MR. MORRELL: Hey, guys. Good to see you all. Fun to be in the new digs finally. A little more spacious. I have nothing in particular to start with. So let's get to questions.
Q Geoff, a question about the negotiations on the SOFA, there's been some talk of the U.S. compromising with the Iraqis, on the matter of court jurisdictions for U.S. military personnel who are accused of crimes while off-duty or off-base. I was wondering what the secretary's view is on whether there's any merit in allowing any circumstance under which U.S. military personnel would be subjected to Iraqi courts.
MR. MORRELL: Bob, I thank you for the opportunity to get into the specifics of the SOFA. But I'm going to refrain from delving into a document that is not yet final. And until it is so, I think, it would be irresponsible of me to address the particulars. I can sort of give you an update on where, I think, this document is and what still needs to be done.
This is, as I mentioned, not yet a final document. There is a draft that includes language that has been agreed upon, by Iraqi and U.S. negotiators, but is of course still subject to the normal political process in both of our nations. And with that draft document, it is now being circulated, if you will, within the executive branches of both our countries.
I think based upon what I've heard from Dr. Ali Dabbagh in Iraq, the spokesperson there, it has already been to the executive council. I think it's going now to their equivalent of the National Security Council, the political committee on national security. I think it still has to go to the council of ministers, from there, and then also maybe the council of representatives.
Here at home, it has been obviously familiarized with all those departments and agencies which have equities, in the SOFA, particularly ours.
And as promised, the secretary is in the process of consulting closely with members of Congress, those who have jurisdiction over this building. And in fact he has begun making a number of phone calls today to committee leaders and is intent on fulfilling his pledge to them to consult with them on this document before it is finalized.
So I think that's sort of the gist of where we are now in terms of the SOFA. We are close but not at the final status yet, and as soon as it is final, I think then we can talk in more specificity about what is actually included in it.
Q In its current form, it sounds like the secretary supports this, since he's consulting with the Hill. But does he support all elements of the current form?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think the secretary would be making phone calls in support of the document if he didn't believe it adequately protected our forces in Iraq, and in really all facets of their operations there, from combat to legal protections. So, I mean, that's as specific as I think I want to get on this.
But we would never present -- we would never advocate for a document for a final -- for a status of forces agreement that did not adequately protect our forces.
Q So he is advocating in favor of that document?
MR. MORRELL: He is making calls to committee leaders offering them an update on where we are in this process, what is included in the draft that is now circulating within the executive branches of both governments, and that -- clearing up any questions that they may have about it.
We are not to the point of sharing, I believe, the actual text with the members of Congress. And I know Chairman Levin, I think, last night issued a statement noting that. But not until it is a final document will we be sharing it widely. This is still a work in progress, as it works its way through the executive branches.
Q Is he satisfied with the draft?
MR. MORRELL: Again I don't think the secretary would be making the phone calls he's making today, if he did not believe this document adequately protected our forces in Iraq.
Q Is that a yes?
MR. MORRELL: That is what I just said it to be. He is comfortable with the document that he is calling people about today.
Q Any timelines?
MR. MORRELL: And if he were uncomfortable with it, Andrew, trust me, he wouldn't be making the calls.
Q I understand that. I was just looking for a yes or no answer.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Yeah.
Q Any timeline on this, Geoff?
MR. MORRELL: You know, that is the one area, I think, Jim, that has been sort of widely discussed for months now, since these, since these discussions began, you know, I guess, late last spring.
The Iraqis desire a -- to assume greater responsibility for their national security. We are supportive of that. It is a tribute to the progress that's been made by our forces, since the surge, that conditions on the ground are such that it is stable enough, it is secure enough, that Iraqi forces have taken more of a lead in their operations.
They're growing in strength. They're growing in capability and they're growing in confidence, to the point now that the Iraqis believe that on the horizon, in the coming weeks and months and years, if you will, they will be able to assume greater responsibility for their national security.
And so we've talked about aspirational timelines. We've talked about goals. But those -- any withdrawal dates that are in this, and there are dates in this document, and I won't get into what those dates are, are entirely conditions-based.
