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Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates following the NATO Summit Enroute to Oman

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
April 04, 2008
            SEC. GATES: I just thought I'd give my perspective on the summit. I think that there were three major elements and two additional ones that were -- that in my view would determine the success or the failure of the summit. The three major ones were Afghanistan, missile defense, and enlargement. An ancillary one was commitments in terms of additional defense capabilities; not necessarily troops, but capabilities. And then the second ancillary piece was could we be successful, particularly in the first three of these, and still have a decent meeting with Putin and where it was basically businesslike and conciliatory. 
 
            On Afghanistan, I think that the biggest piece for me was that in 2006, when the alliance signed up to the ISAF mission, I think the reality is most of the allies -- maybe none of us -- really understood what we were getting into as an alliance, that the nature of the mission would change from what they anticipated it was likely to be to being much harder and taking much longer and involve the kind of combination of security and military operations and civilian effort.   
 
            And I think the most -- one of the most significant things in the summit, and certainly about Afghanistan, was -- 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) (Laughter.) 
 
            SEC. GATES: -- was the fact, in full knowledge of the toughness of the challenge, the allies unanimously signed up to and recommitted to the Afghan mission, and, in the words of President Sarkozy, signed up to win.  
 
            And I think, for my money, that's a huge deal. Given a lot of the challenges that the allies have faced, given the difficulties some of them have at home politically, in terms of this mission and so on, I think the fact that they signed up was a victory. 
 
            The second piece of it was the vision statement. We've been working on this for a year, to get the alliance to lay out -- to look ahead three to five years, and also issue a public statement about why we're in Afghanistan and what we intend to accomplish. And I think that being able to reach agreement on the vision statement was important. 
 
            And then third, of course, were the additional troop commitments. And the French were the biggest piece of that. A number of nations made additional commitments for troops or special forces and OMLTs. And the president indicated that in -- that he expected in 2009 that the United States would make a significant additional contribution. 
 
            The question arises, you know, how could he say that about 2009? And all I would just -- all I would say is that I believe this -- just from the Hill and from reading the newspapers, I believe that this is one area where there is very broad bipartisan support in the United States for being successful. And I think that no matter who is elected president, they will want to be successful in Afghanistan. So I think this was a pretty safe thing for him to say. 
 
            On missile defense, I think getting the alliance to agree to that statement -- you all have already written about it -- was really a significant thing, especially in terms of their wariness of the Russian reaction. And here I think a lot of the things that we've done -- and I think we've made it pretty clear to our allies that we really bent over backward to be open and to really bring the Russians into this thing and make them a partner, and if they didn't want to be a partner, then to have it completely transparent so they didn’t need to worry about their own security. I think the unanimous support there was important. 
 
            On enlargement, I mean, everybody knew going into the summit that there was strong opposition to providing MAP for Georgia and Ukraine. And the president was very tough and was -- you know, in some ways people writing about it as a fractious meeting and so on -- I would just tell you, having sat in on three defense ministers meetings and now my first summit meeting, what was really refreshing was these people actually talked to one another and put all their differences on the table and had a real debate about these issues and the pros and cons. And I think that given where some of the parties came into the summit, that getting to a single declarative statement that Ukraine and Georgia will become members of the alliance was a significant achievement, because it took it out of the realm of whether and put it into the realm of when, and with a clear implication that when is sooner rather than later. 
 
            So did we get MAP for Georgia and Ukraine? No. But given where we came into the summit, I think that the language on that represents real achievement.   
 
            I think the one real disappointment, obviously, was Macedonia. And you know, people worked that really hard, have been for weeks, and lots of allies worked that issue hard. And we'll just have to hope that the Greeks and the Macedonians can figure something out. 
 
            Q     I suggest calling it Uganda. (Laughter.) 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well no, that’s already in use. 
 
            Q     Oh, okay. 
 
            SEC. GATES: We could call it something completely new. (Chuckles.)   
 
            But anyway, so that was -- in the enlargement, that clearly was a disappointment. Bringing Albania and Croatia in is obviously in the cards, I think, from the outset. On the defense capabilities, because this stuff is kind of in the details, I'm actually going to use my notes.  The -- this is all covered in paragraph 45 of the communiqué. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- 45?  
 
