DoD News Briefing with Adm. Mullen From the Pentagon
ADM. MULLEN: Good afternoon.
As you all know, I visited Pakistan and India last week, where I met with civilian and military leaders in both countries. I will not go so far as to say that tensions were then or are now completely eased in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. You can imagine and many of you have reported on the degree to which fear and uncertainty have gripped the Indian people and just how strong was their desire for justice.
I can tell you that in Pakistan, as well, I sensed a real appreciation for both the seriousness of the attacks and the growing threats of terrorism inside their own borders. I remain grateful for the restraint India has shown and I'm encouraged by the news out of Islamabad that the Pakistani military has captured and detained several militants, including a key leader of the LeT group. These are great steps. I certainly hope and expect there will be more such steps taken by Pakistani authorities in the near future.
It's going to be some time before we know all the details behind the Mumbai attacks, perhaps even longer before we completely understand exact motives and goals. But it shouldn't be lost on anyone how a handful of well-trained terrorists using fairly unsophisticated tools in a highly sophisticated manner had at bay an entire city and nearly brought to a boil interstate tensions between two nuclear powers.
This wasn't just an attack on Indians or Americans or Brits or even Jews. It was, rather, an attack on all of us who love the sacred dignity of human life. As we witnessed in our own country seven years ago, the tactic of terrorism can be a deadly strategic weapon.
Who goes first?
Q (Off mike.)
Q You said you were encouraged by the arrests in Pakistan.
Does that mean you think that this is for real on the part of the Pakistani government, that they are really getting the right people and will actually keep them in custody?
ADM. MULLEN: They certainly have taken the -- in these initial arrests, they've gotten some of the right people, significant players with respect to LeT.
They are -- these are first steps. And so there are more steps to follow. But they've moved pretty quickly with respect to these arrests, with respect to shutting down some of the camps. And all of that, I think, is very positive. And I applaud the efforts thus far that the Pakistani government has taken.
Q But do follow up, do you believe that the Paks are serious this time? Because in previous such operations, they've gathered up members of the LeT, and then after a couple of weeks --
ADM. MULLEN: Sure.
Q -- three weeks, four, whatever, they have released them and not charged them with anything.
ADM. MULLEN: Certainly -- as you know, I went there and met with General Kayani, among others. And I've met with him several times and -- over the last many months. And in my interactions with him, we've usually discussed how to move forward. And what he's told me he would do he has done. And this is another example of that.
One of the biggest challenges that I think we have in -- with Pakistan is the history. And is this -- for example, does this mean we're not going to repeat history? I certainly hope we don't, in that regard.
But that's one of the realities of where we are. Again, based on what he told me he would do, and he's done that, I'm encouraged. And we'll see how we move forward in the future.
Q I'm sorry. Just to be clear, did Kayani say that they would take steps to round up those responsible for the attack on Mumbai, if there were links to LeT members in Pakistan, and hold them responsible, accountable?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm not going to go into the specific things that we talked about. Again, these are private meetings.
But certainly the whole -- the issue -- the central issue was the attacks on Mumbai, and the association of those attacks with terrorists who came from Pakistan, and that steps needed to be taken with respect to them. I wouldn't say anything more than that.
Q Is it true that there were a series of 10 sites that intelligence had suggested were the targets of this attack -- five of the sites we know were attacked -- but that there are still attackers at large? How many attackers at large -- do you understand to be at large? And were there other sites that were -- that we knew of and that the Indians knew of that are still possible sites for attacks?
ADM. MULLEN: What I'll share -- actually, it's not even sharing.
It's just confirming that it was these 10 individuals that held this city of 15 to 18 million people at bay, for 72 hours, and did it in a very systematic, sophisticated way and were, they were, a group that was well-trained over a period of time to execute this operation.
The rest of the kinds of intelligence that we have and information that we have and we've shared with, we think, the appropriate authorities in India and everybody, and one of the big takeaways certainly, when I was there in Delhi, is how hard India is working to prevent a follow-on attack. And all of us are certainly concerned about that.
While one occurs, you're worried about, is this the first of what could be more? And certainly every effort is being made to prevent that. And we are, where we are asked, where we've been asked, we are working with the Indians, to provide them intelligence in order to do that.
Q Was there evidence that there were more attackers out there?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm not going to talk about the specifics, of what was out there, other than what I've said.
