concern that if you took action in some other related -- not directly area, whether it be education, training or some other sort of military relationship, that it could negatively impact those areas, even though it's not directly related to the border security and so forth? 
            GEN. HAM: I think Secretary Gates has said that we will review all of those kinds of arrangements -- not just the military ones, but all the relationships that we have with Pakistan. And I'm confident that those aspects will be part of that review, and I would imagine that the secretary's office and staff, as well as the Joint Staff, will have some role in that. 
            Q     General Ham, if I could just follow up on both those points, on the first one on the border issue, have you seen any evidence, even though it's very early on, that General Musharraf is so distracted by his domestic situation he just possibly cannot pay enough attention to the border issue? Have you seen any evidence? Do you worry about that? How can he possibly continue to pay attention to the border security issue when he's got all this going on domestically? And also, how much is the U.S. dependent on Pakistani air and ground for logistics for the war in Afghanistan? Is it 60 percent, 75? 
            GEN. HAM: To the second question, first, well over half of the supplies the sustainment for forces in Afghanistan come either through or over Pakistan, so it is very, very important to us in that regard.   
            From an operational standpoint, the commanders on the ground are not reporting yet any noticeable difference in the relationship and the communication that they have with their Pakistani counterparts on the other side of the border. I think, as you know, Central Command has what's called the Office of the Defense Representative Pakistan, ODRP, stationed in Islamabad. They get frequent reports from him. And in that -- those communications are still good. So I think from a purely operational standpoint, no significant noted change along the border. So obviously this is something that we will continue to monitor quite closely because of the importance.   
            Q     But does he worry that he is going to be so distracted over some period of time now that it just cannot continue for him, to pay this much attention as he has, albeit the U.S. military has often said he hasn't paid enough attention to it?   
            GEN. HAM: Well, the relationships that we have are principally at the technical level along the border, and those contacts seem to still be quite good. And so we'll hope to sustain those and continue to have good cooperation along the border.   
            Q     General, is there concern -- do you have concern, or is there concern within the Joint Staff, about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons?   
            GEN. HAM: Well, certainly any time there is a nation that has nuclear weapons that is experiencing a situation such as Pakistan is at present, that is of primary concern. However we'll watch that quite closely, and I think that's probably all I'd say about that at this point.   
            Q     General Ham, could you just give us your -- from your position where you monitor these things all the time, give us your gut feeling about what you think the trends are in Iraq right now. Where do you think things are going? And where are the trends in Afghanistan? As you mentioned, there's this horrific suicide bombing there, and the Taliban really seems to have stepped up some of their tactics there. And I think some people are wondering what direction the country is heading there. Can you give us a quick thumbnail of how you think things are going in Iraq and Afghanistan, what the trendlines are?   
            GEN. HAM: Sure, I'll try my best. Let me talk about Afghanistan first if I may.   
            First, it is a little difficult to always be clear about whether it's Taliban or al Qaeda or some other group that is conducting operations.   
            So obviously through our intelligence and others we tried to discern that, but frankly, we're not always able to do that because those organizations sometimes themselves have some blurred lines as to who is -- who has membership in each group. 
            There has been clearly -- I think going back to the spring of 2007 -- a stated desire on the part of the Taliban and others to increase the level of operations in Afghanistan. We've seen that a couple of times, as I mentioned. There have been some larger scale operations on the part of the Taliban. Generally, in Regional Command South is where we have seen most of that -- in and around Kandahar, but each time those have been defeated by ISAF forces. 
            But the desire clearly is there, and there certainly has been some capability for the Taliban in this instance to get larger formations than we have seen before to conduct operations. I don't know this for sure, but my personal opinion is, with the bad weather imminent, that there is perhaps a desire on the part of Taliban and other leaders to try to make, if you will, one last offensive push before the bad weather starts to set in in Afghanistan. And we may be seeing some part of that in these past few weeks and that may continue for another few weeks before the weather really dampens down the ability to conduct operations. 
            There has been, I think, as you know, a significant increase this year in suicide attacks across Afghanistan. That's a worrisome trend, and certainly we, along with the Afghan security forces and others in the International Security Assistance Force, are trying to counter that as best we can in -- under difficult conditions. I think, though, there is some thought that says that Taliban, al Qaeda, others may be reverting to those kinds of tactics because their larger scale operations have not proven successful. So perhaps they are reverting to more terrorist types of activities as the only recourse that may be left to them. So that's kind of how I would capture how things are in Afghanistan. 