            SEC. GATES: Yes, paragraph 45. And it really is based on a number of recommendations that I made at the Defense ministers meeting -- dinner on -- 
 
            Q: Wednesday night? 
 
            SEC. GATES: -- Wednesday night, and actually we had a little fun with this, because, you know, clearly there was a very strong debate in the heads of government/heads of state dinner, very strong debate in the foreign ministers dinner. The defense ministers, the ministers of war, we had a really congenial dinner. (Chuckles.) There's no acrimony or debate in our dinner at all, so we were having a little fun with that.   
 
            But anyway, we were -- we addressed the shortfalls in areas like strategic lift, aerial refueling. And as I say, a lot of this is in the communiqué, and we can get you an additional copy of this, if you want it -- theater lift, obviously helicopters and allied -- alliance ground surveillance.   
 
            So one of the recommendations that we made was to address a number of these issues on a multilateral basis -- in other words, how can we work together, perhaps provide funding for these things to be done. 
 
            On strategic airlift, everybody agreed to it, to encourage the participating nations to sign the MOU for participation in the C-17 program -- if they hadn't already done it, to do it quickly. And in fact, the Hungarians signed it at the meeting and gave it to me. 
 
            On helicopters, the British have come up with a very interesting idea of a trust fund. And the French are interested in doing the same thing, I think, in parallel in the EU. But it would be where money could be made available for assisting nations in upgrading their helicopters and training the helicopter crews, because there are a lot of helicopters in Europe; they're just not Afghanistan-capable. And a number of nations committed funds to the trust fund at the meeting. And we hadn't discussed it before -- 10 nations committed funds to the trust fund. We are not one of them. We're going to take that up when we get back home. We just hadn't had any discussions about it. 
 
            And we also directed the North -- agreed to direct the North Atlantic Council to find ways to use common funding to support operations and establish a common logistics base. And you'll see some of this is couched in a little different language in the communiqué, but this is basically what it's about. 
 
            We also have reached agreement between the United States and Germany on cost-sharing in the Alliance Ground Surveillance. And so we took advantage of that, to have a recommendation that the leaders make a final push on this so we can -- now, so we can have AGS in the air by 2012. 
 
            Then we agreed on language encouraging nations that are spending less than 2 percent of GDP on defense to increase it. And then there -- finally, there have been a -- well, when it came to ISAF reserve forces, the NRF and so on, we recommended that the first priority is to fill the CJSOR’s current operations. 
 
            And then finally, NATO strategic commands had recommended increasing the deployability target from the current 40 (percent) to 60 percent. And our recommendation was that we increase it to 50 percent as a first step.  
 
            So those things, I think -- you know, those weren't things anybody talked about before the summit in terms of something specific that might be done. But I think, all in all, it was a very successful summit from the standpoint of the alliance.  
 
            And then the final piece, of course, was -- I think most of us felt that President Putin's comments today were business-like. And I wouldn't say they were particularly conciliatory, but they -- by the same token, they also weren't aggressive, either. 
 
            He just sort of went through a list of issues. He talked about CFE.  He did talk about Ukraine. He talked about the number of Russians who live in Ukraine. He talked about -- just a little bit about Kosovo, not much, and then about broader relationships.   
 
            So I think people probably walked away from the summit -- most of the leaders walked away from the summit feeling like it had been quite a successful summit. 
 
            Q     Could I ask you about your reference to President Bush saying that he expects in '09 there would be additional, substantial U.S. deployments. Steve Hadley said last night that -- he made a reference to it, but he didn't elaborate. He said that there would be combat forces in southern Afghanistan.  Are you talking about brigade-sized? And is this contingent on reducing further in Iraq the second half of this year? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I mean, my view is I still want -- I'm kind of still where I was in December. I don't want to make significant long-term commitments of additional U.S. forces before giving the allies the opportunity to see what they're going to do. Let's get the French in place. Others have talked about increasing by several hundred. We're going to have a new ISAF commander this summer. We've got an ISAF campaign plan.   
 
            My view is, even if we had all the forces in the world, my inclination would be we've got the Marines there through November, there's no need to try and push this thing. And so I think -- and given the explicit recognition by the alliance that this is a long-term project, I think waiting a while before committing additional forces of any consequence from the United States makes sense in a number of different areas. I think we've got the fighting season this year pretty well taken care of, pretty well covered. 
 
