MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. Good to see so many of you here today. Hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving with your family and friends.
As some of you may have heard by now, President Bush will visit the Pentagon tomorrow afternoon to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joining them in the tank will be Secretary Gates, Deputy Secretary England and Undersecretary Edelman. This is another in a series of meetings the president has been conducting with the uniformed chiefs of staff.
In fact, you'll recall he was last here -- I believe it was August 31st -- just about a couple of months ago. And while that meeting focused primarily on the status of the war in Iraq and the health of the force in light of four years -- more than four years of fighting there, this one is expected to take a longer-term, more strategic look at the military. In particular, they are expected to talk about the need for sustained investment in our national defense long after the conflicts in which we are currently engaged have ended.
The president is expected to address reporters before departing the building.
Also, as some of you may have noticed from the photos on DefenseLink today, Secretary Gates hosted Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak last night here at the Pentagon. Minister Barak is in town, as you may know, for the Annapolis summit and took advantage of his time in the area to come on by and meet with the secretary, so that they could discuss a range of issues.
And with that brief update, I will take your questions. Lita?
Q Geoff, on, I guess a separate topic, Admiral Mullen --
MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to stop you today. I have no topics that I need to focus on. So please.
Q Yeah -- (off mike). Admiral Mullen mentioned this very briefly this morning, but I was wondering if the secretary has gotten any further details or a briefing of any kind from General Conway on his idea of giving the Marines the lead in Afghanistan.
MR. MORRELL: I wish I could --
Q You said before that it was going to happen --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I wish I could tell you something more definitive. I know that this, as I think we had talked about before, has come up. And I think the secretary's even talked about it in those kinds of terms. It has come up. But beyond that, he hasn't delved into it.
I do know that there is a plan that General Conway has put together that is, I think, working its way up, if it has not gotten to the secretary already.
But I couldn't tell you with precision, Lita, where exactly that plan stands. I do not believe it is something that has been reviewed by the secretary at this point, but I am not certain of that. I can tell you that it has not progressed, really, tangibly, any farther than it once -- than it was when we first talked about this I believe a month or so ago. If it has gotten to the secretary, it has not been -- a decision has not been made to date. Okay?
Q Geoff, Russian officials are taking issue with the written proposal from the United States on the missile defense plan for Europe, saying that it differs greatly, that it's much less than what was offered by Secretaries Gates and Rice when they met in October. Is it different, why is it different, how is it different?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that it is different. I do know that earlier this week, there were some meetings that took place at the State Department, or least a meeting that took place at the State Department, with representatives from this building. It was -- Undersecretary Edelman, I think, was there, Undersecretary Rood from the State Department was there and their Russian counterpart, or - parts, were there, discussing -- I believe sort of laying the groundwork for the next experts' meeting. But they have not scheduled one as of where things stand today, so I don't know that it is to the point where things are codified and anything is more or less than what was spoken of by the secretary when we were with President Putin a month or so ago.
I would say this. Secretary Rice -- Secretary Gates -- and for that matter, Secretary Rice -- but certainly Secretary Gates has been very clear about the proposals that he's put on the table for the Russians. He's spoken about it numerous times with you all. I don't think there's any backing away from what we've put out there. So I don't think you'll see an attempt in writing to sort of backtrack from what he's spoken of publicly about the proposals in terms of greater transparency and cooperation that we're putting forth with regards to missile defense in Europe.
Q Well, have officials in this building had discussions with their counterparts over there in the past week about these statements from the Russians that these proposals -- the written proposals are significantly different?
MR. MORRELL: I've had discussions with the people who were involved in that meeting, and that did not come up in my discussion. So I don't think it was -- I don't think this was a cause for concern or if indeed it -- I can't even tell you whether it's true or not. But it has not come up in my discussions, for example, with Ambassador Edelman.
Q Geoff, you said that Minister Barak met last night with Secretary Gates. Could you give us more details about the meeting, what kind of discussion took place?
