United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
January 08, 2009
            MR. MORRELL: Hello, all. Good afternoon.  A belated happy new year to all of you.
            I must tell you, I'm very excited about 2009 and working closely with all of you for the next year. That's everyone except Lita Baldor, of course, with the Associated Press. As some of you may know, this is Lita's last briefing here at the Pentagon after several years on this beat.
 
    Lita, we are sorry to see you go. We will miss you and your good nature and your conscientious reporting and, not least of which, your world-wide shopping sprees.
 
    Q There you go. (Laughter.)
 
    MR. MORRELL: We wish you nothing but the best as you move on to cover counterterrorism for the AP.
 
    Lita, as you know, is the latest in a wave of veteran Pentagon reporters who are leaving this beat, reluctantly, I presume. Other recent departures include Lita's AP colleague Bob Burns, CNN's Jamie McIntyre and AFP's Jim Mannion, all of whom had covered the military for more than a decade and did so in a highly responsible manner. They are already missed around here, but I am certain their successors will rise to the occasion and do a great job as well.
 
    However, in honor of the fact this is Lita's last briefing -- and I don't expect to see you round here in the near future -- but have -- you have the first question today. Lita?
 
    Q Thank you. Mr. Schlesinger today talked about the fact that there may be a willingness within the department to create this new assistant secretary of defense for deterrence. Is that accurate? Do you see this happening? And has the secretary made any comments about that?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Well, let me start off by reiterating the secretary's thanks for Secretary Schlesinger's hard work and that of his panel. As you know, this is their second and final report. They've been at this for months now. They've worked incredibly diligently, putting in a tremendous effort that produced a series of thoughtful and actionable recommendations with respect to some very complex and serious issues.
 
    That said, it's a comprehensive report. It's a lengthy report. The secretary has just recently gotten it. He wants to spend some time going through it. He also wants to spend some time evaluating it with the new service secretaries when they are named and with the rest of the new Defense team that the Obama administration will be appointing over here.
 
    So I don't think we're prepared, at this point, to embrace any single recommendation, although frankly with regards to the first part of the report, as you know, the Air Force -- and that dealt specifically with the Air Force -- the Air Force has already undertaken many of the corrective measures that the panel had recommended.
 
    But in terms of the second phase of their report, I don't think we're prepared now to embrace any single recommendation other than to say that the totality of the work is appreciated, it's thoughtful, we will seriously consider all of the recommendations, and we'll work with the new defense team to figure out which ones to proceed with.
 
    Q So Secretary Schlesinger was mistaken when he says that he believes there's a willingness?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I didn't, frankly, hear Secretary Schlesinger's briefing with you all. I can just tell you sort of what the status of this -- of his work is now within the department, which is that it has been warmly received, it is going to be thoroughly reviewed, both by the secretary and the new team that will work with him, and there will be determinations made at a future date as to which of the recommendations to proceed with.
 
    But fundamentally -- and the secretary made this clear to Secretary Schlesinger when they met -- you know, it is the conclusion of the secretary -- of both secretaries, in this case, that the U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and reliable, so no one would doubt our capabilities or our resolve to defend U.S. and allied interests by deterring aggression.
 
    But as I think Secretary Schlesinger noted, the report certainly does identify trends, both recent and long term, that warrant corrective action, and we are going to certainly consider the ways he suggested to solve some of those problems.
 
    Okay? Yeah, Andrew.
Q Geoff, on the transition, can you say how quickly the secretary expects to have some key posts filled in the new administration? How quickly does he expect to have deputies and other key people in place?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Well, he hopes to have them filled as soon as humanly possible. I would hope -- we would hope that it could happen as soon as possible. I don't want to preempt any announcement that may or may not be coming out of the presidential-elect's transition team. I would really refer you to them in terms of the timing of such things.
 
    All I can tell you is that the secretary, as I think I mentioned to you before, has been intimately involved in the process of interviewing candidates. He's personally interviewed several of them and has made recommendations based upon those interviews to the president-elect. And I think we are at the point where we are waiting for their next move, so I'd refer you to them in terms of how soon that may or may not happen.
 
    Q Do you have any sense of how many recommendations he's made so far?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I wouldn't want to characterize it because he's been involved in this on really a daily basis. I think he's been meeting with people.
 
    So I -- whatever number I gave you may be obsolete by the time I say it.
 
    So -- but I would -- I would put it this way: He has been busy working with the transition team on identifying appropriate candidates for the various vacancies throughout the department, personally interviewing many of them, and making recommendations to the president-elect about whether or not they should be hired. And I think we're just waiting to see when some announcements will take place.
 