            Q     I've not heard of you or others -- maybe I just missed it -- but talking about additional -- substantial additional combat commitments by the U.S. in the south. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, we've been -- well, first of all, I wouldn't be as explicit as Steve was about where they're going. I think that will depend on the circumstances at the time. I mean, the Marines are clearly mostly going to be in the south. The forces that will -- where the French go in will clearly go to the south. And he may have just gotten those in his head. But I don't think -- in all of the discussions we've had, we haven't, I think, committed or decided that the next significant increment of U.S. forces should necessarily go into the south. 
 
            I mean, it's probably not an illogical assumption, just because that's where the heaviest fighting is right now. But I would say that's still up in the air and probably would be up to the new commander.   
 
            Q     Is there planning already for something the size of a brigade or two?   
 
            SEC. GATES: No.   
 
            Q     When you say that you think that there will be bipartisan support for it, is that because you've talked to leadership?   
 
            SEC. GATES: No.   
 
            I just listen to what members of Congress say on the floor and in interviews with the press. And there are a number, across the entire political spectrum, who are urging additional U.S. forces go into Afghanistan. That's why I think that there will be broad support for it.   
 
            Q     Other than encouraging other NATO countries to also come up with their own troops, why do you think more U.S. forces are needed?   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think, well, first of all, we'll see how the '08 fighting goes. But I think we have seen an increasing level of violence each year. I think that the success, my view of the success, in '08 is that we have shown the Taliban --  
 
            When I first came into the job, all the talk was about the Taliban's spring offensive. Well, now the line is, the spring offensive was NATO's; it was ISAF's; it really wasn't the Taliban. And we threw them out of Musa Qala. And they control no territory now.   
 
            So I think that one of the accomplishments in '07 was basically to show the Taliban that they can't win the conventional conflict. And so now they're turning more to terrorist activities, the suicide vests, the IEDs and things like that.   
 
            So you know, I think what the force requirement -- that's why I say there aren't any specifics on this yet. Because I think it will kind of depend on what happens in 2008 and what the shape of the country looks like at the end of that time, in terms of exactly what kind of role and where those forces --  
 
            (Cross talk.)   
 
            Q     Do you at the end of it, including the contributions from the allies, do you see it fulfilling General McNeill's wish list?   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I've been at this a long time. And with all due respect, I've never met a general who had enough forces. (Chuckles.)   
 
            Q     So you think that that's too ambitious.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I just -- I don't know and I'm not sure that it would be, you know, if this is an alliance undertaking, you know, I think, one of the considerations has to be, you know, how predominant a role do we play as opposed to our allies being involved and up front as well.   
 
            Q     Given that, as you say that the situation's unclear, you don't really know where you're going to be towards the end of this year in ’09, what’s the reason for at least promising the prospect of that additional commitment, and just a follow-up, does it depend on Iraq, on draw-downs in Iraq? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think by '09 it will be independent of that. And I think that -- what was the first part of your question? 
 
            Q     Sorry, what’s the reason for holding out the prospect of significant -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the president -- I put this in front of the president as a possibility, as something I thought we ought to be willing to say and do, and in part, from my perspective it was to allow him to come in behind President Sarkozy at the dinner and say you know, we’re going to do more too. But he was not specific, and not specific for good reasons, because we don't know when and we don't know how many.  
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- a rough number? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No. 
 
            Q     But you are talking combat forces as opposed to something else?
 
            Q     Trainers? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, the training -- one of the things that all the allies agreed on is the need for a higher priority for both police and army trainers. And that is an outstanding commitment, and neither the Marines nor the allies have fulfilled that commitment, even the current commitment for 3,200 or whatever it is.   
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            Q     How does the U.S. military status of the force play into the equation? Do you feel like by then draw-downs in Iraq you will have an increased dwell time and shorter deployment time to free up the mission troops? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think we may have a better idea of that after next week. I'm not going to preempt any of that. 
 
            Q     Just to be clear about what the president said, did he say that the U.S. would do this or did he say the U.S. is thinking about doing this? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, he said that the U.S. -- I forget, Dan, exactly the language, but I think he said the United States is prepared to commit --
 
            STAFF:     (Off mike.) 
 
