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Media Availability with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Danish Minister of Defense Soren Gade

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
April 01, 2008
            MIN. GADE: First of all, welcome to all of you. As always we are late. Sorry for that.
 
            We have had very good discussions. I'm very pleased that we are here. In those barracks -- Her Majesty's guards have a 350th year anniversary this year, and Her Majesty's guards have been out doing a very tough job in Afghanistan. And unfortunately this is also the regiment who have lost many of those soldiers who have been killed in the last 12 months. So this is a painful reminder that it is not without cost we are doing a job together in Afghanistan.
 
            I'm very, very pleased to meet my good friend and colleague Bob Gates here in Copenhagen. I have visited U.S., at a number of times. And I've said to Bob that, you know, the weather is always like this in Denmark. So if you're ever back, you'll see the same, and if it's (inaudible) weather, I'll not be around anyway. (Laughter.)
 
            So a warm welcome to you. And of course we will take some questions, but I will ask of course Bob to maybe say a few words and then one from my press to make sure that answers can be -- questions can be asked.
 
            So, please, Bob.
 
            SEC. GATES: Thanks, Soren. It's a real pleasure for me to be here. I was surprised to learn that it had been 10 years since an American secretary of Defense had visited Denmark.
 
            I wanted to come, above all, to express my thanks and, on behalf of the American people, all Americans' appreciation for the contribution that Denmark is making, especially in Afghanistan, and also to express our condolences over the loss of fine Danish soldiers. Every single one of these casualties is a tragedy, but it is for a greater cause. And it is security here in Europe, security in America, as well as helping the Afghans develop a country where they have some choice in their future.
 
            Denmark is one of America's oldest and closest allies, and the relationship is very close.
 
            Just had the opportunity to spend some time with about a dozen Danish soldiers, talking about their experience in Afghanistan, the challenges they face. But as so often with our own soldiers, part of what I heard also was their pride in what they had achieved.
 
            And so basically I'm here to say thank you.
 
            MIN. GADE: Thank you.
 
            (Inaudible.)
 
            STAFF: (Off mike.)
 
            Q     Mr. Gates, how would you describe the Danish effort in Afghanistan so far? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think it's been an extraordinary effort. The Danes are fighting hard in RC South. And I think that there are a handful of us that are carrying that burden, and Denmark is clearly one of the most significant, along with Canada, the Australians, the British and ourselves, and the Dutch. 
 
            So I would say one of the reasons I'm here is because of the extraordinary contribution that I believe Denmark is making in Afghanistan. 
 
            Q     So how many more troops do you think NATO will have to send to Afghanistan? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, the requirement by the commander, if all of those requirements were to be met, is, I think, about three additional brigades -- two maneuver brigades and a training brigade. I think that we will see some additional commitments in Bucharest. I don't think there will be anywhere near that number. This is a challenge we'll have to keep working at. 
 
            We have deployed an additional 3,500 Marines just this month to Afghanistan. They will be there through November. And so now the challenge is what comes behind those Marines.
 
            STAFF: (Off mike.)
 
            Q     Bob Burns with Associated Press. Mr. Secretary, given that President Putin has invited President Bush to hold talks this week on missile defense, and in light of your very recent talks in Moscow on that same subject, I'm wondering what you think are the prospects for movement or even a breakthrough this week on missile defense.
 
            And if I may ask a question of the minister, what is the Danish government's level of concern about the Americans' insistence on having missile defense bases in Europe, in light of Russia's strong opposition?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the press coverage and the statements made by both President Putin and by Foreign Minister Lavrov after Secretary Rice and I visited indicated that we had had a real impact on them in terms of the assurances that we had given with respect to transparency. I think that to the degree there have been reservations among some here in Western Europe about missile defense; in part it has been concern over the Russian reaction.
 
            So the Russians are probably going to never going to like missile defense. But I think that the assurances that we have provided and the mechanisms that we have proposed give them assurance that it's not aimed at them, and my hope is that that will lead to positive outcomes both in Bucharest and in Sochi.
 
            Q     Do you expect that to actually happen (inaudible)?
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I gave up predicting when I left CIA. (Laughter.)
 
            MIN. GADE: We are involved today in the U.S. missile defense system. I mean, we have had radar up in Thule, in Greenland. And, of course, we have allowed U.S. to operate this radar to be a part of the U.S. missile defense system. Now, I think when NATO take a decision on the missile defense, I think it should be integrated into the U.S. system. I mean, there is no need for two different systems.
 
            And me, personally, I am a strong believer, because I lived in the Middle East during the first Gulf War and I went to the beaches of Nahariya in the northern part of Israel, saw incoming missiles. So, you know, it was pretty scary, actually, to see those missiles. So I believe that protection of the countries also in Europe is very important.
 
            But let me stress that we are now going to NATO and there will be a debate on this. And we haven't -- I mean, we believe there's a threat against our alliance and we believe that we should have -- NATO should be together in this. And of course, I know that some countries are very reluctant to this missile defense system, but at the end of the day it's to protect the people in our alliance and hopefully there will be a fruitful discussion and a piece of paper coming out of Bucharest.
 