    But I think he's pleased, generally, with the pace of the process thus far. I think he feels as though he's made some good progress -- they've made some good progress towards identifying very -- some very capable candidates to fill some -- some very big jobs within the department.
 
    Q Transition, Geoff?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Have any of the service secretaries or undersecretaries indicated that they will not be able to continue serving through the term of the transition?
 
    MR. MORRELL: You know, I -- one thing I want to try to avoid, I think, is getting into individual cases. I would put it this way, Bill: I think that all of the service secretaries has expressed a willingness to stay on past the 20th of January, past the 20th of this month, until such time as their successor can come -- is confirmed and can come on board and they can hand the baton off to him or her. I believe that to be the case. That -- that was my last best knowledge of this, is that all had agreed to that. I will double-check on that this afternoon.
 
    As for the unders, I believe that the unders -- that the vast majority of the unders are in the same situation. They have expressed a willingness to stay on and serve until their successors can get on the job.
Q (Off mike) –
 
MR. MORRELL: In fact, I would say that about all the -- really about all the presidential appointees within the department. You know, before we went away on holiday break, as you know, there were a series of e-mails that were sent out, notifying the 200 or -- I think roughly 230-(2)40 presidential appointees within the department that the transition team would be contacting them if, indeed, their service was not needed after the 20th. I think those notifications have been made. And subsequent to that, another e-mail went out, asking that those who had not been asked to leave on the 20th, those who were willing to stay should notify us by the 7th -- yesterday, I believe that is.
 
    I think we have gotten those notifications, and I would say the vast majority of -- I don't know, I think at least -- about roughly 140 people have expressed a willingness to stay in their positions and serve -- continue to serve after the 20th, until their successors can come on board. So that ensures that there will not be any void in leadership, any vacuum in any of these offices after the 20th.
 
            So the secretary's very pleased that we were able to work out this arrangement. He would have ideally liked all the presidential appointees to stay on until their successors could come on board, because he wants to make sure there is continuity throughout the department. But I think enough have been invited to and enough have agreed to such that there will be a smooth transition throughout this department.
 
            Q And you'll check on the service secretaries this afternoon?
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I'm pretty sure I'm accurate on that, but I will double-check on that. Yeah.
 
            Yeah, Luis, sorry.
 
            Q A check on the transition as well. The secretary, I believe, met with the rest of the incoming national security team -- with the Obama transition team earlier this week. Are there further meetings scheduled? And what are those discussions? What are they -- what's the context? What are they taking -- what's taking place? Are they policy discussions or is it more personnel matters? What's going on?
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I may not be totally satisfying on this topic, Luis, other than to tell you that the secretary has been meeting regularly with the president-elect and his team. I think we talked before the break about a couple of trips to Chicago.
 
            But since the president-elect has arrived in Washington, I can tell you they have -- they have met with some frequency on a number of topics. And I would describe them only as, you know, those relating to national security and defense policy. I'm not going to break down what specifically they've been addressing during the course of these meetings, nor will I in the future.
 
            Maybe the transition team is more comfortable doing so, but the secretary is not, so I'm not going to.
 
            Yeah?
 
            Q Geoff, there appears to be some difference of opinion between some of the service chiefs, between Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus in particular about the way ahead in Afghanistan. Can you describe the nature of the difference of opinion right now about the way forward and what the discussion is based around?
 
            MR. MORRELL: I, frankly, am not aware of any disagreements within this department about the way ahead in Afghanistan.
 
            Q They all agree?
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think everybody is pretty much in agreement on how we -- how we move forward in Afghanistan.
 
            I think everybody believes that more troops are necessary and that, as the secretary has said, he's looking to fulfill the commander's request, which is four additional brigade combat teams. That's the 3rd [Brigade Combat Team] of the 10th [Mountain Division], which arrives this month, and three others which have yet to be identified.
 
            You saw that the 82nd Airborne was going to be the aviation combat brigade, which is -- which will go over in the spring. So I think there is fundamental agreement that more forces are necessary to combat the rising levels of violence that we have seen in Afghanistan, particularly in the east and in the south.
 
            Now, what happens after you get those additional four BCTs and the combat aviation brigade, such that you nearly double the number of forces, American forces, you have in country? That's the next discussion to be had. And the secretary has said he is -- he is -- he is very mindful of the fact that there is a tipping point in terms of the American footprint -- the coalition footprint, for that matter -- on the ground in Afghanistan. So he wants to be very careful beyond those -- those -- beyond the commander's request as to how many more troops we would ever consider putting in.
 