These are not ad hoc, willy-nilly, arbitrary timelines. These are goals that are -- we have agreed to that will only be followed if the conditions on the ground provide for it. But that is something the Iraqis strongly want. They are a sovereign nation. And we are fully supportive of those desires.
Q Geoff, are you preparing for the possibility that this won't be signed by the end of the year?
MR. MORRELL: We are moving close. We are moving forward.
We're getting ever closer to having a final document and one that we hope can be agreed upon by the Iraqis and by -- and by us and therefore provide the legal protections to our forces in Iraq after the United Nations Security Council resolution expires at the end of the year.
If, for some reason, that were not to happen, obviously we'd have to figure out the way ahead. We could not operate in Iraq without legal authority to do so and that would perhaps require working with the United Nations on extending that -- the UNSCR. That is not our preferred avenue. We want to reach a long-term agreement with the Iraqis and we are getting ever closer to doing so. And that's where our entire focus is right now, trying to hammer out this deal as soon as possible.
Q What about a one-on-one agreement with Maliki? Is that a reasonable alternative as well?
MR. MORRELL: A one-on-one agreement with -- I don't think I --
Q Or a handshake agreement of sorts with the Iraqi leadership, as mentioned in The Washington Post?
MR. MORRELL: I know of no such concept that's being discussed.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q Go to different subject?
Q No. Can we stay on this one?
Q No. One more on this --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q To what -- I mean, I know you can't talk about too much about the specifics of this draft, but you mentioned a couple of things, the fact that it's going to have goals, the protection for --
MR. MORRELL: Nothing new, there, Jamie. That's been discussed for months now.
Q Right. But as we're nearing the end of this agreement, is there anything in this that essentially is going to bind the hands of the next president --
MR. MORRELL: No.
Q -- whoever that will be, in regarding broader policy issues?
MR. MORRELL: No. I mean, I guess the -- couple of the other fundamentals that we have talked about from the outset of this process is our belief that this agreement will in no way bind a future commander in chief to any set course in Iraq. There -- as we have said from the outset, there is no security commitment in this agreement that would in any way require the next commander in chief to fulfill an obligation of that sort.
So, no. We believe that this is a -- that this document will provide the legal authority for us to continue operating there, but it will not bind a future commander in chief to do so.
Q And is it going to rise to the level where it's going to require Senate ratification or --
MR. MORRELL: Again, as we talked about before, you know, this, in our estimation, is not a treaty. It is a standard status of forces agreement which, historically, have not required Senate ratification.
We don't believe that should change for this document. It is -- you know, although it's been a long and difficult negotiation, it is very much like those that we've taken -- that we've undertaken and ultimately come to agreement with, with many of, you know, the dozens, scores of countries that we operate in around the world, for that matter.
Q So it was just a courtesy, basically, to the committee members? These are just courtesies --
MR. MORRELL: No, this is consultation. I mean, this is -- we're not -- this is -- these phone calls are not notification. They are consultation. The secretary, Secretary Rice, the White House gave their word to members of Congress that they would indeed consult with them before this was a done deal. And that is the -- that is what's going on right now with the secretary's phone calls to the leaders of the committees that oversee this building.
Q Geoff, Senator Levin said yesterday that he couldn't support any agreement that subjected U.S. military personnel to Iraqi courts of justice. Do you anticipate that when all this is done, Senator Levin will be able to support the agreement?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Ken, I think that's a slippery slope for me to get into whether or not there is exclusive jurisdiction in this, in this agreement, or whether there is not. So I'm going to refrain from going down that trail with you, other than to point out, as you all know who cover this building and our forces around the world, we do operate in countries in which we do not have exclusive jurisdiction, Japan and Korea being two of them. But that is in no way a reflection upon what is in this document. I just want to draw to your attention that there are countries in which we operate without the benefit of exclusive jurisdiction.
Q Well, Senator Levin seemed to -- it seemed pretty clear that he didn't think -- he --
MR. MORRELL: Well, let's see what's in the document. Let's see how he feels after his conversation with the secretary. I don't have any direct response to that, because I think it gets me into a situation where I've got to then talk about what may or may not be in this document, and it's not yet final.