            I mean, when we went to Riga, the heads of state of government, they tasked the ministers of defenses to do a study on this and to come with a piece of paper in Bucharest. Now, it is going to be a failure if we do not deliver. And hopefully we will deliver a piece of paper for all the allies inside our alliance and say, "This is what we want. This is what we look into in the years to come."
 
            Q     (Name inaudible) -- with Danish Television. Mr. Gates, you have made it very clear that you think that some European allies are sitting on their hands when it comes to doing more in Afghanistan. What does it take to make these countries get up and do some more?
 
            SEC. GATES: I think this is a challenge for the alliance. And my criticisms have been more generic than have been portrayed in the press. I don't think I've criticized any specific country.
 
            And the other point I should make is that of the specific commitments the various allies have made, every ally has fulfilled the specific commitment that they made. What has not been fulfilled is the broader commitment that was made at Riga to provide the ISAF commander with the forces needed to be successful. So it is the level of effort needed above the commitments already made and fulfilled that is the challenge, it seems to me, for the alliance.
 
            And we just -- I think part of what will come out of Bucharest, I hope, is a statement, a reaffirmation of why NATO is in Afghanistan, why success in Afghanistan is important to the security of Europe and to all of the nations that are partners with us there.  And perhaps that will create an environment in which it is possible for other countries to do more.
 
            I think that -- I agree with the NATO secretary-general. I don't think there's really any profit in taking individual countries to task or emphasizing divisions among the alliance. What is necessary is for us all to come together and meet the requirement that the commander has asked. 
 
            STAFF: (Off mike.)
 
            Q     Question for both ministers. How do you see the prospects, specifically of reinforcements for southern Afghanistan being agreed at the summit later this week? And Minister Gade, specifically for you, if reinforcements are not forthcoming for southern Afghanistan, is Denmark still prepared to maintain its troop commitment to that region?
 
            MIN. GADE: We will keep doing the job in the south. But I must stress that in autumn 2006, I think there was around 10,000 soldiers in the southern part of Afghanistan. Now this is spring 2008, and now there's 18,000. In autumn 2006 there was, I think, 34(,000), 35,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Today, there's 47,000 in the ISAF force.  
 
            So it is going in the wrong direction. And we have --
 
            Q     In the right direction.
 
            MIN. GADE: Sorry?
 
            MIN. GADE: Yes, right direction. (Laughter.) And I'm just saying to you that we have no plans whatsoever to withdraw, something like that. I mean, there would be more soldiers in the south and in Afghanistan after this summit this week, and of course maybe they will -- we will not fulfill the commanding officer's requirement, but there would be more soldiers sent also to the south. And we have the number of soldiers and the equipment to do that job together with our British friends, but of course it will help if there's more soldiers in Afghanistan it would take less time. And of course you have, I think, one or two provinces without any ISAF soldiers. And that is, of course, at the end of the day, a kind of problem, because in those remote areas, all the bad guys, they can do whatever they want to, and of course we would like to be soldiers there as well.
 
            SEC. GATES: I'm reasonably optimistic that there will be additional forces made available for RC-South.
 
            STAFF: (Off mike) -- newspaper. I think that will be the last one.
 
            Q     I'd like to ask you, Mr. Gates, how do you explain the loss of -- (inaudible) -- in Afghanistan to a worried America?
 
            SEC. GATES: Actually, I think that the sacrifice of our soldiers in Afghanistan is -- it's always hard to explain to a parent why they have lost a child, but in terms of the American public, I think there is little question about why we are in Afghanistan. We are in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan; 3,000 Americans lost their lives because of a terrorist attack that was planned and executed from Afghanistan. And so I think you would find that in not only the American people and certainly on a broad bipartisan basis in our Congress there is very strong support for what the United States is doing in Afghanistan and, I might add, appreciation for the allies who are there with us.
 
            STAFF: (Off mike.) Sorry about that.
 
            MIN. GADE: Sorry.
 
            Q     Just one quick one. Last year -- in the Los Angeles Times, was it -- you were quoted -- your views basically to the effect that some of the allied troops in Afghanistan weren't really up to their job, weren't really capable of doing what they were supposed to do. That statement made some questions -- raised some questions in this country at the time. I was wondering, could you expand a bit on that? Have you more research into the quality of the troops in Afghanistan?
 
            SEC. GATES: I appreciate your asking me that question, because it gives me the opportunity here in Europe to correct a statement in an article that I've had the opportunity to address in the United States. What I actually said in the interview was that NATO as an alliance did not train for insurgency -- for counterinsurgency; that individual countries had great skill at it, but as an alliance, we were still training for Soviet tanks coming through the Fulda Gap, not for the kind of counterinsurgency that we're now engaged in in Afghanistan and many of us in Iraq.
 
            So what I actually said was that it was, as an alliance, we didn't train for counterinsurgency and that we needed to start doing that, just as I believe the American Army neglected training for counterinsurgency after Vietnam. And we've had to learn those lessons all over again in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we're still learning. So that's basically what I actually said.
 
            STAFF: Thank you very much.
 
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