            Fundamentally, this has to be an Afghan-led operation. It is and must remain that way. And, what's more important, the Afghan people must recognize it as such. We are there to assist them attain a level of peace and security that has eluded them, really, for centuries.
 
            Q And what is the status of the various reviews that are taking place right now?
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I know that, you know, there was -- there was a review by -- by the national security staff. I think the secretary has talked to you all a little bit about that. There are some excellent ideas in there. I think that is being shared with the president-elect and his team. General Petraeus has a review under way that I think is expected to conclude in February. I think the chairman had an Afghanistan-Pakistan review that is -- that is ongoing.
 
            So a lot of reviews, but the secretary believes that thus far, from what he's seen, that there's some excellent ideas that are -- that are being -- that are being attained through this process. And so I think that once the new team is onboard, I think you'll look at some -- some earnest discussion about whether we should adopt any of these ideas that have come out of these reviews.
 
            But to your fundamental point, I really am not aware of any great debate within the department about how to proceed in Afghanistan.
 
            Yeah, Courtney.
 
            Q Quickly on that.
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
 
            Q The secretary said a few weeks ago that he expected the four brigades to be in Afghanistan in "summertime," I think was his exact word he used. Is that still the belief in the department, that they'll be in Afghanistan then?
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think what he said is that the -- we will begin the flow -- these additional BCTs in after the 3rd [Brigade Combat Team] of the 10th [Mountain Division], and the combat aviation brigade in late spring/early summer. As for getting all four of them in, I don't believe the secretary has identified a date by which that would take place. I think it's going to take way beyond the summer to have all four BCTs in country. But this -- we will begin the flow of the additional -- the remaining three starting in the spring -- late spring/early summer of this year.
 
            Q Do you expect all four of them to be on the ground in Afghanistan this calendar year, at least?
 
            MR. MORRELL: I am not in a position to tell you at this point. But I would not hold your breath for all four to be there late spring/early summer. I think it's going to take beyond that.
 
            Yeah, Jim.
 
            Q Is there a –
 
            MR. MORRELL: Oh, Jim's still here! I didn't even recognize -- I thought you were supposed to be gone. (Laughs.)
 
            Q I'll be here for a few more weeks.
 
            MR. MORRELL: Few more weeks? Oh, my goodness. (Laughter.)
 
            All right, let me amend my remarks at the beginning here.
Q (Off mike.)
 
    MR. MORRELL: All right. Sorry, Jim.
 
    Q The -- forgot my question. (Laughter.) Clever.
 
    MR. MORRELL: I've never seen Mannion flustered like that.
 
    Q Sorry, Geoff.
 
    MR. MORRELL: He's beet red! We'll come to back to you, Jim.
 
    Ken, do you have anything?
 
    Q Oh, no, now I remember.
 
    MR. MORRELL: Okay. (Laughter.)
 
    Q Is there the same agreement on pace for the drawdown on Iraq? I mean, you could argue that the next phase of the -- of the drawdown in Iraq will be possibly riskier than the first phase. And so is there -- you know, is there agreement on how quickly you can bring out, you know, brigades from Iraq that might free up troops for Afghanistan?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Two things.
 
    I think on the -- with regards to your last point, I wouldn't -- I know we've talked much in the past about how plussing-up in Afghanistan is necessitated by drawing down in Iraq. I'm not so sure that is the case for all of the additional BCTs.
 
    That said, with regard to whether there's agreement on the pace of drawdown in Iraq, I can just tell you -- and I think you were on the trip with us, Jim -- that the secretary, in December, met with Generals Odierno and Austin in Balad.
 
    They had an excellent discussion about some of the initial planning that General Odierno is considering for drawdowns in this year. But I don't believe that we have come to any conclusion yet as to how that will take place.
 
    I would also alert you to the fact, as I'm sure you know, that there is scheduled to be an historic election that takes place in Iraq, provincial elections, in four weeks time. And then there will be two subsequent elections in Iraq this year. So there will be some security needs throughout this year that have to be factored into whatever drawdown plans there are.
 
    I would also, while you have me on the subject, just draw your attention to some remarkable milestones that have taken place this month. On the 1st of January, obviously, the SOFA kicked in, as did the Strategic Framework Agreement, marking a new day in our relations with Iraq. We have turned over control of the International Zone to the Iraqi security forces. We have opened a new United States embassy in Baghdad.
 