Q Do you sense a different mood, among the Pakistani military and civilian officials that you're dealing with, in the wake of the Mumbai attacks? Has this brought home to them the seriousness of the situation and the need to move in a different way?
ADM. MULLEN: The leaders I met, and I met specifically with Kayani. I also met with Pasha. And I met with the civilian leadership, President Zardari. And all three of those individuals are very serious about prosecuting this issue.
They are very much aware obviously of the potential here. They have in my judgment shown restraint, in terms of readiness of forces and movement of forces after the attacks. So have the Indian leaders done so. And I appreciate, we all appreciate, the fact that that restraint has been very much a part of this, to get to the root cause of this.
That said, it's been -- it is -- it remains very important that the government of Pakistan take not just the steps they've taken but the steps that they need to continue to take, to root this out, so it doesn't happen again.
Q Do you think that they're more likely to do that now because of Mumbai than they were before?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think it's one thing to say you're going to do something and then -- I mean, I measure -- I think we all do -- we measure by deeds. And certainly these initial actions, as I indicated, are positive. I mean, there's more to do, but very positive steps.
Q Admiral, President-elect Obama has said he's going to go over the federal budget line by line. And given that the Pentagon is the biggest part of discretionary federal spending, and given the costs of two wars, the need to replace equipment, to take care of wounded, all of the expenses you're going to have expanding the military, do you think some of these pricey weapons systems are going to have to be cut?
ADM. MULLEN: I think it's very clear from, obviously, President- elect Obama's public statements, also Secretary Gates, to look at -- to take a very, very intense, focused, comprehensive view at what we're buying -- and from that perspective, I think that's very healthy.
And I say that -- also, I'm obviously discouraged by the lack of cost control that we've got in so many -- in so many of our programs. And we are going to have to get a grip on that, or we will not be able to buy them. It's very clear to me. We won't be able to buy them, and we won't be able -- or we won't be able to buy them in the quantity we need.
I am -- I'm very concerned about the global financial crisis and its impact globally on security. I think it will impact on security over a period of time, and we have to recognize that. I think it's important for all of us in the Defense Department to squeeze our budgets, to draw in where we can, and for leaders to commit to that and certainly recognize that there are challenges out there which we'll continue to have to resource.
Q Do you think, for instance, of the biggest military needs -- say the F-22, the most expensive fighter plane ever made?
ADM. MULLEN: There's been an awful lot of discussion about that. It's not a matter of do we need it, Jamie. We have it. It's a question of how many do we need for the future. And Secretary Gates has been pretty clear. This administration has been very clear about where it's been, where he is, and certainly has, you know, left it open to see what the additional numbers should be. The chief of staff of the Air Force has talked about a number that is another -- what? -- 60 (correction - originally posted as 50) or so more than the 183 right now.
So I think we're going to -- we're going to work our way through that. I do -- I am concerned that it is such an expensive system.
I think it is -- in the aviation world, our future is in the Joint Strike Fighter, but the Joint Strike Fighter is a new system. New systems usually struggle, you know, meeting exact deadlines. And I think it's very important we have capability to bridge to that system with respect to the broad range of capabilities for the country.
Q Can you share with us just a little bit about your meeting with President-elect Obama? I know Obama's not -- (inaudible) -- so it would be --
ADM. MULLEN: Oh, well, I --
Q Can you talk a little bit about -- (off mike)?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, it was a meeting -- you know, he reached out to me, asked me to come and see him. Secretary Gates encouraged that. President Bush approved it. It was a -- so it was a -- more than anything else, it was a get-acquainted meeting. Clearly, there are great challenges that the new president will take on on the 20th of January. The military's a big part of that, so, more than anything else, it was the beginning of building a relationship which is a very important relationship. In that regard, it was a very positive meeting.
Q Can I follow up on that?
ADM. MULLEN: (Off mike.)
ADM. MULLEN: All right, all right. Go ahead.
Q Did he give you any assurances that he wouldn't pull the rug out from under the troops in Iraq?
ADM. MULLEN: Again, I won't go -- he -- if you look at his public statements, one of which is, you know, a responsible draw-down, I think that's a very -- at least at this point, a very good summary of where he is. And you know, we'll see come the 20th of January.