            In Iraq, clearly the recent decline in casualties, in tips, in discovered caches and a number of measurable areas, there has been noted progress. But you counter that with the fact that you all know, that 2007 has been the year of more casualties than any other previous year in Iraq. So there is a balance there. And I think it's probably -- I think General Odierno said it exactly right. There is -- there has been much momentum, but it's not yet irreversible momentum. Better progress along the security line of operation than perhaps in other lines of operation. We are hoping to see greater, faster progress along those other lines.   
            Q     General Ham, as we prepare to draw down the surge brigades, how concerned are you that we will see trends switch back in the other direction? How much of a concern is that for you? 
            GEN. HAM: Well, I think it's a very valid concern, John. I think that's why the commander has always stated that any reposturing of forces will be conditions based. So as the withdrawal of forces, the redeployment of forces as directed by the president begins to occur, the commander, from General Petraeus on down -- Admiral Fallon is certainly watching this very, very carefully to make sure that we don't uncover prematurely, because that's the great risk, is if you do this too quickly that you could place a burden on the Iraqi security forces prior to them being ready to accept it. 
            So this is -- we truly are more into the art of military operations than the science of military operation. There is science, to be sure, in the redeployment, just the mechanics of getting forces out of Iraq. And we've put considerable effort -- Multinational Forces Iraq, CENTCOM have put considerable effort into planning that redeployment. But the art piece is the when and where, when are the conditions right to make those force posture adjustments. And I know that General Odierno, General Petraeus are monitoring that very, very carefully.   
            As you know, the first of the brigades is scheduled to come out next month. They'll watch that very carefully and see how that transpires, and then as each subsequent brigade is scheduled to come out, they'll watch those conditions quite carefully to make sure the conditions are right for that force posture adjustment to occur.   
            Yes, ma'am? 
            Q     Sir, recently, you've had at least one commander in Iraq tell us that he believed or he speculated that al Qaeda, as they were being defeated in Iraq, would move back into Afghanistan to regroup. Have you seen evidence of an increased flow of al Qaeda -- of al Qaeda fighters back into Afghanistan? 
            GEN. HAM: The flow of foreign fighters into Afghanistan is of concern. It is something that General McNiell and his commanders are watching quite carefully. They think it appears that the primary flow of foreign fighters occurs along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and so there's considerable effort there. But there have been some recent instances of lethal aid, lethal materials coming in from the Iranian border as well.   
            So it's certainly an area which bears monitoring. It is being monitored carefully. I'd say it's too soon to determine whether or not there's a correlation between countering al Qaeda in Iraq and foreign fighter activity in Afghanistan. But certainly that's something that our intelligence analysts are watching quite closely.   
            Q     And the flow across that border from Pakistan, these are still primarily people associated with Taliban, not al Qaeda? 
            GEN. HAM: I think it's both. Again, it is often difficult to make a clear delineation as to which group a particular individual might fall under. But certainly both groups bear watching and are being watched.   
            Let me go to the back, please. 
            Q     General, considering the increased incidence of piracy in the Horn of Africa area, is Central Command planning any new or expanded initiatives to counter piracy in its AOR?  
            GEN. HAM: Central Command has authorities presently to conduct counter-piracy operations, and they are exercising those authorities appropriately. I wouldn't categorize this as a particularly new effort on their part, but it is worrisome that piracy off the coast of Somalia is having an adverse and destabilizing effect. So that's why the U.S. and other forces in the region are acting against the pirates. 
            Q     Getting back to Pakistan, one of the institutions that people are keeping a close eye on is the Pakistani military for signs that the sort of one sort of respected institution, that Musharraf perhaps has brought it into disrepute and that he may lose the support of the Pakistani military. Given the close mil-to-mil ties between the U.S. and Pakistan, I'm wondering if you guys have been able to get any sort of temperature or attempted to take the temperature of what the Pakistani military's feelings are right now about supporting Musharraf, if there's been any outreach to some of the general officer corps or anything along those lines. 
            GEN. HAM: I don't know about that specifically. I can address, again, the technical collaboration that occurs along the border appears to be quite good. Major General Helmley in Islamabad, who leads the Central Command's effort there, reports that communication is quite good. And I would say every assessment that I have seen indicates that the Pakistan army remains a very highly respected institution within the country, and I think that's an important aspect of this. 