Q One more on this, if I may.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Is there any sense that the Iraqis are making a calculation now about whether it is better to wait for the next administration to finalize a deal or try to do it now, while the Bush administration's still in office?
MR. MORRELL: I think you'd have to ask them.
I -- from my vantage point, I'm not not in a position to peer into their strategies and their tactics on this negotiation. As far as I can tell, based upon my understanding of the process, this has been a very -- this has been a good-faith negotiation. It's been difficult, but it's been done in good faith. There have been honest but considered disagreements. And after many months, we have gotten to the point now where there is draft language that we are both comfortable enough with to circulate within our executive branches, and that process is going on right now. So there's been really considerable progress made, and I think that everybody did it with the best of intentions.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Al?
Q Just a couple of quick clarifications. You're just talking about the SOFA, not the strategic framework agreement?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I mean, my equities in this are -- the department's equities are really in the status of forces agreement. I'm not -- I would talk to the State Department. And I would remind you -- I'll take this opportunity to remind you we are not the lead in either of those negotiations, the status of forces or the strategic framework agreement. The State Department has been in the lead.
But I'm just really here to talk to you about where we are in the process with regards to the department's involvement. And you know, the advance that's taken place there is that the secretary is now involved in -- is now placing phone calls to senior leaders in the Congress about this draft document.
Q And when does it become what you would consider a final agreement? Does that have to wait until the Iraqi parliament has approved it, or are you going to make it public before its final --
MR. MORRELL: No, for then -- for that kind of specificity, I'd direct you to Sean McCormack and the guys at State. And I'd -- you know, right now, I believe that, you know, it's still in the executive branches of both governments, and I think at the point where they both sign off on it and feel comfortable, then, in the Iraqi case of taking it to their Council of Representatives. That would probably be the point at which it is final. But don't hold me to that; I'd really urge you to talk to State. It may require the Council of Representatives to ultimately ratify it for this to be considered a final document. But I don't think it's --
Q At what point does it get published, then, in that process?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we'll have to see in the coming days. It's not to the point of being published today, because it's still being circulated in the executive branch.
Q New topic. Can I ask one more quick thing on the phone calls just the secretary is making? Did you say he's speaking to only the House and Senate Armed Services Committee members, or ranking members, or who --
MR. MORRELL: I don't know how -- Bob, I don't know who ultimately the list will include in its entirety.
But the initial calls are to, you know, the main committee that we, that we answer to. And that is the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee. I'm not so sure of the calls beyond the leadership and ranking members of those committees. He may very well make them. But I know that's where we start.
Yeah. Yeah. Anybody else on this.
Q Geoff, is this the first time the secretary has actually made these kinds of consultation calls to Congress in this whole process? Or have there been other times, where we've been close to a done deal, where --
MR. MORRELL: I think, Luis, he's -- I think he's certainly made calls to members of Congress about sort of where we are. But this is clearly a different kind of phone conversation now. We are at a point where there is a text that the negotiators are in enough accord on that we are now circulating it within our respective governments.
So while he has made calls previously sort of to update them on the status of things, this is now a different conversation. This is a conversation about the actual draft text and explaining it to them, taking their -- listening to their inputs and having a discussion about actual agreed-upon items.
Q He's not actually sharing the text with them.
MR. MORRELL: He is not sharing the text per se with them. I think he is talking about specifics that are in the agreement without sharing the text itself.
Q The Defense Department Public Affairs Office has been holding on to the America Supports You audit for quite some time. Why hasn't it returned it to the DOD IG?
MR. MORRELL: I have no idea.
Q I hope that we're not dealing with a situation where Public Affairs is delaying this until after the administration. Is that the case?
MR. MORRELL: I would hope not too.
Q Oh, good. Has the secretary read the IG report?
MR. MORRELL: I have no idea.
Q Do you think the public has a right to know, as soon as possible, if this report recommends criminal charges against some of the people involved?
