MR. MORRELL: It's a pleasure to see you all today. A quick opening statement and then straight to your questions.
Secretary Gates wishes the Iraqi people well as they go to the polls this weekend for provincial elections, the first of three major votes to take place this year. More than 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote Saturday. And they will choose from more than 14,000 candidates vying for 440 provincial council seats.
Candidates have for the most part run on issues that matter, to the Iraqi people, rather than trying to exploit ethnic or sectarian divisions. There has been some pre-election violence but relatively few instances of voter intimidation.
Many of the people who boycotted the 2005 provincial elections are expected to head to the polls, on Saturday, suggesting the governments that result from these elections will be more representative, particularly in traditional Sunni areas, than those that emerged from the last election.
Of course, election security remains the primary concern of U.S. troops, in Iraq, who will be supporting Iraqi security forces, in their efforts to deny the enemies of a free and democratic Iraq their ability to disrupt the voting.
One additional related note: We are pleased the Afghan government has set a date for their next national elections. I understand the Afghan people are scheduled to go to the polls just before Ramadan in August of this year. This morning, the secretary heard from the commander on the ground there that voter registration continues to progress well.
So we are pleased that the relatively new democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to mature rapidly.
And with that, I'll take your questions. Andrew?
Q Geoff, how soon should we expect to see additional deployment orders for extra troops going to Afghanistan?
MR. MORRELL: How soon should you expect to see deployment orders? That's a relative -- it's a relative question. I think, relatively soon, but you guys, I think, given the questions I've gotten out of this room, are on a faster time line than perhaps the rest of this building is on.
We can't put the cart before the horse here. The president is engaged in a very deliberative process that has been described a number of times by me, by the secretary, by Robert Gibbs over at the White House. And we've got to let that process take its course.
You guys have seen it evolve over just the first two weeks of the new administration, with the president on his first full day on the job calling in the secretary and the chairman, as well as the ground commander, General Odierno, and the regional commander, General Petraeus, for their assessment on Iraq and the challenges that we face there this year.
And then last Friday, it's my understanding while the secretary was undergoing his surgery, the president also had a chance to visit with General McKiernan, via secure video teleconference from Afghanistan. And then, as you saw yesterday, the president came to the Pentagon, visited with the Joint Chiefs in the tank, and got their assessment.
So I think what's next in this process is for the chairman and the secretary to offer their formal recommendations to the president. And I would expect that to take place relatively soon. As for how soon after that that he makes decisions that would lead to deployment orders, I can't tell you precisely. But obviously, we have to make some notifications to units, so that they are in a position to deploy as soon as possible, should the commander in chief give the go-ahead for that.
Q You said relatively soon for the recommendations from the chairman and the secretary. Is that a matter of days, would you say?
MR. MORRELL: I really -- (chuckles) -- this is a slippery slope. Days, hours, weeks -- I think everybody is committed to doing this as quickly and yet as responsibly as possible. So I would think, in the coming -- in the coming days, we hope to be able to present -- the secretary hopes to be able to present the president with his recommendation.
Q Geoff, if you could talk a little bit -- is that recommendation -- would that be merely on troops, here are the troops that I would like to send in order to fill McKiernan -- General McKiernan's requirements; or will this be a broader recommendation, these are what I see as the priorities of Afghanistan, this is how I think to meet your objective, we should do -- and here are the troops needed for it? How broad or narrow is that recommendation?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I would -- I'd put it this way. I would not -- when a formal recommendation does come from the secretary to the president, I would not assume by the fact that has taken place that the Afghan strategy review that the White House has talked about as being under way is complete at that point. There may well be decisions with regards to deployments of additional units in the midst of this ongoing review. So you know, I don't know if that's helpful, but --
Q So -- that is helpful.
Q Geoff --
Q But just to follow up quickly, with the recommendation, would this be all of the troops that Secretary Gates outlined to Congress, two brigade-sized units in the spring, one in the summer? Or are you going to take it brigade by brigade?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think the secretary wants to get into a situation where he's, you know, presenting a deployment orders book to the commander in chief. But I think he does want to consult with him about what is -- about plussing up large numbers of additional troops in Afghanistan. So I'm not going to delve into specifically how he is going to present it to the president, but I don't think he wants to get into a situation where he's going to him for the deployment of each and every unit. I think he's going to present a picture to him about what we need to do in the midst of this ongoing review to get some of the additional forces that the commander has requested as soon as possible.
Q May I just have a follow-up, please?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'll come back to you. These gentlemen over here have been patiently waiting.
Q Excuse me, could you give us more details about the troops to be sent to Afghanistan? How many --
MR. MORRELL: Short answer: No.