MR. MORRELL: I can tell you they met last night. It was a little later than usual. In fact, you know, we had been traveling yesterday with the secretary. We had gotten back from our visit to Fort Hood in the afternoon, and the secretary left and had to come back that evening to meet with Minister Barak. He very much wanted to. It's an important -- they're an important ally, and they like to get together as often as they can to discuss issues of mutual concern. And this was just another such opportunity. Because Barak was in town for the summit and because he's busy with the summit meetings and because we had been traveling, the only convenient time to meet was early yesterday evening, I think about 7:00 -- or about 8:00 last night, I think, they sat down.
After what they discussed -- I mean, I really want to keep it as I described it. They discussed issues of mutual concern. We have a running dialogue with the Israelis on a number of things that concern us both in the region, and this was an opportunity to sit down, face to face, and go over some of those issues.
Q Just to follow up, as we know, there is a committee -- a bilateral committee between the U.S. and Israel now to discuss like tactical missile defense between --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Yeah, I don't think -- it may have come up in passing, but that was not the focus of this meeting. I think it was -- I think there were larger geopolitical issues that were being discussed.
Q Geoff, the Chinese foreign minister said to President Bush this morning that the Kitty Hawk, the refusal to allow it into Hong Kong port was a misunderstanding. Has the PLA explained to this building how the misunderstanding happened, first of all? And second of all, was the Kitty Hawk or any of its ships involved in monitoring the Chinese naval exercises that took place off the coast of Taiwan?
MR. MORRELL: In answer to your second question, I don't have the answer to that.
In answer to the first question, I do not believe we have gotten an explanation beyond what I think the foreign minister shared with the president today. He may have shared that also -- I think there was a dinner for the foreign minister a couple of nights ago attended by Ambassador Edelman. That may have been expressed at that meeting too. It may have been characterized in a similar way; that is, that it was a misunderstanding. I don't know that that's a satisfactory explanation. But the explanation is really due to the families of those sailors who, at great personal cost, had made arrangements to go visit their loved ones over Thanksgiving and in Hong Kong expecting the Kitty Hawk to port there as planned.
I can tell you, Dmitri, that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney, in charge of that region -- in particular, China -- has called in today the Chinese DATT to issue a formal protest, an official protest, complaint, about the incident. And you know, it's baffling to the extent that these port calls into Hong Kong have been taking place, you know, for decades now, 50 years or so. And even -- yeah, and there have been incidents over the years in which -- have been occasions over the years in which our carriers have not been allowed to dock there, but they were for pretty obvious reasons at the time.
For example, after the Belgrade bombing or in the wake of the P-3 incident. There was a temporary halt to port calls there. There does not seem to be such a reason at this time that's obvious or apparent to any of us.
So it is baffling. It is -- it's regrettable. And we have not to date received a sufficient explanation as to why it took place.
Q Follow-up, Geoff? (Cross talk.) Given that they had -- the Chinese had refused access to the minesweepers the day before or two days before, whichever it was, was the Navy concerned that this might happen or --
MR. MORRELL: I think you'd have to direct that question to the Navy. I haven't gotten into those kind of details with the people involved. I know you had a chance with Admiral Keating and I think Admiral Roughead yesterday -- CNO Roughead, so I -- but I don't have any insight on that. Sorry about that.
Q Can you clarify?
Q Did the --
MR. MORRELL: (Inaudible) – Let me go to Jim.
Q Did the protesting include the incident with the two minesweepers or was it only the Kitty Hawk?
MR. MORRELL: In my conversation with DASD Sedney, I believe it's directed at the Kitty Hawk, but I can try to get greater clarity for you on that.
Q (Off mike) – The Navy considers the incident with the minesweeper actually --
MR. MORRELL: I know, yeah.
Q -- more serious --
MR. MORRELL: Let me try to find that out for you.
MR. MORRELL: I'm happy to do that.
Q On that exact point, with this question of misunderstanding, that only applies to the Kitty Hawk as far as I know. Has there been even that much explanation with regard to the minesweepers?
MR. MORRELL: I'm not aware that there has.
Q So misunderstanding only applies to the Kitty Hawk?