    Security incidents in December numbered fewer than 600. That is the lowest number since the summer of 2003, just after the invasion. Violence is down 65 percent in 2008 from last year. High-profile attacks are down 55 percent. Remarkably -- and although this is a metric we don't like to use, it's one that can't be ignored, I don't think -- U.S. deaths in Afghanistan [sic – Iraq] numbered 312 last year, versus 886 the previous year. One is too many, but that is a stunning, stunning drop in casualties in Iraq.
 
    Electricity production up 25 percent in megawatts, to 16 hours a day, on average, throughout the country. Oil production up a hundred percent in the north. Elections, as you know, are four weeks away. Fifteen million voters are expected. Fourteen thousand candidates are running. So there is much to be -- much to be encouraged by in Iraq thus far this year.
 
    That said, we have seen a couple of dastardly and deadly high- profile attacks, so al Qaeda and some of the special groups remain a threat to peace and stability in that country, and that's why there is still a requirement for U.S. forces on the ground.
 
    Yeah, Joe?
 
    Q I have a question on the war in Gaza. Do you see any serious implications of the current Israeli operations on the region?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Do I see serious implications? I mean, I would really refer you, on that kind of stuff, Joe, to the State Department. They're probably a better gauge of geopolitical implications than I am or that we are over here.
 
    Obviously, this is something we're watching very closely. We have -- the Defense Department is not involved in any of this action. I mean, the only thing that we have any sort of tangential relationship to is sort of an Army Corps of Engineers consulting or advisory role, a civilian program where we are helping the Egyptians sort of go after some of these tunnels that exist down near Rafah between Egypt and the Gaza strip. But you're talking about a couple of handfuls of civilians in an advisory capacity to the Egyptians, who are the lead on that operation. And that's been going on, I think, for several months, maybe more than a year.
 
    But, you know, we have a long-standing relationship with Israel, a long-standing military-to-military relationship with Israel, and we certainly support their right to defend themselves.
 
    Q Change subjects?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Barbara has –
 
    Q To clarify, when you said go after the tunnels, what is it that they're actually doing?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I think they're identifying -- let me just see how it's described here. We're providing technical expertise in tunnel detection. So I think -- there's been no secret of the fact that these problems -- that these tunnels are used to smuggle all sorts of contraband and, more importantly, to smuggle weapons, and some of the more accurate and high-tech rockets that you're seeing being launched at Israeli towns from inside Gaza. The belief is that those are being funneled through Egypt, through those tunnels, emanating in some cases from Iran, through those tunnels into Gaza, and then being used by Hamas to fire upon, you know, Israeli civilians -- Israeli civilians.
 
    So there has been a concerted effort for some time by the Egyptians to go after some of these tunnels, detect them, block them, eliminate them, and I think the Army Corps of Engineers has provided some technical advice on how to do so.
 
    Q But they've suspended that right now, right?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I think right now, because of the violence, no one is anywhere close to the border at this point.
 
    Q Just to make sure, is it solely -- is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers role anything beyond assisting or advising in detection?
 
    MR. MORRELL: As I described it, it is strictly technical advice.
Q In detection?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
 
    Q Okay. Can I just ask one other very quick –
 
    MR. MORRELL: Sure.
Q On Guantanamo Bay, can you give us any update about the secretary's review on -- or assessment or whatever it was -- on how to close Gitmo?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I don't have one.
 
    Q Do you know if he's briefed the president-elect on it yet?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to -- as I said before, I'm not going to discuss what he has or has not briefed the president-elect or his team about, other than to say it would fall under the framework of national security and defense policy issues.
 
    Ken? Yeah.
 
    Q We've been told that the secretary had a conversation on Sunday with his Israeli counterpart about Gaza. Has he had any subsequent conversations with Minister Barak? And in any conversation, has Barak given him an indication of how long the current operation is going to continue?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I wouldn't characterize what, if anything, Minister Barak said to the secretary on time lines or the need for the operation. We have told you, and I will confirm for those who haven't heard it, that they did have a conversation over the weekend. And as far as I know, Ken, that is the only conversation they have had since this operation began some days ago.
 
    Obviously, there are many people in this department who deal, probably almost on a daily basis, with their counterparts in Israel, and throughout the region, for that matter, even preceding this conflict. And I presume that continues now. So there are contacts between us and the Israelis, and others in the region. But in terms of that high-level a conversation, I think that's been the exclusive one at this point.
 
