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DoD News Briefing with Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon

Presenters: Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen
August 28, 2008
                ADM. MULLEN: Good morning, and thanks for being here with me today. I have just a few comments to start out, and then I'll be glad to take your questions. 
                I returned earlier this morning from a brief trip overseas, where I met with Pakistan's army chief of staff, General Kayani, and other military leaders. The daylong meeting, held at sea aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, was a continuation of the dialogue we've -- we have all been trying to maintain about common security challenges that we face, particularly in the border regions. 
                There is, as you know, a growing complexity and coordination among extremist groups there, an almost syndicate-like behavior, that has resulted in new and ever more sophisticated attacks on coalition forces. We saw that just this month near Kabul, where French troops were attacked, and we saw it last month in the Wanat Valley, where nine of our own troops were killed. The safe havens in the border regions provide launching pads for these sorts of attacks, and they need to be shut down. 
                Now, I'm not prepared to discuss in great detail the specifics of everything that we covered. I'm sure you can understand the sensitivity there. But I can tell you that I came away from the meeting very encouraged that the focus is where it needs to be and that the Pak -- that the military-to-military relationship we're building with Pakistan is getting stronger every day. 
                Pakistan remains a key ally in the region. I'm grateful for that cooperation, and I'm grateful that we've been able to keep the lines of communication open. For me, more than anything, this was a chance to better understand a very complex challenge in a critical part of the world and to try to do that through the eyes of the leadership who live and work and fight there every single day. 
                Q     I have one on that same subject. Did you propose or did you -- or your colleagues propose any new approaches to the problem of the border region? And also, did the subject of training -- U.S. training of the Frontier Corps and proceeding with that. Was that addressed? Resolved?
                ADM. MULLEN: As I said, I'm not going to go into great detail there. This really was a continuation of the previous dialogue. We certainly talked about the complexity, the challenges that we have in the border area, the pressure that we believe needs to be brought there for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the effects it's having on the fight in Afghanistan. 
                And that from a training standpoint, that's a continuous, ongoing discussion. No big breakthroughs there. Still committed to, where we can and where they ask us, committed to help them and train them where they ask for the kind of assistance that they think they need. 
                Q     Are the Pakistanis slowing the process on the training? Are they resisting it? 
                ADM. MULLEN: Well, the chief is -- I mean, from what I -- all I can see is they are very committed to it. We've had -- you know, we've had some delays tied to logistics challenges. But my expectation is that it's going to move forward here. 
                Q     Admiral, when we saw you last month, you talked about Iraq and how it's remarkably better, the security situation there. And you also said, I expect to be able to recommend, in the fall, further troop reductions -- 
                ADM. MULLEN: Right. 
                Q     -- in Iraq. But given the fact that 2,000 Georgian troops had to go home, uncertainty over the Sons of Iraq program, do you think it's less likely now, the troop reductions? 
                ADM. MULLEN: Clearly, we're in the middle of that assessment as we speak, in terms of -- and really I put this in the category of continually assessing where we are there specifically, and that's ongoing. General Petraeus is doing that, General Dempsey's doing that at CENTCOM, and we're clearly doing it here.   
                And I expect to make a recommendation with the secretary to the President in the near future. I don't have a specific date pinned down to do that. And it will take into effect the progress in Iraq. Very much aware, obviously, that the Georgians have left. And yet the situation does continue to evolve. Security trends continue to head in the right direction. Violence is down more than it's been than any time in four-plus years. The political process continues. I'm sure you've seen that as well. And so all that will be integrated into a recommendation that I will give both to my boss and the President in the near future. 
                Q     But do you expect further troop reductions? 
                ADM. MULLEN: No decisions have been made yet.   
                I mean, it wouldn't be -- and in the end, it isn't going to be my decision. And I would only hearken back to what I said before, you know. As security continues to get better, I would hope to be able to make recommendations for further troop reductions, you know, when those conditions are met. 