MR. MORRELL: This is a conversation that took place at the White House just a little while ago in which the president had the foreign minister over there. I've seen the press accounts from that meeting. I've seen my colleagues who work at the White House offering that the Chinese had explained it as a misunderstanding or described it as a misunderstanding. That's the extent of my knowledge of their explanation at this point.
So I think you want to take it up with your colleagues over there.
Q There was a report that the Chinese acted as they did because they were upset about a sale or upgraded missile defense systems to Taiwan, and by the fact that they weren't given a heads up by Secretary Gates when he was in Beijing.
MR. MORRELL: I'm not aware of the reason for their decision not to allow us to dock in Hong Kong.
I'm not -- it's not been articulated to us. If it was because of the Patriot missile upgrades that have been in the works for quite some time with Taiwan and -- you know, I don't now that -- it wasn't, I don't believe, incumbent upon Secretary Gates to relay that information. I think it was part of the normal -- what I believe took place there is that the State Department, as is their responsibility, has to update Congress as to foreign military sales of this nature, and it was sort of the normal reporting process to the Hill.
Q The secretary didn't give the Chinese a heads-up that that was coming.
MR. MORRELL: I think those sales have been in the works for months. I mean, I don't know that there was any news to share on that count. But I don't recall that coming up at any of our meetings with the Chinese.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Jeff.
Q This protest, does it ask the Chinese to do anything specifically; for example, issue an apology, reimburse the sailors' families who paid for hotels?
MR. MORRELL: I don't believe so. I think this is the kind of thing that goes on on a mil-to-mil basis. I think we are expressing officially our displeasure with the incident.
Q Is it possible to get the language of the protest?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that it is.
Yeah, Louie? But Jeff, come back to me later on. I have some other news for you, on your favorite subject. (Laughter.)
Q I just want to clarify. This is a demarche, or this is --
MR. MORRELL: No, I don't think we issue demarches. I'm not an expert on this sort of diplomatic stuff, Louie. I think that's a State Department sort of official government communication. We have relationships with -- on a military-to-military basis in which we sort of communicate, and I think this is -- we are expressing our displeasure by calling in the defense attache from the Chinese; General Chao, I believe, is his name. So that's what's happening this afternoon.
Q A new topic if I could. Following up on the secretary's --
MR. MORRELL: I'll come back to you. Okay, yeah, go ahead.
Q Following up on the secretary's speech in Kansas, in which he called for a larger budget for the State Department, I know from time to time there have been discussions, even planning here, to reprogram DOD money to the State Department for civilian jobs that work with military personnel. I know you're in the middle of your own sort of problems with the budget, but following the secretary's very dramatic call to help the State Department, is this building talking about again reprogramming its money over to State?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I know you put a qualifier in your question by saying you understand we're in a budget crisis, so let me -- but let me take this opportunity to make that point.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: (Laughs.) We are in a budget crisis that would preclude us from sharing funds with the State Department at this point. I do not know, Tom, of any plans, any discussions under way to figure out a way in which we could share more of our budget with State for that purpose.
In fact, I think if you look closely at what the secretary said, and I know you did, he talked about the fact that he would indeed be coming back to the Congress to ask for even a larger Defense budget next year. I don't know if the point of that was so that he had more to share with State.
I think the point was we have growing needs, and they clearly have needs that are unmet. And, you know, this was more of a public plea for greater support for diplomacy and more of the expeditionary work that State traditionally had done in nation building, in postwar situations, so that we -- the Defense Department, the military -- are not doing all this alone.
We understand that the State Department is contributing the PRTs and they have many constructive ways that they are helping us out in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we wish that there were the means for them to do even more than they are doing right now. We know they are constrained by personnel and budget issues, and the secretary, I think, was making a public plea for greater help for -- to the State Department so that they could provide even more help to us.
Q Back to China. Two questions. First of all, when the Kitty Hawk backed away from Hong Kong after being turned away, did it do so through the straits of -- the Formosa Strait, the Taiwan Strait?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know. I don't.
Q Second question. When the secretary was in China --
MR. MORRELL: Did you have a chance to ask Admiral Keating this yesterday?
Q (Off mike) -- didn't.
