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DoD News Briefing with Press Secretary Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
January 29, 2008 12:00 PM EDT
            MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to see all of you today. Permit me to have a longer than usual opening statement, if you could. 
 
            The White House announced last night that President Bush has signed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. Among many other things, the NDAA enables this department to further boost the raise in pay our men and women in uniform receive this year from 3 percent, as provided by statute, to three-and-a-half percent. It also lets us resume offering bonuses to new recruits and re-enlisting troops. We are working now to make sure both those benefits are retroactive to the start of this calendar year so that our forces are compensated commensurate to their service and sacrifice. 
 
            Also last night in his final State of the Union address, the president once again urged Congress to fully fund our troops. We are still $102 billion short of the money requested and necessary to fight the global war on terror this year. The president announced a number of new proposals to help the families of our forces. He called on Congress to approve legislation allowing service members to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children. He recommended expanding access to childcare for military families living off base. Additionally, the president asked lawmakers to create new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government. Right now spouses only get preferential consideration when they are seeking jobs within this department. 
 
            He urged Congress also to enact the reforms recommended by the Dole-Shalala Commission so that our returning wounded warriors receive the services they so need and deserve. Many of the proposals the president put forth last night were born out of conversations the secretary has had with troops and their spouses during his travels and visits to bases across the world. In fact, on Friday he travels to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he will meet with the spouses of troops who are currently deployed overseas. 
 
            But first, the secretary is hosting a two-day conference with his most senior civilian and military leaders here at the Pentagon. This gathering, which occurs roughly twice a year, brings all eight combatant commanders to the Pentagon for a series of meetings about long-term strategic issues as well as current subjects of mutual interest such as the budget. The conference kicks off this afternoon when Secretary Rice will speak to the group, and then this evening Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs, as well as the combatant commanders head over to the White House where they will meet with the commander in chief. 
 
            After all that, Bob? 
 
            Q     In the president's speech last night when he was discussing Iraq and talking about troop reductions, he emphasized -- in fact, quoted directly -- General Petraeus as citing the risks of drawing down too fast. And I'm wondering whether Secretary Gates in his periodic or regular interactions with General Petraeus has gotten any indication from him that he sees great risk or growing risk of reducing beyond the July time frame. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: That's a good try, Bob, it really is, but I'm not going to go any further than the secretary's gone on this issue. I mean, you had a chance to talk to him last week, and he made it very clear that we will very soon hear from General Petraeus. In fact, I think he's due tentatively to come back and speak to the Congress, I think, in April now, and when he does he will offer his vision for the way ahead -- what's possible based upon the conditions on the ground. 
 
            But I think it's premature for us at this point, before he has formulated what he's going to present to the secretary and to the president, to speculate on it. 
 
            Q     Well, I'm not asking, of course, for the recommendation. I'm asking whether he's given some indications that he sees -- he's emphasizing the risk side of it, as opposed to the benefit. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: No, I appreciate the distinction. I think, though, Bob, that if I were to get into a situation that I am betraying confidential conversations that are had between the secretary and his commanders, I don't think that's a healthy thing for the process. And that's not to say that I'm trying to hide conversations that suggest, just as you are, that there is concern. I'm not going to comment on whether or not there is concern being expressed or not. 
 
            But clearly, all the trend lines suggest that the security situation in Iraq continues to progress in a positive fashion. Obviously, we have seen a great deal of fighting lately -- to the north, in Diyala and Nineveh provinces. We had an awful incident yesterday in Mosul where we lost five soldiers when they came into a complex ambush -- small arms fire, an IED attack, and most appalling was the fact that they were being attacked from positions inside a mosque, which shows you how devious and underhanded the terrorists that we confront there are. And sadly, we lost five of our soldiers yesterday there. 
 
            Q     Can I ask for one more -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah? 
 
            Q     -- right along that? Aside from the conversations that he's had, is his own state of thinking on the subject -- the statements he's said in recent months, which is that he hopes that the conditions permit further reductions? Or is he thinking any differently now about -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I've seen no indication, Bob, that the secretary's thinking on this subject has changed dramatically one way or the other. He -- and he's shared it with you from this room many times. I mean, think every time he comes down to talk with you all, he gets some version of the question you just posed to me, and I think he's been very candid about the fact that he has expressed his desire that if, conditions permit, the drawdown can continue with the pace which it has begun. But that, as he said every time, is totally conditions based. And while conditions have continued to improve to a large extent in Iraq, that's a decision that the president's going to have to make after he hears from General Petraeus, from the Joint Chiefs and from the secretary -- which is not too far away, now. 
 