Q Admiral, Ethiopia is pulling its troops from Somalia by the end of this month. When that happens, it's likely that Somalia will become an Islamic state under the Islamic Courts Union. What does that mean for the U.S. military?
ADM. MULLEN: Part of our -- a significant objective in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to not have a safe haven. And I am concerned about the potential for a safe haven in Somalia, as I am in Yemen. And I try to pay a lot of attention to the evolution of potential safe havens, these two in particular and specifically to the one in Somalia. So I'm extremely concerned about that.
And I think -- certainly we, but the international community -- we need to do all we can to impede the arrival of more safe havens out of which we can be threatened.
Q Specifically, what can the U.S. military do if the Islamic Courts Union takes over in Somalia?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I'm -- as far as the -- it wouldn't be the U.S. military, quite frankly. It would be, what would be the policy be of the United States of America and other countries? And there are lots of options there.
What I certainly want to do, though, is express, actually, the same concern you lay out in your question. And I have that, pay a lot of attention to it, and I think we need to be mindful of where it could go in the future.
Q Admiral Mullen, now that you know who the next Defense secretary is going to be, Afghanistan: Could you help us understand now what your top one, two and three priorities are for Afghanistan? You mentioned safe haven -- (off mike). What do you want to see happen now?
ADM. MULLEN: Certainly safe haven, the one that is there in Pakistan, we need to get more forces there; those that are headed there, the 3rd of the 10th, which arrives in January, and additional forces as soon as we can in 2009. And planning to do that is ongoing, and that is critical as well. I think we will get into a position that gets the forces about right in Afghanistan. The exact timing of that certainly isn't known yet.
But that would speak to just the security piece. I think there needs to be a considered effort economically and a considered effort in the governance, rule of law, diplomatic-political side. And so flowing all those troops to Afghanistan will not fix the problem. It will create the environment, shape the environment, but there's a great deal of work that needs to be done, not just by the United States, not just by NATO, but by the international community, to get those other two pieces right.
We know an awful lot about what needs to be done. We need to get to a point where we're not just talking about what needs to be done but we're taking action to get it done, and particularly in those other two areas.
The other big piece of this is the narcotics, or the counternarcotics piece, which additional forces, when they flow, will certainly make it much more challenging in the south for narcotics, for those that are in that business, than it is right now.
Q Can I just follow up very briefly on -- you mentioned the --
ADM. MULLEN: Does anyone ever say no to a follow-up?
Q No, they don't.
Q We'll still -- (off mike). (Laughter.)
Q I don't really know him at all. (Laughter.) Your comment about the global financial crisis, your concern -- what do you -- what did you mean about creating a -- or leading to a security crisis? Where do you see the linkage?
ADM. MULLEN: I think the linkage is the health of an economy. I mean, it's -- were you to flip a -- flip it upside-down in Iraq or even Afghanistan, what we need in those countries is a stable economy. And with a stable economy, jobs come, you are able to expand and create the kind of positive cycle that gets you away from the violence and from other options for unemployed young men, in particular.
As food prices continue to go up, as other costs continue to go up, as this pressure is brought not just in those two countries but globally, I think the possibilities for increased instability, as opposed to increased stability, are there. Without being precise about where that might happen, I just think -- and the extent of this or the length of this is going to have an impact on increased instability in countries that are already under a great deal of pressure because their economies aren't that healthy in the first place.
Q Is Zimbabwe right now an example of that compounded by the cholera situation?
ADM. MULLEN: I have certainly -- I'd broaden that to say that -- you know, the pressure that would be brought on continents, on -- like Africa will be enormous.
Q Back on Mumbai, if I could, Admiral, you said that the motive behind the attack was still somewhat unclear. But can you give us your best professional judgment right now as to what you believe the goals were of these attackers?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think it's the instability piece. I mean, what struck me about my visit, both listening to the Indians and going through the details of it, was -- and I said it in my statement -- the not-very-sophisticated technology brought together; the sophistication of the attack itself; the -- and the ability to hold so many people at bay, really terrorize them for such an extended period of time; and that rather than just a single -- you know, focus on a single country, but that that could evolve to potentially two countries, both of whom have nuclear weapons, you know, coming -- you know, getting at odds with each other more and start to -- start to create potential for what would be a complete disaster if those two countries got into a conflict.
Q So you think the goal, then, was to drive that tension --
ADM. MULLEN: No, I don't -- I honestly don't know what the goal -- I mean, I don't have any information or even any intelligence on what the goal was specifically.