                Q     You said twice that your meeting on the Lincoln with Kayani was a continuation of a dialogue of talks with the Pakistanis. Yet the list of those attending seems to make it much more significant than that. Were there any ultimatums delivered? Was there an attempt to impress upon Kayani just how serious the situation is in the west? That's quite an impressive list of attendees, quite frankly. 
                ADM. MULLEN: Sure. Sure. This was a meeting that General Kayani and I talked about a month ago or so, when I last met him. We didn't know exactly when it would occur, nor did we know where it was going to occur. And then there was an opportunity to invite some other military leaders, including an additional Pakistani general, in addition to General McKiernan and General Petraeus, Admiral Olson, who was traveling in the area, as well as General Dempsey, who was traveling in the area.   
                And no, there was no ultimatum. I mean, that is not -- in my view, that doesn't work in this kind of relationship building. And more than anything else, I think it was that. We clearly went through what the challenges are, the specifics of it, what we think the threat is, how to get at it.   
                But I also want to, I guess, reemphasize what I said in my opening statement. It really is an effort on my part -- and I won't speak for everybody else, but on my part -- to understand the problem as seen through the senior military officer's eyes who's got to fight this campaign in his own country, recognizing that Pakistan has a serious extremist threat, and to see it through his eyes. 
                And to -- anybody that's spent any time on the FATA or the North-West Frontier knows how complex it is.   
                And so it was very much part of that as well, in terms of learning as well as continuing to look at where we can -- where we can support and how we can understand each other better, with a need -- a very clear need from the United States' standpoint and from the Pakistan standpoint, that we have got to figure out a way to get at this problem. 
                Q     And was this, like, the fourth, fifth, sixth time you've met with Kayani? 
                ADM. MULLEN: This was the fifth meeting since last -- 
                Q     Fifth meeting, okay. Is there any difference in his position now on the fifth meeting than there was in the first meeting? Is there any progress being made in U.S. efforts to convince the Pakistanis to aggressively pursue the Taliban and al Qaeda problem in the -- 
                ADM. MULLEN: He's undertaken operations that were not ongoing, certainly, when our meetings started a few months ago. February, I think, was the first time I met with him. Clearly, he's a chief of staff of the army who's got a challenge of a conventional threat from India, which he still recognizes, as well as a requirement to get at this counterinsurgency. And so he's moving in that direction. 
                I'm pleased that he's moving in that direction and that he is, actually, operating. And again, we're trying to figure out, you know, where -- how that fits into bringing pressure onto that border to minimize -- to work to minimize the cross-border operations from Pakistan into Afghanistan on the case of the insurgents. And I think it's going to -- it's just going to take some time. 
                Q     So Admiral -- 
                ADM. MULLEN: Here. Here. 
                Q     Admiral, just to follow on Jim's question, the -- there have been ongoing operations up in Bajaur and other agencies, tribal areas, and yet all it seems to have done is create a huge refugee problem. There's no noticeable stemming of the flow of foreign fighters into Afghanistan.   
                What is the way ahead here if these operations don't appear to have any immediate impact? 
                ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think -- I think the impact is going to be long term. Clearly there are very significant differences in how you approach each different area in that part of the world. That's, quite frankly, part of the education process. 
                And having met with General Kayani several times, he's very consistent in what he's doing. He's thought this through, and he continues to move forward. 
                And in an area that involves, obviously, the Pak military, his authority is over the Frontier Corps as well, and so expectations for instantaneous results I think are probably a little bit too high. 
                Q     But did he express frustration that the progress hasn't been more so in terms of these operations along the border? 
                ADM. MULLEN: You know, I'm not -- 
                Q     I mean, as a result did he request any specific technology from you all or any specific assistance -- 
                ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, I really don't want to go into the details of what we talked about, but I'm encouraged that he's taken action, and I also think it's going to take some time. 
                Q     I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the Afghanistan airstrike and the different accounts of the civilian deaths there, why the United States feels that the account of 90 dead is inaccurate. And also whether you are doing any sort of review of the use of air power in Afghanistan. It seems like there are more cases of collateral damage in Afghanistan rather than in Iraq, where the fires have been more precise. 