MR. MORRELL: Okay. I was just -- or Admiral Roughead. Those are good questions for the guys who run those kind of things.
Q When the secretary was in China earlier this month, he talked at some length about his desire to increase mil-to-mil contacts of one sort or another. I'm wondering what the status of that is, and specifically, whether the Chinese have rejected or spurned any specific invitations or opportunities that we have offered them.
MR. MORRELL: I'm aware of no hiccups at all in our efforts to increase military-to-military cooperation, exchanges with the Chinese. I think that's why this incident is so baffling to us, because there was no indication at all prior to the Kitty Hawk being refused entry to the port of Hong Kong that there was any reason or any cause for concern.
Now, I guess we can point to the fact that those other naval ships were denied entry there or denied safe harbor there in the midst of that storm, but prior to those incidents, there was no indication at all -- and aside from those incidents, there is no indication at all -- that there was any hurdle in our efforts to have greater cooperation on a military-to-military basis.
Q The Chinese have not rejected, to your knowledge, any invitations that we extended to them.
MR. MORRELL: No, no, no. Yeah.
Q What's the status of this defense hotline that Secretary --
MR. MORRELL: Well, we just got back -- we got back a couple of weeks ago, I think, although it may be longer than that, because they all run together. But I don't know -- I don't have any updates for you on the establishment of the defense hotline between Beijing and Washington, but I don't have any sense that it's not moving forward. I have no indication that it is not moving forward.
Q (Inaudible) -- shows the very need for this type of communication, right?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that communication was an issue here. I'm not privy to all the details, but I don't know that it was -- the issue was a lack of communication. I think the issue -- I mean, it was certainly communicated to the Kitty Hawk that they couldn't dock there. But I think that the hotline is meant for more of an emergency situation than denying entry to a port. But perhaps it could be used for those purposes, too.
Q Geoff, the Air Force announced today that for the second time this month, all F-15 fighters have been grounded, models A through D. Apparently there were new structural problems were discovered between now and when it was originally announced earlier this month. What effect does that have on operations in Afghanistan, considering that F-15s are used for air-to-surface missions there and they've been out of commission for basically a month now?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I think it's a good question for the Air Force, certainly a better question for them than it is for me. My understanding -- and feel free to wave me off from the sidelines -- is that we have F-15Es that are primarily at work in Afghanistan, so it doesn't sound like it would impact them at this point. I think the F- 15Es are all clear to fly. But I think, really --
MR. MORRELL: I'd address it to the Air Force. Really.
Q There have been concerns expressed in recent months, including by legislators from both parties, about the treatment of Iraq vets who have mental problems coming back home and who exhibit signs of PTSD but are told by the military that they instead have preexisting personality disorders and get a different level of treatment as a result.
And even strong military supporters like Senator Bond have said that the Pentagon's practice, if not policy, here is absolutely unacceptable, to quote him. Can you talk a little bit about where that's --
MR. MORRELL: Is this the reenlistment bonus issue?
Q That's part -- that's a small subset of it. But it's largely that they're told basically, "We didn't break you, so we're not responsible for fixing you. You came in messed up." And you get different levels of treatment than if you contracted PTSD over there.
MR. MORRELL: In -- yeah, okay. I'm sorry. Let me -- finish the question. Is there --
Q Well, what's going on -- I mean, well, does the Pentagon regard that as a problem --
MR. MORRELL: Well, Charlie, I don't -- I'm not exactly aware of what you're referring to. I can tell you the larger issue of wounded warriors, whether they be physically or mentally scarred from their service in Iraq or in Afghanistan, is a huge cause of concern for the secretary. And that's been so, you know, ever since the situation at Walter Reed came to light and caused us to create a task force that is looking into these issues. It has made dramatic overhauls of the system already, and there is more in the works.
But this is, as the secretary said, one of those issues that can be and must be fixed on his watch. In his, you know, short term here at the Defense Department, he plans on remedying the care for wounded warriors, so that it is dramatically better than it was when he took over.