MR. MORRELL: Jeff, let's have this be the last one on this subject if we don't, if you don't mind.
I don't know the first thing about what you're asking about. And I think --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Excuse me. Excuse me.
I think there are people in this building, in my office, who could perhaps help you further with this. I have --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Excuse me, Jeff. Jeff, can I finish my answer?
Q Not really, because --
MR. MORRELL: I have not, I have not been privy to the matter which you're asking about. But I think there are people in my office who can help with that. And I will work with them to try to provide you with an answer.
Q I've been exceedingly patient on this matter. And we have not gotten the information we have asked for.
MR. MORRELL: Jeff, you came to my office earlier today and asked me about a different subject. If you want to have a conversation about this, I'm happy to do it with you.
I am not armed with the information to help you from this podium. If I were, I'd be glad to answer it. You know me. I like to engage with you.
I simply don't know. If I did, I'd provide you an answer.
Q Can I ask you -- on a election-related topic --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q -- the secretary has talked quite a bit about preparing for transition in a time of war, engaging with the campaigns on that. Do you know if he's started doing that yet and also to what extent he's given any guidance to general officers and flag officers, Admiral Mullen, General Petraeus, about whether they should be engaging with these candidates to brief them on issues?
MR. MORRELL: My understanding, Peter, is that there is a historic -- historical process that has been used and is being used again in which the DNI, the director of National Intelligence -- before there was a DNI, I guess it was the CIA director, the DCI -- is providing intelligence briefings to both Senator McCain and Senator Obama.
And in situations where they're required, follow-up question and answer to a military matter, that is supposed to be taken to the Joint Staff and then ultimately, I think, up to the secretary, to proceed with. But I do not believe there has been an instance yet which has required us to follow up on any of those intelligence briefings that they've been getting.
Q Didn't he discuss trying to do something more proactive on his part to try to --
MR. MORRELL: I -- well, I think that when there was this structure that has been used historically, that the White House wanted to use again, that had worked, obviously, when President Bush was coming into office in 2000, that it would work again. And so the intelligence community has historically taken the lead on these briefings. They are doing so again, and when that requires sort of a follow-up military matter, we'll take those on a case-by-case basis. I don't believe there has been one yet.
And your other question? Yeah?
Q And the second part, flag officers and general officers like General Petraeus or Admiral Mullen -- has he given them any guidance as to whether they should be engaging with the campaigns, because --
MR. MORRELL: No, I don't think they should be engaging with campaigns. I think we want to have sort of one central clearinghouse in -- with which to do so, and that would be through the Joint Staff. So I think the advice would be no, let's keep this focused through one entity. And as far as I know, there has not been occasion to use that yet.
Q Follow up on -- Geoff?
Q Follow up?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Barbara.
Q (Off mike) -- follow up more specifically, not related to the campaign phase of all of this, but we're just under three weeks away from the U.S. military knowing who the next commander in chief will be. So, what is going to happen here? What is going to happen with the Defense Department and the Joint Staff, whether it's the day after the election, two days, three days, four days -- once the election happens, once there's a new commander in chief? What has the secretary put forth? How will briefings for the president-elect and his transition staff begin? What will happen in this building?
MR. MORRELL: Without getting into the specifics of how those kinds of things would -- would take place, Barbara, I would tell you that it is the -- it is the desire, it is the intention of the secretary and I believe the chairman to be as helpful as can possibly be as quickly as we can possibly be to the president-elect and his team so that this transition, in a time of war, in a time of two wars, can be as smooth as possible. But in terms of the actual method of doing so, I'd have to delve into it further. And I'm happy to talk to you about it.
I do not -- I am not familiar with any protocols that have been established to do that come November the -- you know, November the 5th. But I know philosophically that the secretary is intent on being as helpful as possible. He has been very forthright about his concern about a transition -- about a smooth transition at a time of war and has directed this department to be -- to be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to make that happen, including asking people for their willingness and ability to stay on beyond January the 20th if so desired by the new president and if that would be helpful to ensure a smooth transition.