                ADM. MULLEN: We work exceptionally hard to minimize any collateral damage. I mean, zero collateral damage is the goal. And certainly it is -- we regret it greatly when it occurs. 
                This particular incident is one that General Schlosser is conducting an investigation on, and will move up to the -- you know, move up the chain of command. And I haven't seen that yet. I've seen publicly in the newspapers -- I've seen the account stated from both the U.N. and certainly from the Afghan government. I've also seen it -- seen it discussed that, in fact, that didn't happen. But I just don't have the details. 
                But we -- we know that when collateral damage occurs, that it really does it set us back.   
                So we work exceptionally hard to make sure that doesn't happen.   
                Q     On the larger question, though, it seems like the airpower in Iraq has been used more precisely, with smaller bombs and the ability to really minimize collateral damage in a way that has had success on the ground. That hasn't been able to -- that hasn't translated to Afghanistan.   
                Are you looking at that and the differences --  
                ADM. MULLEN: We certainly look at, from an analytical standpoint, look at what we call the damage assessment to see how we got where we are, on the one hand. On the other hand, I've got great commanders out there. And it's their -- they make these decisions. And I'm hard-pressed to second-guess what they're doing with respect to that.   
                Again they understand, and I have had this conversation with almost every commander out there, they understand that damage -- that collateral damage does to the overall mission. And they -- we -- they work, we work exceptionally hard to make sure it doesn't happen.   
                Q     Admiral Mullen, back to Pakistan, straight up, are you satisfied with the progress that Pakistan is making on the border? Because to a man, I don't think any of your senior commanders have said they're satisfied.   
                So my first question is, are you satisfied? And then I'd like a follow-up.   
                ADM. MULLEN: The -- it continues to be an extraordinarily complex problem. We need to continue to press on it. There are areas that we can do better. There are areas that the Pakistan military can do better. We understand that. It's an area, I think, we can all improve on. But it isn’t – it is not going to be something that gets solved overnight.   
                Q     My question then goes to, when you say you can do better, the question of more U.S. troops for Afghanistan.   
                Given the fact that you're now talking about syndicate-like operations, that the Taliban are launching infantry-style attacks on fixed targets, that you have no stem of the flow of fighters into Afghanistan, why is the risk still acceptable to you of the current state of the number of troops in Afghanistan?    
                Why -- even with this Iraq situation, why is there no more urgency about getting troops in now? Is the risk still acceptable to you? 
                ADM. MULLEN: There is a very real, urgent requirement to add additional troops to Afghanistan. I've said that for a long time. And I'm -- I am concerned that it is -- that it is -- continues to rise. And there's a great deal of -- I mean, that need in terms of its urgency, and that we are working very hard to add additional troops. We did that last year. We're looking for ways to do that as rapidly as we can as well.   
                And as far as the specifics of when we would get that done or how we would get that done, we just haven't arrived at that particular point. 
                Q     Well, can I just follow up? Because everyone from McKiernan to General Schloesser on down, all the commanders say they need more troops now. And when you talk to any of the soldiers coming back, they say they're on missions without enough troops.   
                So my question still is, why is that level -- why is that level of risk still acceptable? 
                ADM. MULLEN: You know, I've had this discussion with General McKiernan specifically, and my last trip to Afghanistan with General Schloesser. And while it is a lot tougher, I'd described the results as mixed, we are -- in terms of the overall progress there. 
                The Marines who we added last year in the west, the 2-7 Marines, have had an extraordinary impact there. The 24th MEU down south, Marines, have had an extraordinary impact there as well. The fight in the east is a very tough fight. General Schloesser has asked for more troops; so has General McKiernan endorsed that. We've got that request and we're looking for ways to answer that. 
                Q     Mr. Chairman? 
                ADM. MULLEN: Yeah. 
                Q     Sir, was there -- was there nothing the U.S. could have done militarily to stop the Russians from going into Georgia? 