            Q     Is there a date set, by the way? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know if a date's been set. I think the issue that Congress is on recess the last couple of weeks in March, and then the president and the secretary -- and in fact, Secretary Rice will all likely be attending the NATO summit in Bucharest. So I think that precludes or would make it difficult for General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to come and testify that first week in April. But I think these are issues that are still being worked out with the Congress, and I don't believe any date has been established.   
 
            Yeah, Tom? 
 
            Q     Great. Let's follow up on that question, if I could. Very specifically, the president last night described how he was bringing home 20,000 troops. 
 
            That number corresponds to the combat troops, to be sure, but as we all know, the surge was larger, 7(,000) or 8,000 troops larger, because there was combat support, service support and aviation brigades. 
 
            Did the president's statement mean that no decision has yet been made on bringing out the rest of those surge support troops, meaning that even when the surge is over in July, there might be more troops in Iraq than there were before the surge? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think fundamentally -- I will try to answer your question, Tom. But I think, fundamentally, that is one of the questions that General Petraeus will address when he comes back. I realize that when he came back in September, he noted the 20,000, which would -- if you take out the five BCTs and the MEU, you get about 20,000 combat forces. As you noted, there are support elements as well. And I think General Petraeus has been trying to determine -- and perhaps he will share it with us when he comes back later on, in April -- how many of those forces he needs to retain to do the rest of his job. And to my knowledge, he has not reached that decision yet, or if he has, he hasn't shared it.   
 
            But the key thing, I think, to remember on the need for enablers and support forces is the fact that as we draw down our combat forces and stand up the Iraqi forces, they may be needed more than ever -- may be. The Iraqi forces clearly have the will and the capability to fight. We've seen that time and time again. Where they are lacking are in their logistical capabilities. And that is precisely the kinds of services that are provided by these -- by our support forces. 
 
            So it may well be that he comes back and says, "I'm going to need to retain those support forces, those enablers longer." He may choose otherwise. But I think those are the issues that are being wrestled with, Tom. 
 
            Yeah, John? 
 
            Q     Geoff, help me out on the process here. You're talking about Petraeus is suggesting that he may need. Looking to the president, sometimes you get the impression that, you know, what Petraeus wants, Petraeus gets. Is that the case here, that we're all just kind of waiting on Petraeus, and this decision is really on Petraeus's shoulders -- ultimately, obviously, it would be approved by the president, but that Petraeus's opinion is the one that matters here? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I would not discount any other opinions that are involved here, I mean, including the secretary's, Admiral Fallon's and the Joint Chiefs'. As you saw in September, all four of those groups -- individuals and groups were -- had an opportunity to share with the president what they thought the way ahead was. 
 
            As the secretary has shared with you all, there was remarkable consensus about the way ahead. There may well be consensus this time again, but clearly you hit on something that -- you know, we heard the president in Kuwait after meeting with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker just a few weeks ago talk about that -- I think he said that General Petraeus should feel no pressure to draw down. I don't know the exact word, we can go back and look at it, but clearly he wants General Petraeus to come back to him with what he believes is the best plan for his mission. 
 
            And remember, General Petraeus's mission is only to win the battle in Iraq. Admiral Fallon has greater concerns. He's got to worry about the region. The chiefs have got to worry about the health of the force and our ability to handle other conflicts in the world. And the secretary has the overarching concern of the U.S. military. 
 
            So I think everybody's got their domain, everybody's going to present the president with what they think is best in light of their domain, and, of course, keeping in mind we're all on the same page. We all want to win in Iraq. We all wish to succeed in Iraq. But I think -- I wouldn't read too much into the fact that we keep talking about when General Petraeus comes back. Obviously, he is the most intimately familiar with what's going on Iraq and, therefore, what he says has special credibility, but I think everybody's opinions will be taken in consideration. 
 
            Q     It does seem that what he is saying is different than what Secretary Gates has been saying. Petraeus said on Sunday on CNN that after we draw down the surge for Gates, we would need what he called a period of assessment. And we've heard from Secretary Gates here that he would like to continue drawing down at roughly the same rate after July. It seems to be two different things. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't characterize it that way. 
 
            Q     Well, one is a pause, a period to assess what's happened once we've withdrawn the surge brigade, and the other is we continue-- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, you're assuming -- you're assuming, Jonathan, what he told Wolf Blitzer on "Late Edition" is a foreshadow of what he's going to tell the Congress when he comes back in April. I don't know that he's going to call for a pause when he comes back to us in April or when he briefs the president before then. It's just premature to judge what he's going to call for. I don't know that it'll end up being a pause. It could well be, but it's not at all clear to me that's the direction he's going. 
 