Q -- combat brigades --
MR. MORRELL: Well, we've talked about how many combat brigades. Now, I mean, the commander --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: I mean, we update you every day and it hasn't changed. I mean, fundamentally, the commanders in the field -- General McKiernan has requested four additional brigade combat teams. That's three in addition to the 3rd of the 10th, which is on the ground and should be operational, I think, the first week of February. So three additional brigade combat teams. We've already talked about the combat aviation brigade. The 82nd Airborne is going to fill that void, I believe, in May; and then a host of enablers to ensure that they can do their work.
But as the secretary cautioned, you know, before the Hill on Tuesday, it's not enough just to unload thousands of additional troops in Afghanistan without the infrastructure to support them. So we need to be mindful of the logistical needs, the infrastructure needs in order for these guys to be successful. So that's part of this equation.
It's one thing if we had a pool of forces with which to draw -- which, frankly, we don't. There are implications, obviously, for Iraq based upon plussing up in Afghanistan. But even if we had this pool of forces with no other demands on it, we would have infrastructure challenges on the ground in Afghanistan. So this is a -- it's a delicate plus-up, because you've got to do it commensurate to the infrastructure that exists.
Q So we can understand that the total is 30,000?
MR. MORRELL: I think you've heard numbers that have been tossed about. I think the chairman has talked about numbers of -- reaching upwards of 30,000. I think we clearly have all talked in terms of a significant plus-up of additional forces, at least if the commanders' wishes are granted.
And ultimately, as you all know, there's a new commander in chief. It is ultimately his call as to how much and how soon he wants to do. He clearly has given every indication that Afghanistan will be the priority of his administration, militarily. But he is also very mindful of the fact that the troops required to plus up in Afghanistan, to a large degree, impact what's going on in Iraq. And so he is mindful that if you draw down in Iraq, you assume certain risks there.
If you don't plus up rapidly enough in Afghanistan, you have risks there to contend with as well.
So this is, as I said, a very delicate -- when people asked me yesterday, after the president visited the tank, "What did he mean by difficult decisions?" -- that's the difficult decision: the balancing of risk between two theaters.
Q And just to follow up on that, this formal recommendation --
MR. MORRELL: Is this Bryan?
MR. MORRELL: Bryan Bender.
MR. MORRELL: At last, a face to a name. (Laughs.) Good to meet you.
Q On that point about Iraq, the timeline that you're talking about -- days, weeks, whatever it might be -- it's [a] relatively short timeline for giving the recommendations on Afghanistan -- for the troop levels, anyway. Will that also include their recommendation on a timeline for redeployment from Iraq? Obviously, the two are tied together. Availability of forces over the next couple years will depend on the Iraq piece of it. Or will these be done sort of in parallel, but distinctly -- that there'll be a separate recommendation on whether 16 months is doable, or some other time frame?
MR. MORRELL: I think that the president, when he makes a decision about sending additional forces to Afghanistan, will be well aware of the impact that has on operations in Iraq and will make a decision in the -- in that context.
Q But will their recommendations include, "Mr. President, we think we could do this in x amount of months in Iraq"?
MR. MORRELL: I -- I'm not going to get -- I'm frankly not going to get into that at this point.
MR. MORRELL: Are we -- let's finish this up, and we'll come back to Gitmo.
Let's go to Ken and then Jeff.
Q The secretary, in his testimony on Tuesday, said that there was reason for increased hope now that some of our European allies would be more forthcoming on Afghanistan. In fact, I think he used the term that they had some additional capacity to do that they hadn't used before, that they'd, in fact, been saving up and now might be prepared to put forward. Can you provide a little more detail on that? What are we talking about in terms of excess capacity? How much? Which countries?
MR. MORRELL: Ken, I really can't. I mean, I think it's largely anecdotal. I don't know that anybody's been whispering in the secretary's ear, "Hey, as soon as President Obama's inaugurated, you know, we'll pony up what we've been sitting on for a while." I think it's largely anecdotal.
I think it's based upon the fact that while the new president is enormously popular in this country, with extremely high approval ratings, he is wildly popular in many European nations.
And many of these nations are governed by coalition governments who have a great deal of pressure on them to respond to the wills of their people if they wish their governments to remain in power. And so the president may have some additional leverage in this case, because he is so popular among the people in many of these European nations. So perhaps some of these governments may be more responsive to a request from this president as we get closer to his sort of debut, at least among NATO nations, at the 60th anniversary summit coming up in April in France and Germany.