                ADM. MULLEN: In terms of taking any significant military action, it really -- in my view, it was not -- it was never really on the table. I mean, in the theoretical, to say there was nothing that could have been done, certainly there are options, but they get pretty severe pretty quickly. And we worked very hard -- I worked very hard to understand what the Russian objectives were throughout the -- certainly as they -- as they invaded this country and try to understand that, and also try to understand the future Russian objectives, which are not all that clear to me. And a lot of us are spending a lot of time working our way through the best way to handle that in the future. 
                What is key right now is we are providing humanitarian assistance. We've had ships go in there. We've had airplanes go in there. That's where the need is right now specifically on the military side.  And so we're working hard to provide as much of that as we can. 
                Q     So, on future objectives of the Russians, what if they decide to go in Ukraine? What will the military -- U.S. military action -- 
                ADM. MULLEN: Well, again, that's a hypothetical that, you know, I'm not going to address. Certainly, the message that has come from the Russians is one that is tied to invading another country, invading sovereign territory, and sending lots of messages that are associated with that, which has a lot of us concerned about what it means now, what it means a year from now, what it means long term, with our relationship on the military-military side, as well as the relationship between our two countries. 
                Q   Back on Pakistan. Did you get a sense of how General Kayani's being hampered by the political instability in Pakistan? And then secondly, you said there are things that the U.S. could do better and the Paks could do better. What are they, specifically? 
                ADM. MULLEN: Again, without going into specific details of the discussion, clearly there's a recognition in Pakistan that the political process is pretty challenging. Actually when I first met him, it was a week before the first -- or a couple of weeks before the first election, and now there's another election, having had a president resign. So, obviously there is a significant amount of political churn in Pakistan that he's very much aware of. 
                I will tell you -- I mean, this is as I have come to know him -- he's been very clear to me, and not just in saying it, but in what his actions are, that his goal -- my view -- is to do the right thing by Pakistan. He's an extraordinary individual, and his ultimate -- his goals are -- his principles and goals are to do what's best for Pakistan. And everything he's done, our engagement, indicates that's absolutely the case. 
                Q     And just to quickly follow up -- 
                ADM. MULLEN: Sure. 
                Q     -- his goal may be to do what's best for Pakistan. Does that align a hundred percent with the U.S. goal? 
                ADM. MULLEN: He -- I mean, he has to -- he knows his country a whole lot better than we do. And again, I just think that's where he is, that's where he'll stay. And as I said earlier, they're an important ally in that part of the world, a very, very critical and increasingly unstable part of the world, and having that relationship is really what it's all about it.
                Q     Admiral, the challenges of -- I'm sure you're familiar with the challenges of supply and logistics for the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan -- this is a very difficult endeavor. Are you concerned that between the tensions with Russia and the political instability in Pakistan, that those lines of logistics might be in danger? 
                ADM. MULLEN:  We -- always paying a lot of attention to that. You can't conduct any kind of missions without great logistical support. And so we pay a lot of attention to those lines. We recognize that they do go through Pakistan.   
                We've also looked actually not just in Afghanistan but in Iraq -- we've looked at multiple ways to handle the logistics requirements. We can't succeed without those kinds of lines. And I'm comfortable we've got them -- that we are paying an awful lot of attention to that, and it's a question, however, that I ask frequently to make sure that our risk isn't going up. And right now, right now, from what I've seen, our risk has not -- is not going up with what we need to support in Afghanistan. Clearly there was a statement on the part of Russians -- I'm sorry -- commitment on the part of the Russians to assist us in that regard, but it wasn't the only alternative available to us as we looked at that possibility. 
                Q     Admiral, the three brigades that you talk about and everybody's talked about for some months -- are you still comfortable that that's the right number that should be sent to Afghanistan, independent of whatever comes out of the General Petraeus assessment? Is that still the right number? 
                ADM. MULLEN: It certainly is, from -- and again, just General McKiernan was in this meeting -- and it's something that we talk about frequently. And it's certainly -- as best he can tell right now, he has that as the current requirement. It could evolve over time.   