            Q     Yeah, Geoff, there was -- the most striking thing about the president's speech last night was him talking about how a year ago there was so much skepticism about the surge. Does the secretary -- or how does he feel when he sees some of the pundits in town, some of the biggest critics of the Iraq war, change their tune a year later on the surge when six months ago, even, they were saying that would never work? Does the secretary express any opinion about that? How does this building feel when they see the change in the -- particularly the pundits in town who were skeptics of the effort? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: As you know from being around the secretary long enough, he is not a gloater. He is not one to say, I told you so. Clearly he was a believer in the surge from the get-go, I mean, even before he took over as secretary of Defense. So the fact that the surge has worked it clearly is satisfying to him, but most of all, it's satisfying to him not on a personal level, but on a professional level because it enhances the security of our nation and our forces in Iraq and presents the Iraqis with the opportunity to try to progress politically, and that's the key to their ultimate stability. 
 
            But I have not heard the secretary ever gloat about they had it wrong and I had it right. That is not his style, and I -- 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I've never heard that. 
 
            Yeah, Dmitri. 
 
            Q     Geoff, on Pakistan. There have been reports that General Musharraf rebuffed Admiral McConnell and General Hayden when they went to Pakistan to talk about different kinds of CIA operations in that country. Has General Musharraf also said no to any discussions about joint operations between the U.S. and Pakistani conventional forces? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, I think the secretary had really expressed well where we are on this at this point, when you guys talked to him, I believe it was, you know, four or five days ago. And when he said that he -- we are ready, willing and able to assist the Pakistani military in their efforts to go after terrorists, particularly in the FATA, but they have not asked at this point, and so we stand at the ready should they ask. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- directly. Presumably, you're not negotiating with them through the Pentagon press corps. You must have brought the issue up with them. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I have not brought the issue up with them, but I think that the communications that have or have not been had between Pentagon officials and the Pakistani military, I think, are private communications at this point. And I think the fact that the secretary shared with you last week, the fact that they at this point do not wish or have not asked for our assistance, should give you a pretty good indication of where we are on this.   
 
            Q     That's still the case? They haven't -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: To my knowledge, since the secretary last spoke to you Thursday, a week ago this coming Thursday, the situation has not changed.   
 
            Kristin. 
 
            Q     Geoff, the Canadians have said that they will not re-up in Afghanistan in the Kandahar area without another ally's support in that region. Has the MOD reached out to the secretary on this issue? And is the secretary reconsidering what you said last week in terms of adding additional Marines or Army personnel? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: No -- they won't re-up -- you know, we're putting 2,200 Marines down there. You're talking about in addition to our MEU that's going down? 
 
            Q     Right. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I can tell you the secretary talked to the MOD, as you know because we've shared it with you a week or so ago, but that was prior to the Manley report coming out. I do not believe they have talked after that. But we have tried to assist the Canadians in their desire for reinforcements down there by sending these 2,200 combat forces down that will arrive in March. 
 
            We've talked about how there was a need for a maneuver force down there. We think the MEU will go a long way towards filling that need. But you will hear from us as we get closer to Vilnius and Bucharest a desire to have our allies who are providing combat forces to the efforts in Afghanistan to see what more they can do, including in the south. So, hopefully, we'll make some progress there that will help the Canadians extend their commitment to the mission. 
 
            Q     But is there any discussion in this building about increasing the numbers beyond -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Increasing our numbers? No. No. No, we've done, as I made clear, what we can do. We just provided, you know, 3,200 forces, 2,200 to RC South, and that's an extraordinary, as I mentioned, one-time deployment. That's as much and as deep as we're going at this point. 
 
            Q     So this will fall to the Dutch and the British? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: This will fall to -- we've got a number of allies with us there, a number of allies providing forces. And hopefully, they can see to it to dig deeper and find additional forces to help this effort. 
 
            Yeah, Barbara? Nothing? Julian? 
 
            Q     The combatant commanders' conference. Can you tell us a little -- one assumes that Pakistan is on the agenda there. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: One assumes. 
 
            Q     Can you tell us a little bit about that? Will they be discussing that with Secretary Rice? Is that unusual that she's there at the conference? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: She's here for a semi-regular luncheon that she has with the secretary, and it coincides with the beginning of this conference. So I think it worked out that she was able to stay a little longer and have a few words with the combatant commanders. But I'm going to get into what the agenda is for the two days worth of meetings. I mean, I think it's long-term strategic and I think there are near-term issues as well. 
 