            STAFF:     I have how Hadley characterized it, that last evening which was forces that are not insignificant  -- (Cross talk.)
 
            Q     He said contemplating -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: I said substantial. I think he said not insignificant. 
 
            STAFF     Not insignificant. 
 
            Q     Is this, then, separately from the notion that when the French get to the east, some U.S. forces move south to help out the Canadians?
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah, this is independent of that. And this is -- because I think -- I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think the French are going in this winter.   
 
            Q     This winter you mean –
           
            STAFF: The French have been vague on their timing. They’re going to take over RC-Capital some time later this summer, so (Off mike.) 
 
            SEC. GATES: And that's when our forces would then move (off mike). 
 
            Q     You had said previously that the Marines, of course, are going to leave in November and that it was up to NATO to find ways to replace them. 
 
            Was that addressed? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, my best guess would be that it would be some number of months after the Marines leave before we would begin to put any additional units in. 
 
            Q     U.S.? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah.   
 
            Q     Yeah. 
 
            SEC. GATES: So there still will be a gap after the Marines -- 
 
            Q     So you're not counting on the allies to fill that gap? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think -- as I said before when we were on our way over, I -- you know, we're going to continue to work, but in terms of the 3,500 people, I doubt it. 
 
            Q     Something else that the -- I think the vision statement referred to taking a regional approach that includes Pakistan. I don't know -- you know, how might that work? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think -- I mean, one of the things that I think is important is, you know, the U.S. is -- I think the Pakistani leaders are a little -- what's the right word? They're clearly uneasy about the U.S. looming too large in terms of their domestic constituency and everything else, and particularly in terms of their new government.    
 
            And so I think one of the subjects of conversation was the value of different allies sitting down with the new government and talking with them about the threat that they face and how other countries as well might work with Pakistan to help -- (off mike) – both in terms of -- I mean, their view is the same kind of challenge faces Pakistan in the northwest frontier area as faces Afghanistan, and that is, how do you integrate economic development and building civil -- civic institutions and so on, at the same time you try and improve security.  
 
            And I just think my view, and I think the view of a lot of the allies was the more different kinds of countries that are in dialogue with the Pakistani government -- I mean, I think it was unanimous that -- applause for the election of a civilian government in Pakistan, and now how do we help them? And how do we help them in a way that isn't a political liability for them also? 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- have you, I guess the word would be signed off yet on the Army's proposal for reducing tour lengths to 12 months? Is that before you, or is that how it works in this case? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that there will be a decision fairly soon. 
 
            Q     Is it your decision? Or is it --  
 
            SEC. GATES: It really is -- it really is whether we're prepared to -- I mean, ultimately the president, ultimately to sign up to something that clearly imposes some limits on what we could do in the future. And so I think the bottom line is, we're all still looking at that. But I think we'll have a better idea of what we think we can do, what we ought to do, in the fairly near future. 
 
            Q     After General Petraeus has reported? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah, I suspect, because that's -- I mean, that's a big piece of it. What he recommends and where the president comes out on all of that clearly -- (off mike). 
 
            Q     Do you expect that to be part of the president's announcement shortly after the testimony? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't know. 
 
            STAFF: Just one or two more? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Before everybody falls asleep. (Laughter.) 
 
            Q     Just briefly -- I know you haven’t read your book yet, but just very briefly, on Oman, the reason for your visit. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think a big part of is, they provide a lot of support for the United States. The sultan has been a good friend. 
 
            It's been 22 years since I've been there. I'm the same, but in a different job. The sultan's the same, but he's got the same job.   
 
            Q     (Chuckles.) 
 
            SEC. GATES: And part of it, you know, is, I think it's important to touch base. And I think -- I did read in the briefing book, if I'm not mistaken, it's been four years since a secretary of Defense has been there. 
 
            Q     Are there any military agreements, cooperation agreements, that kind of thing, coming up that you want to discuss? 
 
            SEC. GATES: It's really just an update. 
 
            STAFF: We're going to have (briefer's name deleted) give you a little bit more on background on the visit. 
 
            Q     Thank you. 
 
 
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