            Q     You don't know, either formally or informally, whether the general officer corps here has reached out to senior leaders in the Pakistani military to gauge their support for Musharraf or where their thinking is at this point? 
            GEN. HAM: I'm not aware that those kinds of questions have been asked. I'm certain that General Helmley, in his normal conduct of daily business, has interaction with Pakistani general officers, but I don't know if it's been to that end. 
            Q     General, a follow-up on what you said about recent shipments of lethal aid from Iran into Afghanistan. Is that in addition to what had already been previously reported? Are these more recent shipments than we'd heard about within the past couple of months, I guess? 
            GEN. HAM: I would say those are the ones I'm talking about, the explosively formed penetrator materials, others that you've heard about that have clearly originated in Iran that have been found in Afghanistan.   
            Those are quite troubling. 
            Q     And a follow-up on the pirate business. What kind of policy discussions are under way about exactly what the U.S. military intends to do about these pirates? They're not considered, quote, "terrorists." I mean, is the U.S. Navy now going to become the world's police force at sea? 
            GEN. HAM: No, I don't think that's what's envisioned. I think in this particular instance there's been -- it's been viewed that the piracy operations have been somewhat destabilizing in an already relatively unstable part of the world. So if the U.S. forces can contribute to a little bit more stability by helping to counter illegal activity there, then that's a good thing. I don't construe this as, I think, the United States starting -- you know, taking on a much broader counterpiracy role. That's not what this is at all. 
            Obviously, I'm on the operations side, not on the policy side, but there are several policy questions that are being addressed appropriately not only through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but through State and other departments as well to make sure that our -- certainly our operations are conducted within established policy. But whether or not that policy should be modified, those discussions are ongoing. 
            Q     And finally, after his meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan earlier this week, President Bush said that the U.S. -- paraphrasing him -- was committed to providing real-time intelligence to the Turks and keeping track of the PKK as they cross the border. Has that begun? I mean, he almost sounded like he was talking about additional real-time intelligence as opposed to what the U.S. is already providing Turkey. 
            GEN. HAM: I wouldn't want to get into a lot of specifics about what we are providing, but let me talk about two things that have been an outcome of the recent discussions with the Turkish government. 
            The first is, as the president has announced, General Cartwright, the vice chairman, his counterpart on Turkey's general staff and General Petraeus have been directed to have a closer dialogue and collaboration on Turkey-Iraq border issues. That process is ongoing. Major General Sherlock, who many of you are familiar with, is leading that effort on behalf on the Joint Staff, J-3, to collaborate with his counterparts in the U.S. European Command and Central Command, Multinational Forces-Iraq, Turkish general staff, to make sure that they are -- that the lines of communication are open, that issues of concern are addressed and keyed up, if you will, for the principals -- General Cartwright, General Saigo and General Petraeus, Admiral Fallon, General Craddock -- for them to talk about these issues on the frequency that is yet to be determined, but I think will be a fairly frequent basis. 
            So that's one aspect of information sharing. 
            The second is we are undertaking U.S. European Command with their Turkish counterparts to make sure that we have got all of the technical connections, if you will, to provide the intelligence that can be shared with the Turks in this matter. So it's a matter -- it's partly mechanical to make sure that feeds from various sources can be provided to them. So those are, I think, real and substantive matters that are being undertaken to meet the president's stated objective of real-time, accurate intelligence shared with the Turks. 
            Q     And what are those various sources? 
            GEN. HAM: Well, of course I'm not going to tell you that, you know? Multiple and varied. 
            Q     Can you assess the effectiveness of the Pakistani military in countering extremist groups in the western tribal areas? 
            GEN. HAM: Mixed results, I think, is what I would categorize that. We have seen some units that have had some success in the -- particularly in the border areas and others that have not. And that's, I think, the reason that we are very keen on maintaining close relationships, communication and synchronization with those forces. Where we have opportunities, where there is close collaboration on both sides of the border, not surprisingly the operations tend to be a little more successful. In other parts, where the communication and collaboration perhaps is not quite so good, then the results of the operations aren't quite as positive. But mixed results, I would say. 
            Q     So what more could the U.S. military do to make that overall effort more effective? 