            Q     And it sounds like from -- I mean, from the Landon lecture, other things that Secretary Gates has said, he talked about the coordination between the State Department and the Pentagon. Is this an attempt to get more of a working relationship between the combatant commanders and the State Department, would you say? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: No, I wouldn't read that far into it, Julian. I think that it really was a coincidence and it is mutually beneficial. And she's here; she can take a few more moments and speak to them. But clearly, there's a good working relationship between the State Department and the Defense Department. And that stems from the fact the two secretaries have known each other for years, they're old friends and they work well together. And the secretary has gone to the State Department to speak there, as you know, I think a month or two ago. And so it's not unusual for her to come here or us to go there. 
 
            Yeah, Guy. 
 
            Q     Can you explain why the administration and the Pentagon is only requesting about a third of what it traditionally costs to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the upcoming supplemental -- in the upcoming budget request? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Normally -- you know, we are sending the budget up to the Hill, the president's budget up to the Hill on Monday. And normally, of course, we wouldn't talk about specific numbers ahead of time. I think some numbers are out there already, including the fact that the GWOT portion of the budget that we will be requesting initially will total around $70 billion.   
 
            Why we are submitting just a partial amount is predicated on a couple of things, one of which is the fact that, you know, frankly, we haven't gotten our money that's needed and has been requested for fiscal year '08 yet to fight the Global War on Terror. We're still, as I mentioned, $102 billion short of what we need to do the job.   
 
            So we are submitting the $70 billion request with the anticipation that at some point we will go back to the Congress and ask for what else is needed in fiscal year '09. But I think we're most concerned about getting what we need in fiscal year '08 and do the job that we got to do this year, and we will lay down a marker for what's needed in '09. And incidentally, that money should be able to at least, you know, handle much of the first quarter of '09, and then, you know, two -- or three-quarters of that budget in '09 will be executed by a subsequent administration and secretary of Defense.   
 
            But we will likely come back to the Congress at some point in this year to revise the global war on terror funding request, to include what is needed in its totality. 
 
            Q     So you'll -- I mean, so there's a good chance that you'll go back sometime this year and ask for additional supplemental funds? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: There's a good chance we will go back at some point in this calendar year and ask for additional monies. 
 
            Q     Geoff, 70 billion (dollars) for one quarter would make it 280 billion (dollars) per year. That sounds like an awful lot.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: You're taking me awfully literally, Dmitri. I should -- 
 
            Q     It's my job.  (Laughter.)   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I know. That's why. That's why you're here. (Laughter.)  
 
            Q     (Off mike.)   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Now, 70 billion (dollars) -- I guess all I was trying to make the point of -- if the fiscal year starts in October, and January 20th is when a new administration comes in, the 70 billion (dollars) will -- if we get that money, will certainly cover that period. That's all I'm getting at. I'm not trying to -- gotcha. Thanks for keeping me honest. 
 
            Jim? 
 
            Q     I wanted to ask you about the status of forces agreement with Iraq. I know the secretary said that it wouldn't deal with troop levels. But I'm wondering whether it will deal with security guarantees and responsibilities that the United States would have to defend Iraq against an external threat. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Jim, I think all this talk is sort of premature at this point. Negotiations do not begin until next month on this matter. I think we've just now formed the team of people who will go over and enter into the discussions with the Iraqi government. And I think at this point it's premature to talk about what we will or will not be asking for.   I think the secretary made it clear that this is an attempt to normalize our mil-to-mil relationship with the Iraqis, our government-to-government relationship with Iraqis, because the SOFA is just part of an over-arching framework of strategic agreement between the two nations.   
 
            And so -- but I think at this point, beyond talking about it in general terms of normalizing the relationship and assuring people that we are not seeking permanent bases in Iraq, we are not going to codify in this agreement troop numbers, force levels in Iraq. And the secretary also made it clear that there will be consultation with the Congress as we move forward throughout this negotiating process. 
 
            Q     Back in November when this was announced, General Lute said, actually, it would deal with those things: troop levels, permanent bases -- (off mike) – future responsibilities. So -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I think you've heard now the secretary of Defense talk about what it will and will not deal with, and it will not deal with specifying troop levels. It will not deal with permanent bases. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Not to my knowledge. And you know, we have just now begun -- or just about to begin these negotiations, and I would probably go based upon the most recent comments from the secretary rather than ones that may have taken place months earlier from other officials. 
 
            I think there was also a briefing, if I'm not mistaken, from General Lute last week about this subject, a background briefing. Perhaps you can follow up on that. 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) (Laughter.) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: There were a number of officials involved. 
 