    Q Well, more broadly, then, have we gotten any indication from any Israeli official as to how long the current operation is going to –
 
    MR. MORRELL: I would refer you to the State Department, because I think Secretary Rice is the one who's been dealing most directly with the Israelis on this matter.
 
    Q One more, on a different subject, if I may.
 
    MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
 
    Q Do you have any idea when the new supp is going to go up to the Hill?
 
    MR. MORRELL: Well, you know, the secretary sent a letter to Congressman Murtha sort of providing his best guess, his personal estimate on what he thinks the second half of the '09 global war on terror budget supplemental will likely be, with a big caveat in there -- a couple of big caveats. One is that his number, which was nearly $66 billion, does not take into account the additional forces that will be flowing into Afghanistan this year; nor does it take into account that there's a new commander in chief coming onboard who will likely have some opinions about how he wants to budget for this department, and a team that will be working for him.
 
    So there's got to be some consultations once the team is in place, but I know it's the secretary's desire to deal with this -- and for that matter, I know it's the president-elect's team's desire to deal with this -- as soon as possible so that the Congress can act on it as soon as possible.
 
    But I couldn't tell you specifically when that will take place. We are meeting regularly on this matter. But I don't think we've come to any conclusion about how soon.
 
    Q It's going to be after the 20th, judging from what you've said though.
(Cross talk.)
 
    MR. MORRELL: Well, sure. Yeah the new -- there's got to be a new president before he can influence budgetary matters.
 
    Q Geoff, how much does the secretary think it will cost to flow those U.S. forces into Afghanistan?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I don't have an estimate. And he did not provide one to Congressman Murtha. But I mean, suffice it to say, that number will likely have to be higher, unless there are tradeoffs made within the -- within what's being asked for.
 
    Yeah, Donna.
 
    Q How about the high priority programs the secretary's had: the MRAPs, the ISR, the wounded warrior support? How much emphasis do you expect those programs to continue receiving into the new administration? And are there any other new, key programs you think have been talked about or that the secretary's looking at?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I think all three of those will continue to be a priority.
 
    I mean, MRAPs are sort of -- while it started off in a task force mode, sort of had this urgent emergency feel to it, it is now almost an institutionalized program. And in fact, we have nearly built all the MRAPs that have been identified as needed. The main focus of efforts lately has been trying to get more MRAPs to Afghanistan. And I think we have -- I think we're up to 1,100 now in Afghanistan.
 
    So that is a positive development there. We will likely need more in Afghanistan. And we will likely need more of these new, lighter MRAPs that are being pursued now. So MRAPs will remain a priority although certainly, I think, will take less of the secretary's time than they had occupied over the past 18 months or so.
 
    ISR will remain a priority although that too has become pretty well institutionalized. There are now people how appreciate, as the secretary does, how important this is to our warfighters. And so I think they are committed to seeing his vision through to reality.
And finally on Wounded Warrior, I think, you will see this take even more of the secretary's time in the coming year, years, whatever it ends up being, than even it has over the past couple of years.
 
    And I can tell you it's occupied a significant portion of his time. But he is not done in that realm. He has many more things he wishes to accomplish. He thinks we've made great progress but are still not good enough. And so look for more in that realm.
 
    And as for any new additional programs, I hate to do this to you, but I'm going to tell you -- have to tell you to wait and see. I mean, clearly he's identified to you, and in interviews subsequent to him being asked to stay on, that he does want to deal with acquisition and procurement. He has some issues that are -- that he punted, he thought, to the next secretary, but he's going to have to be the recipient of those kicks. And, you know, whether it be the tanker or whether it be F-22, there are some issues that he's going to have to deal with. But I think they're going to be dealt with in the context of his desire to take some corrective measures on acquisition and procurement, and so I think, you know -- in addition to the fact that I think budget issues are going to be a very big, big consumer of his time.
 
    In the -- you know, we've got, obviously, a very difficult financial climate. And we've got a -- the next budget has to go up to the Hill shortly after the new administration takes over. We've got a Quadrennial Defense Review which is coming up. We've got a new National Defense Strategy, which the new president has to submit, I think, by June. We've got a nuclear posture statement which has to be done.
 
    So there are a lot of budget and policy matters that are going to eat up a lot of his time, but have the potential to really impact the direction of this department for years to come. So I think you'll see, in the first several months of this administration, a great deal of the secretary's time devoted to dealing with those issues.
Q Geoff –
 
    MR. MORRELL: I'll take two more, and then we've got to go. Let's do Ann, and then we'll end, as we began, with Lita -- unless you have something urgent, Courtney
 
    Q Well, I guess not.
 