            GEN. HAM: Well, there's lots of things that are ongoing, and this is principally the role of Major General Helmly in Islamabad in collaboration with his counterparts, exploring operations, say, what is it that we could do together to improve operations along the border. Certainly, Major General Rodriguez from Regional Command East and the U.S. commander there participates in that dialogue as well. 
            So I think exploring a wide range of options that could improve operations -- I think going back to Barbara's earlier question -- it might just -- we've given the current conditions in Pakistan probably unlikely that we see any significant change in that at least in the -- until the current condition settles just a bit. 
            Yes, sir. 
            Q     Could you discuss -- Admiral Smith said in a briefing from Baghdad earlier there's a feeling that al Qaeda is being put on the run in Iraq because of the surge and increasing Iraqi citizens' displeasure with al Qaeda's methods.   
            Would you concur with that? Or do you think they're being pushed back or they're being put on the defensive, because of the surge and other elements?   
            GEN. HAM: No matter how you categorize it, I think you cannot deny that Multinational Force operations against al Qaeda in Iraq have had significant effect. We've seen numbers of leaders killed or captured. We've seen operations disrupted. But the most important thing, I think, has been this effort of the Iraqi people, in many cases led by their tribal leaders, to say, we're not going to tolerate this anymore.   
            I think many of you know that last week, Sheikh Ahmed was here, and several of us had the opportunity to meet with him. And I'll tell you, it was pretty powerful to see that group of men, you know, that have stood up along with their people to counter this. And that's what it's going to take, and I think they recognize this.   
            Maybe one more.   
            Q     Hi, General, you spoke earlier about the repositioning of forces. There's a report out that maybe the Marines in Anbar might be not back till in the spring time -- some of the battalions that they have there. Are we likely to see those troops come home? Or are we likely to see them be repositioned elsewhere inside of Iraq?   
            GEN. HAM: Well, the first thing is to start with the direction that the president has given us, which was the Marine expeditionary units, the five brigade combat teams and the two Marine battalions. That's what he's directed us to do. That's what the commanders are in the process of planning for.   
            But again I would come back to the point that this is always conditions-based. And that applies to Iraq and it applies to Afghanistan. It applies to other places in the world. So that if there is a need for additional forces somewhere else in the world, be it Afghanistan or someplace else, then the appropriate combatant commander will make that assessment. And if he believes that he requires additional forces, he'll make that request known.   
            And our process is, that's through the Joint Staff and the secretary of Defense for a decision.   
            So again, I think, as those conditions become clearer in the months ahead, the combatant commanders will look at those options. But as it stands right now, that's not the -- that's not currently what is planned. 
            Okay. Maybe we'll do one more. Oh, yes. 
            Q     General, I understand that today is the Global Force Management Board's meeting. Do you have any idea about what are the major issues the board is looking at right now and any decisions that have been made? 
            GEN. HAM: Sure. It's over. Whew! Thank you.   
            The Global Force Management Board is a process which was initiated several years ago that combines the services and the combatant commands and some representatives of the Office of the Secretary of Defense to try to take a more holistic approach to meeting the current and projected requirements of the combatant commanders. And so that's what that body does. And it makes -- it receives requirements from the combatant commands. So in this case, over the past day and a half, we received requirements projected for the balance of fiscal year '08, any changes that may be required for fiscal year '09 and the first look at fiscal year 2010. That's the combatant -- the combatant commanders, if you are -- they're on the demand side and say, "Here's what I think I need."   
            The services, then, as the force providers, and Joint Forces Command, then take a look and say, "What do we think is our ability to meet those combatant commander requirements?"   
            This process will continue for a couple of months, and then we'll have another Global Force Management Board to address the recommendations, take that to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ultimately to the secretary of Defense for his decision. 
            Not surprisingly, Iraq and Afghanistan dominated the discussion, but there are many, many other discussions. For example, in FY '09, U.S. Africa Command will be stood up and has for the first time operational requirements for forces for engagement, for the theater security cooperation, for exercises. So we'll start to look at those kinds of operations as well.   
            Combatant commands each have a great need for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets -- that's always a big part of this -- so that they are aware of what's going on in their region.   
            So those, I think, are the major issues that were addressed, and I can't believe you asked me about that. (Laughter.) But that was good. 
            Okay. Thank you all very much. 
            Q     Thank you.
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