But I am looking at what happened, at what they were -- what they were clearly -- what they were able to do, and I think we need to be mindful of that, in terms of what they executed. And it was not just a limited impact. And it also says that this kind of terror and this kind of evil has got to be rooted out.
Q What does it say about Lashkar as an organization? Do you now elevate them in the constellation of jihadi networks? Does it say more about them than maybe you knew before?
ADM. MULLEN: Clearly, this -- my view, this wasn't just about India or India and Pakistan, because they killed Americans.
That's a new threshold. They killed Brits. They specifically targeted a Jewish center which was off the main drag. Very specifically focused.
So in my view, it raises them to a level that is well above what it originally existed for, or is said to exist for. It is -- it has relationships with al Qaeda. It has had for some time. It's had some impact in the FATA in its associations. So again, it raises this outfit to a much -- I think, a much higher level than -- than where it was before.
Q Just to follow up on that, if you -- I mean, given the nature of this attack, I mean, what kinds of worries does that create for you about the ability to prevent future ones? And wouldn't you say future ones are probably going to happen, if there was this broader intent? And what can the U.S. military do to assist in prevention?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think it's less the U.S. military -- I think, certainly, we have a part -- than it is literally governments throughout the world. And one of the things that is facilitated by ungoverned spaces -- it could be Somalia, it could be Yemen, it could be North Africa, ungoverned spaces there, and clearly it was facilitated by the availability of camps and training grounds in Pakistan -- and it is that ability to operate and train over an extended period of time in very sophisticated tactics that, to me, is very powerful.
Not just here. I mean, since -- certainly 2001 would be the signature event for the United States, but there have been camps in which this kind of training has been taking place for year -- for years. So we -- again, the international community -- I think have to go to great lengths to make sure those opportunities are not presented to them.
Q And just one follow-up on Barbara's question on Afghanistan. Do you foresee U.S. Marines being sent into Afghanistan --
ADM. MULLEN: Yes.
Q -- and stepping up the timetable of that, maybe from spring-summer to earlier?
ADM. MULLEN: How much the Marine Corps is going to participate -- I mean, General Conway has certainly made his desires known, but we've got a process that looks at what our requirements are and how do we move capability into those requirements. And I talked about, you know, additional forces, certainly over the period of 2009. We honestly have not identified or looked at exactly where they -- where they come from. General Conway is -- and he's got a point of, you know, a foot in both camps makes it much more difficult for the Marine Corps.
But it's not just about the big pieces. You know that. I mean, we also have to get this right in terms of all the enabling capability that is there -- that is available, both in Iraq, needed in Afghanistan as well as that capability which is -- (word inaudible).
Q Admiral, you mentioned that you have concerns regarding Yemen. Do you have any information you can share with us about safe havens in Yemen?
ADM. MULLEN: If you just look at the -- nothing -- not any intelligence I would share with you, for sure. But if you just look at the incidents which have occurred there and the broad concern with respect to the ability to operate there, that there is potential there that I worry about a great deal, without getting in any kind of detail.
Q Admiral, back to Mumbai. There's a lot of focus, of course, on Pakistan, but many militant groups in Pakistan have been getting funding from Saudi Arabia for many years, going back to at least the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Do you have any concerns about Saudi activities in this area?
ADM. MULLEN: I have concerns about all of the funding activity. These organizations are unable to function without funds, obviously. I think you may have seen reported in the press that the Pakistanis have taken some steps with respect to some charitable organizations that are associated with the LeT, which in many cases are a front for the organization. And so how that is resourced -- and in fact, you know, a very legitimate question is, if they're helping out people who need help, how do you replace that if you remove that source? So it wouldn't be just Saudi Arabia, it would be anybody and any source that are resourcing the militants. And that's going on more broadly than just a single country.
Q Sir, for months before the attacks in Mumbai, you were talking about the need for a strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Since the attack, has there been greater emphasis or more impetus from other parts of the government to look at that for a regional strategy?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm actually pretty comfortable based on the reviews that are ongoing, the one that General Lute is running, certainly the one that I'm looking at and the one that General Petraeus is, that we all understand that, that there is a regional piece here which is absolutely vital, and so what's the best way to get at that, to include certainly all three countries.