So I can only speak to you in general terms, at this point, about our ongoing efforts to make sure that -- whether you have PTSD or TBI, or you've lost a limb, the system has to take care of you, and it has to be much, much easier than it has been for you and your family to use. And there are enormous efforts under way to get that happening right now.
Q (Off mike) -- differently in terms of TBI or PTSD -- something like 22,000 people have been discharged over the past four or five years -- being told that they have preexisting personality disorders and somehow they got through a screening, through -- through everything, and -- (off mike) --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I'm not familiar --
Q -- hundred thousand who have --
MR. MORRELL: I'm not familiar with those numbers. I can't tell you if they're accurate or if they're not. I can tell you that we're --
Q Well, they're Pentagon figures. I'm just wondering whether --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I haven't seen those figures. So -- but I can -- happy to have a discussion with you when I'm a little bit better read in on that particular topic, other than our sort of general concern about it and our ongoing efforts. Okay?
Q Geoff, on the --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah?
Q -- on the issue of the bonus pay reimbursements, the Army said that the case that came to light was an isolated incident; it's not their policy. They said they'd corrected the problem.
But are you confident that it is just an isolated incident? Or is the Pentagon looking to see whether maybe a significant number, a smaller number, whatever, of other people might be in the same situation, where they either didn't get an enlistment bonus or were asked to return it improperly?
MR. MORRELL: I think, Jamie, at this point, every indication is that -- is that this was an isolated incident.
Now, "isolated" I want to qualify, in the sense that I do not believe there are large numbers of other veterans out there who have received similar requests from the Army -- or any other service, for that matter -- asking for their enlistment bonus back.
In fact, the Army, I think, in the wake of this particular incident which has garnered so much attention -- and I think this existed beforehand, but they've certainly now publicized the fact they have an 800 number out there -- and the Army can provide it to you -- for any veterans of any wars to call if they have concerns about any of the issues that may affect them at this stage in their lives. And I do not believe that that line has received more than a dozen or so calls from people expressing similar concerns or having similar questions about this -- their enlistment bonus.
Q So I guess the question is, should the Army be doing more than just waiting for the phone to ring? Because in theory, some of the people affected by this, some of the soldiers --
MR. MORRELL: But I -- Jamie, my point is, I don't think that other letters have gone out to other veterans of conflicts who have been discharged for their wounds or their injuries, asking for their enlistment bonus back. So we don't believe that such letters have gone back. All we can do is rely on those who call us and say, "Hey, I think I may be in a similar situation as Joe Schmoe." And we have not gotten, as I said, I believe, more than a dozen or so calls of that nature. So we do not believe this is a widespread problem. This is, we believe, an isolated incident that was -- that is more of, I think, a clerical error than anything else at this point. It's unfortunate. It's been remedied.
But I think we've made it abundantly clear that it's a policy of this building -- not just the Army, of the Defense Department -- that we do not, you know, target in any way -- do not require repayment of any enlistment bonus when a service member is separated because of a combat injury.
Q A quick question about -- if you've heard anything from Baghdad about the hearing date for the AP photographer Bilal Hussein.
MR. MORRELL: I haven't. I haven't.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: I haven't.
Q Can you confirm that it's happening?
MR. MORRELL: No, but I bet you MNF-I could help you with that.
Yup. Let me go back there.
Q Is there anything new on the plan to furlough civilians and contractors? And just two quick follow-ups. Do you know what percentage will be furloughed from U.S. bases, each base? And how and when will the decision be made how many to furlough from each base?
MR. MORRELL: There -- I really don't have an update for you. Those are exactly the kind of questions that we are now looking into.
In fact I think that some of you have noted already that General Cody, on behalf of the Army, has sent out a memorandum to all Army installations, all Army bases, commanders of those bases and those who run different Army agencies directing them to sort of start planning for that possible eventuality. And they are due back with reports to the Army, to General Cody. I think December 4th is the date he has set.
So next week we should learn more from the Army about the planning efforts on those bases, how many people might be furloughed, and contractually, what are the obligations to those people in terms of notification. So those are things that are in the works right now.
Q And what about the Marines? What's going on with the Marines?