Q If you would take it for the record -- and also, on the status of forces, then, on the list of phone calls the secretary is making, given Senator McCain's position on Senate Armed Services, is he speaking to Senator McCain and therefore also to Senator Obama?
MR. MORRELL: I do not -- and I'm not going to get into the actual people that he -- that he is calling.
But I don't frankly know. But I think even if I did know, I don't think I want to enumerate to you each and every phone call he's making.
I can just deal with it in the general sense that he is talking to the leaders of the, of the, of those committees that have jurisdiction over this one, over this building.
Q As Barbara noted --
MR. MORRELL: Hold on. Excuse me.
Q (Off mike.) General Petraeus asked about -- for a major reassessment of the strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the region.
Do you have any update on that? Do you know when we're going to see the results?
MR. MORRELL: I don't. I mean, I read that today and I had heard that he was undertaking such a review. I mean, truthfully the main review that this building and this administration is focused on is the one being conducted at the National Security Council on Afghanistan policy and strategy.
And so you know, there are people, as we've discussed before, in this building who are meeting daily with the NSC, with officials at State and in the intelligence community, to try to fashion the best strategy to ensure that we are on the proper footing as we hand off the baton to the next administration.
General Petraeus, I think, as is, as is only the responsible thing to do, as the incoming CENTCOM commander, is undertaking his own review so that he's, so he's on top of the situation that he's about to inherit. And it sounds like it's a pretty extensive review by some very capable people.
But I think the focus of this building has primarily been on helping to support the broader government-wide review of our strategy in Afghanistan. And that, I think, we had hoped to do on a very short timeline.
Invariably these things take longer than anticipated. And I think we're still probably, you know, a few weeks away from that coming to some sort of final disposition.
Q Geoff, as Barbara noted, the Republican presidential nominee is also the ranking member on Armed Services. The Democratic nominee is on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Is there any concern that putting this in play right now will put it into the midst of the presidential campaign?
MR. MORRELL: No, that's not a concern.
I mean, we are, we are -- what our concern is, is making sure we fulfill our obligation, the secretary's obligation, to consult with the leaders of Congress.
And that is what he is focused on right now.
This is not about politics, this is about national security. And he gave his word that he would consult with congressional leaders, and he is in the process of doing so.
Q Geoff --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q -- there continues to be a small but growing chorus of admirers of Secretary Gates who hope or wish that he would stay on as Defense secretary. We're well aware of what he's said and what you've said about it, but what's the secretary's reaction to these -- when he wakes up in the morning and reads another op-ed piece lauding his abilities and, you know, hoping for him to stay on, what's been his reaction to that sort of growing chorus of more calls for --
Q What’s his wife’s reaction?
MR. MORRELL: Jamie, I would put it this way. He certainly has been getting a lot of career advice these days.
Q Reports indicate that commanders in Afghanistan are now ordered to consider a tactical withdrawal when air support might endanger civilian life. Can you confirm that rule? And is the Pentagon -- any concern that it might in some way undermine some counterinsurgency operations?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Daphne, I would -- I would refrain from getting into the rules of engagement in Afghanistan. I think that's a question you should direct to ISAF, to -- actually, now that we have a commander there who's in charge of both, to General McKiernan's staff.
I would say this, though. As you know from hearing the secretary on this subject, he believes -- he knows that there has been no military in history who -- which has done more to try to prevent civilian casualties. And he has made it abundantly clear to our commanders, our forces in Afghanistan, that although they take extraordinary care, we need to do an even better job of avoiding civilian casualties.
And when we were in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago, he further mandated that, from now on, on those unfortunate cases when we do claim innocent lives in the course of going after the Taliban, insurgents, militants, terrorists in Afghanistan, that we are going to be much more proactive than we have been. We are going to compensate victims. We are going to acknowledge incidents. We're going to apologize for them. We're going to compensate victims, and then we're going to investigate.
And if that investigation later proves that we need to compensate more people, we will do so. And if it turns out we compensated too many, so be it. But the main point there is that we do much already but still need to more.