    MR. MORRELL: Ann.
 
    Q Okay. Well, this just quick. On Afghanistan, how long -- I mean, do you see the increase of these four brigades as being something that would continue indefinitely? The commander there has emphasized that he would not describe this as a surge; that there is a need for a long-term increase in Afghanistan that would be sustained for a significant period of time.
 
    MR. MORRELL: I have not heard, Ann, a great deal of discussion on that, to give you an informed enough answer, frankly. I think the need -- the immediate need is to get additional boots on the ground to put down some of the increases of violence we've seen in the east and in the south.
 
    I understand the arguments and appreciate the difference between a sustained commitment and a surge. I think that the secretary clearly does have concerns about the footprint and he does have concerns about making sure we are there and it's recognized that we are there in support of the Afghan people. And so we are going to be very, very mindful of that.
 
    And so I don't think we're in a position to tell you that there are going to be 60,000 American forces, you know, ninety -- nearly a hundred thousand coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. I don't think anybody is ready to say that. But I think there is a recognition here, and among our allies, frankly, that more troops are needed in the short term to deal with the recent rise in violence we've seen.
 
    And let's -- I will indulge you. Yes.
 
    Q This is quick. Does the new policy on not awarding Purple Hearts to post-traumatic stress –
 
    MR. MORRELL: Oh, yeah, just quick. Just quick, yeah.
 
    Q It's quick. Believe me, you can use a one-word answer.
 
    Is there any concern -- there's been some critics who've said that this will just increase the stigma that the department has been trying to decrease or eliminate about post-traumatic stress patients. Is there any concern? What are the secretary's feelings on that criticism?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I have not heard that criticism. But I wouldn't -- the one thing I would caution people about on this is I think -- awards are very, very sensitive matters and taken very, very seriously in this department. It's not as though there's one guy in this building who determines these matters. There's committees involving inside and outside experts, and there's history, and there are very, very precise criteria.
 
    I think this was looked at a while ago. The conclusion then is, as it is now, that PTSD does not qualify, given the 76-year definition of what a Purple Heart recipient is. So, you know, the secretary when he got this question, I think when we were down at the Red River Army Depot, he thought it was worth re-addressing, and so he asked them to take another look at it.
They have. I think he appreciates the conclusion they've come to. But I don't think anybody should assume that that decision is in any way reflective on how seriously we take the problem of PTSD in this department.
 
    I think we will have spent about a billion dollars on research, development, treatment, preventative measures. And I think you will see more and more money being spent to combat this very real problem that we are all terribly concerned with.
 
    So just because an awards committee believes this particular injury does not qualify for this award, does not in any way reflect that we don't take this problem seriously and aren't committed to doing everything we possibly can towards preventing it, towards treating it, towards taking care of those who are suffering with it.
 
    Q This is also quick -- just on piracy, the new task force on piracy, do you have any visibility on the formation of the task force and what other countries may or may not be involved?
 
    MR. MORRELL: I think it's so new at this point, Lita, that right now, I think, it's just U.S. ships that are involved. I think we would welcome and invite our coalition partners to join in Task Force 151, which NAVCENT has just stood up, I think, this week.
 
    I think we certainly welcome -- I think there are some Chinese naval ships that are steaming towards the Gulf of Aden now. And we welcome their participation. I think it's a historic development from the Chinese navy's point of view, in the sense that they are going an awfully long way from home and participating in this international effort.
 
    So we -- I think the focus of this, versus what we have been doing thus far, to date, Task Force 150, as you know, had been in existence focused primarily on counterterrorism, counterproliferation. The idea here, I think, from Admiral Gortney in NAVCENT, is to focus a task force exclusively on counterpiracy. And so it's in its infant stages now.
 
    We believe we have the authority necessary for this group to make some real impact on piracy. I think my statistics showed, I think, we've got 16 ships that at this point are -- have been hijacked by pirates.
 
    I think this week there were some additional attempts, but a number of them were thwarted. I think you've seen more active engagement by a number of the coalition militaries that are in the area. I think you're seeing -- seeing some more aggressive tactics being used by them to thwart would-be hijackings.
 
    So I think we're making some progress in this area, and I think that Task Force 151 is another tool towards combating this problem.
 
    Okay. Thanks so much.
 
    Copyright ©2009 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500, 1000 Vermont Ave, Washington, DC 20005 USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service at www.fednews.com, please email Carina Nyberg at cnyberg@fednews.com or call 1-202-216-2706.