MR. MORRELL: The Marines, as you know, because their O&M budget, their operation and maintenance budget lasts a little longer than the Army's -- the Army's goes into mid-February; the Marines' goes into mid-March -- at this rate, they have a little bit more time in which to get to the bottom of these things. I expect that a letter from the commandant or somebody in his staff will go out shortly to the Marine Corps.
Q I've heard there was an air strike in Afghanistan in which 14 people were killed. Apparently they were road workers, people who were building a road. This is according to the head of the company that employed them. What do you know about this incident?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know much, Jim. I know that -- I think ISAF has just put together a release that may be more helpful to you than I can be. But what I can tell you is that, acting on credible intelligence from several sources, ISAF conducted an airstrike using precision-guided munitions, killing a number of insurgents in the Nuristan province on Monday night.
I understand the allegations they've made that there were construction workers killed, as you described them. The nearest known construction site to where the target area is, is located more than a kilometer away. What's more, there were no structures, vehicles or any other construction equipment within the vicinity of the impact area.
We believe that Abdullah John (sp), the western Nuristan Taliban commander, may have been killed in the air strike. We deem it at this point a legitimate air strike. We did not nor do we ever target civilians, although, as you well know, the Taliban most certainly does. They most certainly put their people -- put civilians in harm's way, use civilians as human shields, launch attacks from the midst of civilian, and they often in the aftermath of a legitimate attack -- a legitimate operation like this one raise this issue of civilian casualties. We have no indication at this time that they were anything other than legitimate targets killed in this operation.
Q How do you account, then, for the claims by the company that supposedly employed these people?
MR. MORRELL: I haven't seen those claims from the company. All I can tell you is what our forces, what ISAF forces, NATO forces are reporting at this time, which is that they had a legitimate target, they had multiple credible sources, and they believe they got their target. And at this point, there is no indication to believe that there were the civilian casualties as are being described by you and others.
Q Hi, Geoff. I'd like to go back to the bonuses for a second. You say DOD doesn't require the retainment of any bonuses from troops who have been injured. Those bonuses are generally paid out over a period of time, generally sort of a down payment, if you will, and then paid for the remainder of that enlistment period. If that full bonus hasn't been paid out and someone's injured, would the rest of the bonus continue to be paid?
MR. MORRELL: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. You are due -- we have an agreement. When you sign up -- and we honor our agreements. If you sign up expecting $7,000 and you're paid part of that money up- front and part of the money is due later and yet you get injured, you know, in combat while you are serving, you are entitled to the rest of that bonus and we'd pay the rest of that bonus.
Q But this is why that issue is important, because I've talked to a number of troops who were told they have preexisting, and therefore they're not going to -- they have to repay the bonuses because they brought the problem to the military.
MR. MORRELL: Preexisting conditions? I'm --
Q (Off mike) -- personality disorders.
MR. MORRELL: Well, I'm not aware of -- well, here's my -- the situation we're speaking of is, people who have been injured on the job, people who have been injured, wounded in combat, are entitled to their entire enlistment bonus. That's what I can tell you. Preexisting conditions, I believe, are another issue, but I think that's something you should take up with the Army for greater clarity on sort of how we deal with if a preexisting condition somehow comes to light at a later date, comes to the Army's -- they become aware of it after they've signed up. That sounds like it's a more complicated situation. I think the Army would probably be better prepared to tell you exactly what their policy is once they discover a preexisting condition.
Q I'm sorry, you said you had some MRAP news?
MR. MORRELL: I did. I did. Dmitri, I'm going to give him the MRAP news if you don't mind, which is, I think I can officially report that today is the beginning of sealift of MRAPs to the AOR, to the area of responsibility, to Iraq. Today I think -- you know, we had tried -- we had a test load that went over before just to make sure that everything could be done as we thought it could be done, and I gather from the fact that we have now officially begun the sealift that things did go as we expected, and so we have now begun, in addition to airlifting MRAPs to theater, to sealift them as well.