Q How concerned are you about these attacks on the supply flow in Western Pakistan, into Afghanistan, and what measures are you looking at to potentially circumvent the terrorist attacks on NATO supplies, U.S. supplies going through Pakistan?
ADM. MULLEN: I've had a concern about this for months. I mean, even without the incidents, it's a single point of failure for us. Clearly we've engaged heavily, with the Pakistanis, to ensure the safety there and the ability to move so much of our vital capability, through Pakistan, to Afghanistan. And with the increase in incidents, we're all increasingly concerned.
But in that concern, we've worked pretty hard to develop options so that we're not tied to a single point of failure. And we've worked that pretty hard. We've actually made a lot of progress, with respect to that, without going into specifics. And it -- I recognized the vulnerability that's there. And I'm confident that we can, in looking at this, that we'll be able to sustain our effort.
Q How quickly will you be able to implement some of these options that you're looking at?
ADM. MULLEN: Relatively.
I mean, the eaches of them, all of the eaches, are somewhat challenging. But in the totality, there's enough there to be able to work our way through, even though it would be challenging to do that.
Q Are you seeing any evidence that the Pakistanis or Indians have moved their nukes since the Mumbai attacks?
ADM. MULLEN: The way I'd sum that up is, as I said earlier, that they have, that the governments have shown great restraint here, certainly to include that.
Q Admiral, do you anticipate that the strategy reviews that are going on, that you're familiar with, will result in new goals, new priorities, a new approach for Afghanistan? Or will it be a matter of trying to do more and better of what's already being done?
ADM. MULLEN: Probably some of both.
I think to look, to look at, you know, what our goals and objectives are and then, as someone said to me, it's great to have those goals, but you've got to be able to resource them. You've got to be able to put some stuff in behind them. And so that's equally important with respect to that.
But there's also, and I've talked about this before, particularly in the discussion about the region. It's my view, we need to have a comprehensive approach with the country of Pakistan. We've worked hard to try to expand that, not waiting for any strategy review. We've worked pretty hard on that over many, many months.
Certainly these attacks, the attacks on Mumbai, gives us obviously a great deal of focus there and point of focus at, I think, a very important time. So I'm comfortable. I'm not expecting any, at this point anyway, I don't expect any radical changes.
I think emphasis is going to be important. And I've talked an awful lot over time about the pieces that are there. And then in great part, it's going to be, how do, how do you resource all three legs of that stool?
Q But you don't think that limited resources might argue for limited or prioritized goals?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think clearly we'll see, you know, where we go with the new administration with respect to that, and I'm -- from a -- from -- clearly part of this -- part of the discussion will be how the strategy gets resourced, and we'll have to see what's available to do that.
Q Admiral, have you talked with the transition team, or has the Joint Staff talked with the transition team, to ensure that your Pakistan-Afghanistan strategy review is relevant to them? Is there any sort of -- or is that something that's going to happen post- January 20th?
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, I'm delighted that Secretary Gates is the head of my transition team, and I've talked to him a lot. (Chuckles.)
Q Sir, just -- can I clarify --
ADM. MULLEN: (Inaudible.)
Q Thank you. Admiral, after your meetings in Pakistan, what can you say to concerns, especially in India, that members of ISI may have played a role in the Mumbai attacks?
ADM. MULLEN: That goes back to answering her -- Jim's question, to some extent.
There's a rich history here of ISI fomenting challenges, particularly in Kashmir, and everybody is aware of that. We're aware of that. The Indians are aware of that. The Pakistanis are aware of that, as is the international community writ large. And it's literally that piece of the previous strategy in Pakistan which I believe's got to shift for the future, and without getting into the specifics of what was causal, certainly in a classified way, or what happened here.
Q Admiral, what further steps would you like to see the Pakistanis take now?
ADM. MULLEN: I've addressed those privately with the leadership, and we'll just leave it at that at this particular point in time.
Is that it?
Q (Off mike.)
ADM. MULLEN: Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Roughly half of the detainees at Gitmo right now are Yemeni. Is there any dialogue going on between this government and President Saleh's government regarding possibly re- upping their terrorist rehabilitation program, or the return of those detainees?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm pretty much removed from the discussions about what I would call policy objectives with respect to the detainees. So I've -- I'm -- I just don't know enough to be able to answer that question one way or another.
Q Thank you.
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