So I don't have anything concrete to relay to you. I think it's just a sense that perhaps -- perhaps we may get some, but I don't think anybody is Pollyannish about this either, Ken. I mean, I think the -- you know, the secretary's been banging his European friends pretty hard over the last two years. And you know, in fairness to them, there have been tangible results. I mean, we've talked about this before, but they roughly matched us in our plus-up in Afghanistan over the past 18 months or so. You know, obviously a lot of those numbers come with significant caveats, and that's a big concern and inhibits their ability to be fully effective. And obviously there's -- you know, there -- we also would like more support on the civil side, you know, whether it be additional civilian expertise or frankly even monetary contributions. But there is room for improvement, and hopefully the president's popularity will lead to a greater European contribution.
Q Do you expect this to be a focus of discussion at the Munich conference next week or for that matter at the NATO ministerial in Krakow later -- next month?
MR. MORRELL: I'm sure it will be. I mean, I don't know how an American delegation goes to Munich and doesn't talk about the need -- the responsibility of Europe to do more in Afghanistan. I mean, obviously the secretary won't be carrying that message this year. You have an extremely high-level delegation going, led by the vice president, and the president's national security adviser, General Jones. I think General Petraeus will be there as well. So I think there will be some very capable advocates for the United States government's position and view that we need more help from Europe in order for us to ultimately be successful in Afghanistan.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Jeff. I promised. Thanks.
Q The guideline the secretary gave in his testimony about when extra units would be arriving in Afghanistan, is that still -- does that still hold after yesterday's meeting with the chiefs?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think he would tell the Congress one thing and tell the president another in the tank.
Q No, what I meant to ask -- sorry -- is after talking to the president.
MR. MORRELL: I have no reason to amend any of the remarks he made to the Congress on Tuesday.
Q So we're still looking at -- what he said.
MR. MORRELL: As far as I know, that's still the -- you know, that he -- that's what he hoped to be able to do. Now again, the caveat here is ultimately these are decisions that have to be made by the new commander in chief. But that is what can be done, provided he wishes to do it. Okay?
Q Can I kind of, somewhat, follow up on that? Given the sort of time frame that the secretary has expressed, the general time frame, what are the concerns about getting enough enablers, combat support, in there, in two categories in particular? While you have the helicopters, more troops, more medevac needs, perhaps -- I know the secretary's expressed concern about that -- and the concern about having enough armored vehicles of MRAP quality, if not MRAP themselves.
MR. MORRELL: Both real concerns, Barbara. I mean, enablers -- I mean, the truth of the matter is -- we write so much, we talk so much about the competing demands between theaters for combat brigades, and the truth of the matter is the wars in both countries have really evolved into more of a battle between theaters over enablers. And as you -- and the dilemma we face is that as you plus up in one and draw down in the other, the demand for enablers remains high in both. So that even with fewer combat forces in Iraq, enablers are in just as much or perhaps even greater demand to support the Iraqi security forces as they get even more and more proficient. And in Afghanistan, clearly, you need more enablers to support all the additional combat forces we're trying to flow in.
Now, specifically with regards to MRAPs, we have -- you know, we have now flowed in a considerable number of additional MRAPs. Let me just get you my most up-to-date number. (Refers to briefing materials.) In Afghanistan, we have now fielded 1,600 MRAPs, vice 9,700 in Iraq. So, total fielded to warfighters is a little over 11,500.
Q But could I just ask --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Following along the line of both MRAPs and specifically medevac, you know, what is the actual -- and maybe you can take it for the record -- the requirement for MRAPs, additional MRAPS, in Afghanistan when you get the balance of those three brigades in? And could I ask you just to address again the medevac concern? More troops, potentially more need?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know what -- and we can certainly look at this. I will -- happy to look at sort of if there is an updated requirement number for the commander in Afghanistan. I think, the last requirement I heard, the 1,600 we have now in theater is pretty close to what the requirement was.
Now, keep in mind, we are also looking at building this -- a lighter MRAP vehicle which will be more applicable to the terrain in Afghanistan. So that process has just begun.
With regards to medevac, as you may have read, this is something the secretary's been focused on lately. As you all know, we have had remarkable success in having our troops who have suffered what would in previous wars likely have been fatal wounds, having them survive and indeed thrive in many cases after attacks of that nature in Iraq because the architecture we have in place allows for, no matter where you are in the country and no matter where you are when you are shot, the commitment is that within one hour of the call coming in from you being shot to a facility that would dispatch the medics -- you have one hour to go from that call to treatment at a medical facility that can -- that can handle your wounds. And that has undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.