With regards, though, to the -- I think, the underlying issue here, that is, the fact that the Taliban and others in Afghanistan who are trying to destabilize that government and -- they operate in and around civilian populations and that puts them at extraordinary, grave danger. And we will -- we will do even more than we already do to try to protect them. But we're not the bad guys here. And it's important for the Afghan people to remember that. The bad guys are the ones who choose to attempt to destabilize the government by launching attacks in and around civilian populations.
And close air support is, you know, a necessary requirement of really any military operation anywhere in the world these days, but especially in Afghanistan, where much of the fight, particularly in RC East, is one that's done, you know, at the company and platoon level. You know, these are small numbers of forces moving out into rural areas, going after -- going after the bad guys. And often they are in greater danger out there, exposed to attack and often require back-up in the form of close air support on very short notice. So it will continue to be an integral part of the fight in Afghanistan even as we try to do a better job of protecting the civilian population.
Let's take two questions -- Tom and then this gentleman in the back.
Q Thanks. Staying on Afghanistan, General McKiernan's request for three additional brigade combat teams, has that reached the secretary yet? And a follow-up, if I could.
MR. MORRELL: Well, the original request for the three -- the original three brigade combat team request did meet the secretary. He's acknowledged it. He supports it. When we were in Afghanistan, as you know, General McKiernan made an additional request of an additional brigade combat team, and that was -- when I last checked, Tom, was still working its way up to the secretary.
But I would say this: You've heard him on this topic and he said a couple of things. One is he wants to get -- try to get the commanders what they need as soon as they need it. But at the same time, we do need to -- and I believe that that's part of what's undertaken in this strategic review -- we do need to consider how big a footprint is appropriate in Afghanistan. And he's raised this, as you've heard him, with members of Congress when he's testified. But it is -- it is worth a discussion about how big is too big in terms of foreign forces in Afghanistan. And so that, I believe, is one of the things that's being discussed in this -- in this review.
But fundamentally he wants to make sure the commanders have what they need to succeed.
Q And the follow-up is about the review. Initially it was supposed to be a very quick turnaround. Now it's obviously stretching out. Was there a decision made not to finish it before the election, or is this just the timing?
MR. MORRELL: I think it really is, Tom, just -- these -- this is a major issue. It is -- you know, this conflict is becoming increasingly difficult, and we want to make sure that we fashion the best strategy to hand off to a succeeding administration. And that just is taking longer than I think originally anticipated.
But I think you're right in your assessment that this will likely not be something that is finalized until after the election.
Last question. Yeah?
Q Is there any plan in place to increase the military presence of the U.S. in Afghanistan, maybe throughout more military bases, to help control the situation?
MR. MORRELL: To establish more military bases in Afghanistan? Well, I don't know about specific -- well, a couple things. As we increase our forces in Afghanistan, it will clearly require growing our facilities in Afghanistan. We need to have more beds. We need to have -- in the case of our desire to put more intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets in country, we need more ramp space.
So it will require a growth. I don't know if it will require a growth into additional bases per se, but our facilities that we do have are certainly going to have to grow to some extent to accommodate the flow of additional forces and the enablers and the equipment they require. So there will be an expansion in that sense.
I would -- just before I leave you, I'd draw your attention to one thing. Tomorrow afternoon, I -- we want to in advance congratulate Mike Donley, being sworn in tomorrow as the secretary of the Air Force. The secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, will be participating in that swearing-in. I encourage you to attend. It will be up at the Air Force Memorial, and we're happy to provide details. But that is good news for the Air Force and good news for Mike.
Q Is the secretary doing this event here with the Koreans -- (off mike)?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Tomorrow we will -- there will be -- the secretary is participating in the annual -- the 40th annual -- what do we call them? The SCMs, the security consultative meeting, with the Koreans. That'll be a lengthy meeting tomorrow. I think it's actually -- to some extent it's begun today. The chairman is meeting with his counterpart today. The secretary will meet with the Defense minister from Korea tomorrow, and that will be followed with an appearance here in the briefing room with both men and may take some questions from you guys as well.
Q What time?
MR. MORRELL: We'll get back to you on the time.
Q Thank you.
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