            Yeah, go ahead. 
 
            Q     There was a meeting where Mr. Gates met representatives of NATO, and did they talk about missile defense and Russia and about the relations with Russia and can you give a little detail about that meeting? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I think -- as far as I know, the secretary's involvement in that meeting was rather brief, and so I don't think he was there long enough to have significant discussions on those issues. And I don't know what the agenda was for the rest of the meeting, but I think he did not have the luxury of spending a great deal of time in that meeting. 
 
            Yeah? 
 
            Q     Yeah, let me go back to the combatant commanders meeting. Can you give us more details? Who will be attending the meeting? Is there any role for General Petraeus or Admiral Fallon at the meeting? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, Admiral Fallon is one of the combatant commanders, so he is among those who is participating. I do not believe that General Petraeus is participating. But other than the fact that I've identified, you know, the Joint Chiefs and the combatant commanders and the secretary and his civilian leadership, I think that's the extent of it. 
 
            Q     Do you know if the discussion will -- I mean, would lead to the Iranian issue? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to get into the agenda, Joe. I mean, there's a lengthy agenda; it's a day-and-a-half long conference, and we're just not going to talk about what specifically is being discussed among them. 
 
            Q     Can I follow back -- up on the budget question again? Three defense bills have directed the Pentagon to come up with a specific, detailed war plan when you submit the base budget -- the '07 authorization, the '08 authorization and the '08 approps.   
 
            Why can't you not come up with something more detailed than 70 billion? You know it's going to cost more than that.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, we're still -- Tony, you have to wait for General Petraeus to come back and tell us the direction he wants to go. You know, the door is open for him to come back and tell us what he wants to do. Admiral Fallon, the Joint Chiefs, the secretary -- they will all have input into this. And we'll figure out which direction we're going based upon their collective discussions, but we don't know yet. This is going to happen about a month-and-a-half from now, two months from now.   
 
            So at this point, it's sort of -- it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to come down and pick a number out of thin air, as to how much money we think we're going to need in fiscal year '09, until all the strategists have sat down and figured out what we're going to do on the ground in Iraq and in Afghanistan, other places. It seems premature to come up with a large number.   
 
            Q     One follow-up: The money for the four F-22s -- will that be in the 70 billion?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: It's not clear to me, Tony. It's not clear to me.   
 
            Q     Maybe in a follow-on request, though, we --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know, okay?   
 
            Q     Take this for the record.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not taking anything for the record.   
 
            What else?   
 
            Kristin.   
 
            Q     The Army probe: Can you give us any details on --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, I can't a whole lot.   
 
            I mean, my understanding is that at this point, we simply have an allegation. But we of course take seriously any credible allegation of abuse or mistreatment of detainees. And so I think the Army Criminal Investigation Command has now opened an investigation into this matter. I think they've even requested assistance from other soldiers who may have been in this unit at that time. But I think the Army is the best place to go for more on this, or Army CID.   
 
            Q     Can you help, just sort of put some parameters around it? I mean, how many detainees are we talking about?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't even know.   
 
            Q     Okay.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I really don't. I know of the basic allegation, and that's it.   
 
            Q     Do you know where the basic allegation came from, in other words, who made it?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: It was -- I really think you should talk to the Army about this. They have all the specifics, and I think it's posted on their website, as a matter of fact. I'm just not familiar with them.   
 
            Yeah.   
 
            Q     Can I just go back to troops for Afghanistan just for a moment?   
 
            I understand that the United States is sending additional reinforcements to the South. Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands are also significant troop contributors down there.   
 
            Is the U.S. pressing any of the other NATO allies for additional forces there? And perhaps without naming names, but are there other potential countries that might be able to provide those additional troops that Canada says they'd like to see in order to extend its deployment? Are we actively working that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I would say this, and this is very much Kristin's question, but I think -- yeah, I think at every point along the way, we've made it clear that we would like others to step up to the plate as we are. 
 
            Q     I know, but is there anybody -- again, without naming names -- anyone indicating they might be in a position to do that? Are we getting any positive feedback in that area? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think we are in the midst of, as I mentioned, between now and when we next meet with our -- with defense ministers in Vilnius next week, as a matter of fact, and then between then and Bucharest in April, there is going to be an ongoing effort to see what additional forces we can generate from our allies in Afghanistan. So, suffice to say that is going to be and has been the focus of people within this building for quite some time and will certainly kick into high mode between now and April, when we meet again for NATO. 
 
            Thanks,
 
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