                So can I say that's the absolute top number down the road? No. But there are -- and that will be based on conditions. And this isn't -- clearly we need the security.   
                But not unlike Iraq, there are a lot of other parts of this that have to come together, from the economic standpoint, from the governance standpoint, from the political standpoint, all those kinds of things that, I think, in the long run will drive what that requirement ends up being. And that is not to say it's significantly bigger or it's going to be smaller. It's just that it's what we understand that we need right now.   
                Q     That number is more of the reality, not --  
                ADM. MULLEN: Yes, clearly.   
                Q     Again it's what troops are available.   
                ADM. MULLEN: Right.   
                And that reality is two principal lines of operation. One is the military combat security side. The other is the training of both the Afghan Army and the police. And doing that, doing that as well as we can as fast as we can is certainly a goal of ours, to assist the Afghans taking over their own security as soon as possible.   
                Q     Admiral, today, Prime Minister Putin blamed the U.S. for essentially the start of the Georgian conflict. He's saying that it was a U.S. operation that essentially was used to deter or give talking points to some of the presidential candidates.   
                Do you have a response to that?   
                ADM. MULLEN: No. I actually try to stay out of responding to presidents of countries and also what's going on in the political world right here in my own country. So I mean --  
                Q     But the prime minister of Russia is essentially saying that the U.S. started the Georgian conflict.   
                ADM. MULLEN: No. I have no response to that.   
                Hang on just a second.   
                Yes, ma’am.   
                Q    Russia seems to be alarmed about the presence of the U.S. ships in the Black Sea. Are you concerned that there might be direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia in the region? And are you planning to send more U.S. ships to the region?   
                ADM. MULLEN: I'm -- certainly there is potential there, because physically there's the, you know, Russian navy is operating in the Black Sea. So is the United States Navy, and so are other navies quite frankly that live in that part of the world.   
                Part of what I did in my engagement when this crisis started was, in speaking with my counterpart, and I was very straightforward about the fact that we were going to bring the Georgian troops back from Iraq. And I did that to make sure he knew what we were doing and that that same kind of communication is going on.   
                Again these ships are there supporting humanitarian assistance missions. That's what they've done and they will continue to do over time, based on what the need is.   
                So the intent is to communicate.   
                And certainly from the military-to-military standpoint, it is -- you know, we've worked hard over many years to figure out ways to both operate together, operate around each other. We know how to do that. And I believe we'll continue to do that safely. 
                Q     Yes, Admiral, on the military-to-military relationship with Georgia, were you training them for the wrong kind of warfare than they experienced with Russia? Could you talk a little bit about their performance, perhaps, and what changes you might make to that training and perhaps even equipping, going forward? 
                ADM. MULLEN: First of all, we do the -- we do the training that the Georgian government decides they want, and that's really what we were doing. And I'm not sure, just based on the preponderance of force that, you know, a different kind of training or, you know, saying we weren't focused in the right area -- I mean, it was a significant force and I'm not sure it would have made much difference. 
                Q     But going forward, though, the -- adjustments of any kind in the training, equipping? 
                ADM. MULLEN: I think, clearly, they're a -- they're a very important country to us. We have a good military-to-military engagement. General Craddock is obviously engaged much more frequently and specifically, so -- but it's going to be up to the Georgian government about the kind of training, the kind of equipping, the things they do, how they want to develop their military in the future. 
                Q     Mr. Chairman? 
                ADM. MULLEN: Yeah. 
                Q     Going back to your trip to Pakistan, as far as extremism and terrorism is concerned in Pakistan, they're the ones who created it. But let me ask you a question, since your meetings with General Kayani in which he said -- many officials -- that he -- his military will stay out of the national politics. 
                Now given the chaos, as far as the political system is concerned, in Pakistan, you have been dealing with one man only for the last eight years, General Musharraf. Now he's out of power. He has nothing in the government. And now you have to deal with the two, military and the civilian government. So how you think will -- you will deal now with the two systems – not one? 
                ADM. MULLEN: You mean me, personally, or my country? 