The standard there is 60 minutes. In Iraq, the secretary -- or in Afghanistan, pardon me, the secretary noticed it was more like two hours. He didn't understand why it was acceptable for troops in one theater to have an hour standard and troops in another theater to have a two-hour standard. Delving into it further, he has discovered that there need to be some additional resources dedicated to medevac in Afghanistan and he has made a decision that will allow some dual use of some combat search and rescue assets, as well as some more dedicated helicopters for medevac, as well as some additional field surgical teams.
So in the interim, we're going to put three more -- sorry, three more field surgical teams, 10 more helicopters as a bridging force until the combat aviation brigade comes in in May. That -- well, already, just from the fact he started to look at it and there's been sort of a more -- probably more of an effort in Afghanistan to figure out what's going on here, we've seen the average time of medevac dropping significantly, from roughly about two hours now down to 71 minutes.
So we are -- he is hopeful that with these additional assets and with the combat aviation brigade coming in this spring, that we will be able to get both theaters down to the one-hour standard. At least, the focus initially is going to be on RC-East and RC-South, where the preponderance of our force is in. And then we will spread out that standard to the west and north, as McKiernan -- General McKiernan sees fit.
Q (Off mike) -- and in answer to this, how prepared should Americans be for a rise in the deaths of American troops with this plus-up in Afghanistan?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, clearly, I mean, you're talking about if all -- if all the numbers -- you know, if the chairman's ballpark number of 30,000 is what comes to be, you are roughly doubling the number of American combat forces in Afghanistan. You are putting the number of coalition forces on the ground to just short of 100,000. That's a significant increase, putting many more lives at risk and in the battle. And they're not going there, obviously, to sit on their hands. They're going there to be fully engaged in going after the enemies of Afghanistan; that is, supporting the Afghan people and the Afghan military as they go about doing that.
So, yes, more people's lives are going to be on the line, as we plus-up in Afghanistan. That is the reality of war, and that's why the secretary wants to make sure that we have all the assets that we can possibly muster, so that the troops in Afghanistan have as quick a medical treatment -- as quick an access to medical treatment as those in Iraq. And he is confident that, with these additional resources, we will get down to a golden hour in Afghanistan, just as we have a golden hour in Iraq.
Q On that?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Thanks. Still on Afghanistan, on the elections that were announced, the Karzai administration has said that the date is going to be pushed off because of the security concerns. Does the Pentagon share those concerns, that elections can't be held any earlier because it's unsafe to?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think so. I mean, I think that, you know, we don't make judgments about when elections should be held, or shouldn't be held. I mean, that's a determination of the Afghan government.
Do we believe that an election in -- we do believe that an election in late summer, rather than spring, would certainly provide us with an opportunity to have more forces on the ground for a longer -- more forces on the ground, and additional forces on the ground, for a longer period of time, such that we can, perhaps, impact the security situation in advance of the elections.
So -- but that is a happy byproduct of the fact that that's when this independent government has set elections for their people. But we make -- we have no influence over that process, and it's up to them when they choose to hold their elections. We will be there to support them and try to make sure that the environment -- or try to assist the Afghan security forces in making sure the environment is as safe and secure as possible.
Yeah. Alan (sp).
Q Geoff, you're looking at these recommendations for up to four ground brigades, plus the air brigade and the support troops, even though you said the Afghan strategy reviews are still under way. Are you saying that any of the -- whatever strategy comes out will require significant increase in troops? Is there no other -- is there no option for maintaining, or even reducing, as some analysts have called for?
MR. MORRELL: I think right now, the focus, frankly, Al, as you've heard from virtually everybody, from the ground commander to the chairman to the regional commander to the secretary to the president himself, is that additional forces are needed in Afghanistan. I think that's one thing that is a baseline understanding of all involved. We need to have more boots on the ground to make an impact on the security situation.
But that, as we've talked about time and time again, is just one element of a larger strategy. You know, this will not be solved by military means alone. And right now the White House, you know, is involved in a larger strategy review to figure out what exactly we are going to do with all these additional forces and with the additional resources the president hopes to bring to bear from the civilian side of the government and from other governments around the world.
I mean, I think fundamentally, in the near term, we know what additional troops are doing in Afghanistan until a strategy review is completed. And that is, you're -- you are continuing to perform a COIN mission.
This is a counterinsurgency, and we are -- you know, we will be doing that, albeit with more forces.
As for what, in addition to that, comes out of this Afghan strategy review, hopefully we'll learn in the coming weeks.
Q Should people think of this as a surge, or are -- is part of the planning a matter of replacing these brigades a year later, as General McKiernan has said he needs a sustained increased commitment?