Additionally I can tell you, just because I found it to be interesting -- I was talking to General Schwartz, you know, who heads -- he's combatant commander for TRANSCOM -- last week, and he was notifying me that in our ongoing efforts to get these vehicles to our troops as soon as possible, not only are they being airlifted and sealifted, but once those that are sealifted to Kuwait arrive, they will then be flown into theater. So there will be no delay in terms of trucking them up, but these will be flown up into theater.
Q And do you know how many will be sealifted and how many have been sent downrange so far this year?
MR. MORRELL: Well, you know, I'd like to do those numbers, I think, at the end -- after a month has gone by. So, early December I'll give you our November numbers. And I do not know how many are in this first shipment, Jeff.
Q Geoff, several months ago --
MR. MORRELL: We'll just take two more after this. We got to go.
Q Several months ago Secretary Gates suggested that if the security environment in Iraq continued where it was, the number of U.S. troops could be reduced to about 100,000 by the end of 2008. Given that the numbers on violence appear to be even better over the last several months, has his thinking changed? Does he think troop numbers could now become lower than 100,000 by the end of 2008?
MR. MORRELL: I have not heard him make such a suggestion. I mean, I think, as he said all along, it's his hope that the drawdown that we have seen begin and is scheduled to take place end of July, where those five brigades -- those five surge brigades will come out, getting us down to 15 combat brigades in Iraq, that that could continue at that rate such that -- and you're doing the math here, he didn't -- you could get down to 10 brigades by the end of '08. I have not heard any reason for him to believe that that cannot happen or that that should happen at a faster rate.
But as he said then and I think he'd say to you today if he were standing here, this is all conditions based. The conditions seem favorable to continue the drawdown at this point, but sadly, conditions can change. That's one of the reasons we believe that it's so important that we get the funding we've asked for to fight the global war on terror so that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not interrupted, are not adversely impacted by a budget squabble here in Washington, and that we can continue to capitalize on the gains we've seen thus far and the security situation and, hopefully, the political situation in Iraq.
Q Do you think the pace can be increased given that the numbers --
MR. MORRELL: I think I've answered that. I've heard nothing from him that leads me to believe that the pace should be slowed or increased, but conditions can change. So there's no new thinking on the pace of the drawdown.
Q Can you just tell me if Secretary Gates has made official the unofficial decision to leave two brigades in Europe?
MR. MORRELL: I do not believe that anything is official at this point.
Q (Off mike) -- when that might happen?
MR. MORRELL: No. I mean, there were EUCOM -- General Craddock and his team were given some specific tasks to complete prior to the secretary making whatever decision he's going to make on this. He wanted to see these couple of things done, these couple of questions answered, plans drawn up, and I think he is waiting to receive or look at those plans.
Okay, we have the same -- a recurring cast here. Lita, and I think that's it. And -- is it a must?
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
MR. MORRELL: All right. Lita -- (inaudible). (Laughter.) That's it.
Q I just wondered if you could expand just a little bit on the meeting with the president tomorrow. You talked about a strategic look at military investment. Are we talking about the war supplemental, a strategy to get that passed, or are you talking about the military's budget?
MR. MORRELL: No, I said -- I described it as a long-term strategic look, a sustained support of the military long after these current combat operations or combat engagements are overwith. So this is looking down the line and the need to sort of continue to fund the military after these most immediate things are taken care of.
Q (Off mike) -- something that looks at sort of the cost of the drawdown and what the --
MR. MORRELL: No, I think you're too narrowly focused. I think this is beyond that, but I think you'll have an opportunity to hear from the president, you know, tomorrow after his meeting in the Tank.
Q Germany announced today that it's going to be sending an additional 500 troops to Kosovo because of concerns of possible unrest around that decision on independence which is coming up. Are there any similar plans by the U.S. to beef up its contingent?
MR. MORRELL: I have not seen any such plans within this building to send additional forces to Kosovo. I think at this point our forces are where they need to be, but we would certainly welcome our European allies taking such a step if they believe that's necessary to secure the peace there at this sort of -- at this -- as this deadline approaches on independence.
Okay? Thank you.
Q Hey, Geoff, did you check on whether the protest encompasses -- (off mike) -- and also whether -- (inaudible) -- or not?
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