                Q     (Inaudible.) 
                ADM. MULLEN: I think -- and this is the current engagement, actually, the military-to-military engagement with Pakistan is like any other country. And since that's the relationship that we are continuing to work on, evolve -- and the right way to engage Pakistan, in my view, is their new government, their newly elected, you know, democratic government, which is kind of where they were and where they're headed again, and that there are, you know, lots of people in our government that have -- that would be the right ones to deal with Pakistan on the political side. 
                Q     As for -- for General Musharraf, you think it'll hurt the U.S. interests in the region, or how would you deal with everybody? 
                ADM. MULLEN: I think we need to move ahead. President Musharraf's made a decision. He's moved on. I think we all need to move on and look to a future that is -- that's one we both understand and have a -- you know, continue to have a strong relationship. 
                Q     Thank you. 
                Q     Back to the Russia-Georgia situation, a two-part question. 
                Is the U.S. prepared to help Georgia rebuild the military capacity that the Russians effectively destroyed? And number two, is the U.S. going to step up its military cooperation with Ukraine? 
                ADM. MULLEN: All of those kinds of decisions I think are to be made. We've made no -- it's still -- quite frankly, it's still too close to when all this occurred. And it's going to be very important that the government of Georgia makes some decisions about what they want to do, and then I think the U.S. would be in a position to respond to that. 
                Q     With respect to Ukraine, has the Ukrainian government made any request to increase military cooperation? 
                ADM. MULLEN: We've -- we've worked with them for a significant period of time. I'm not aware of any. That's doesn't mean -- there hasn't been any come to my attention at this particular point. 
                Q     You've also mentioned in the past how the FATA is really an issue that involves both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Why wasn't there an Afghan presence at this meeting? Or has there been a separate engagement with General Kayani and American forces in Afghanistan? 
                ADM. MULLEN: I think it -- I think it was reported -- I hope I have this right -- I think it was reported a couple weeks ago that actually General McKiernan met with General Kayani in Kabul with Bismullah Khan, who is his counterpart on the Afghan side. And those are tripartite meetings that we think are very important to get -- get at exactly those common kinds of things, and I was very encouraged by that. And I know that all three individuals are committed to continuing that on a regular basis. 
                Q     Was there any consideration given to including Afghanis in this particular meeting? 
                ADM. MULLEN: This was -- this was a bilateral -- this was, again, a bilateral discussion that General Kayani and I agreed to some weeks ago. 
                Q     Can I just follow up real quickly on a different subject, sir? 
                ADM. MULLEN: How many questions? 
                Q     One. (Laughter.) 
                Q     If you believe that. (Laughter.) 
                Q     It's very clear to everyone that the fall presidential campaign that is under way now already clearly is going to center around questions of national security and the question of the next commander in chief. For the U.S. military, for your commanders and for U.S. troops, what are your concerns, and how are you dealing with them, about keeping the military as it exists now out of politics and out of the fall campaign? Your concerns, and what do you want to do about it? 
                ADM. MULLEN: As the senior military officer in the country, I'm focused on, obviously, operations that we are in, missions that we are in right now. Certainly it is a time of transition when you -- when we go through this, and in fact, if you -- if you look back some 40, almost 50 years, and you look at the serious incidents which have occurred both before and within a year of a new administration come -- coming in, you know, my worst-case planning is I'm looking very -- you know, I look at what worst case could be, and we work hard to do everything we can in the military to be -- to prevent anything from occurring, and certainly being able to respond in this time of transition. And more than anything else, that's our mission. Secondly -- I think, in transition. 
                Secondly is, we are an apolitical, neutral organization in this country, and we need to stay out of politics, those of us in uniform. And it is very tempting in this time because of where we are, and we just shouldn't do it.  
                So I -- that's the message I've relayed, related, talked about in many forums. And we'll continue to do that, because I think it is very important for the country to be able to know that the United States military, in this new -- this apolitical position, will continue to carry out its mission and do so not just now but when we get a new president.

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