MR. MORRELL: I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. We haven't even made a determination yet on these deployments, let alone how long, if they were to come to be, that level of force would remain in Afghanistan. I mean, obviously this government -- this president has made it clear that Afghanistan will require a long-term and sustained commitment on a government-to-government basis, likely on a military basis as well. But I can't tell you that we're going to sustain those levels of forces, you know, indefinitely.
Q So -- but that's not part of the planning process, as to whether it's a one-time or --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I would -- that would be more likely part of a review -- of this review process to determine whether or not that -- you know, is this -- I -- frankly, Al, I don't believe anybody views this as a surge as we had in Iraq, and that -- this has never been billed as that. But as you've also heard from the secretary, we -- he is very cognizant of the danger of us being viewed as some sort of an occupying force in Afghanistan. Nobody wants that.
We are there to support the Afghan people, bring peace and security to their country. They've been without it for far too long, and if we can assist them, and at the same time prevent that country from being used as a training ground from which to launch attacks on us and our allies, that is what we are focused on.
Q But surely by doubling the forces there, you could call it a surge.
MR. MORRELL: No, I think the implication of a surge is that so that you're doing it one time for a defined period of time. And when we -- when the forces were surged into Iraq, that was the notion. We would do it, we would have a review, and then we make a determination as to how soon they come out. As we go about plussing up forces in Afghanistan, we are not setting out a review process by which, okay, we'll make a determination about have they been there long enough; we're going to make a judgment now about starting to withdraw them.
Q Geoff, Afghanistan, please. First of all, congratulations to you. And also, my best wishes for the secretary's speedy recovery.
MR. MORRELL: Thank you.
Q My question is, suddenly Afghanistan has become a focus of escalating of these things, suddenly. Is it something has happened now? And how are you going to deal now, comparing in the past, because we have the same secretary now and same situation, but more al Qaedas are coming back in Afghanistan? And also, if Pakistan has been informed of this sudden escalation, and what is the reaction from us and from Pakistan?
MR. MORRELL: Has Pakistan been informed of our intentions to, or of the commanders' desire, to plus-up forces in Afghanistan? Absolutely. We are in close communication with our partners in Pakistan. As you know, the chairman enjoys a close relationship with his counterpart. I know that General McKiernan's -- is in regular communication with the military leadership in Pakistan as well. General Petraeus is a frequent flier in that part of the world also. So I don't think this is lost on anyone.
But I would remind them, as I remind you, that no decision yet has been made on this. And so -- but this certainly should not be viewed as any sort of threat to Pakistan. This should be viewed as a way to help them combat a problem in their midst as well. I mean, they have complained about what they believe to be the fact that the border in the Northwest Territories, in the tribal areas, is too porous in both ways, in that militants and extremists are able to move freely back and forth, greater than either of us would like. And so that's why we are seeing much better cooperation in terms of border security between us, the Afghans and the Pak military. So I don't think they should view it as anything but a positive if this comes to be.
Q Just to follow up, is India going to play any more additional role than in the past?
MR. MORRELL: It's a big question. In what? Additional role in the world?
Q No, as far as the situation in Afghanistan --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, there's a significant -- I mean, India is clearly a significant political and economic partner of the Afghan government.
I know there's a great deal of investment by India in Afghanistan. I think this is a country that is in desperate need of investment and, I'm sure, would welcome it from all corners of the earth. So, but I couldn't tell you that I have any knowledge of a gameplan for India to play a more pronounced role in Afghanistan.
Q Geoff, on Gitmo, a military judge has denied prosecutors' requests to stay Nashiri's trial for 120 days after the Obama administration issued the order last week.
What is your understanding of what this means for Nashiri specifically and then for the larger process? Is there a possibility that, in order to comply with the order, now the U.S. military is going to have to drop charges against Nashiri?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I just heard about this walking in here. I mean, all I can really tell you is that this department will be in full compliance with the president's executive order. There's no if, ands or buts about that.
The president has signed an executive order that sort of puts all this on hold, as we go about and review a number of things related to Gitmo, our detention operations, our interrogation procedures. And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me that there will be no proceedings continuing, down at Gitmo, with military commissions.
So how it's resolved, I think, is a matter for the convening authority to address. And I would expect they would do so shortly. But I don't think it will result in charges being dropped.
I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a judge. I think you'll hear soon from those who are. And there will be a resolution to this question. But as far -- the bottom line, from our perspective, is that we will be in compliance with the president's executive order.
Q The judge in this Nashiri case specifically said the proceedings would go on. The arraignment would happen in a week or 10 days or whenever it's scheduled for, despite the executive order, finding that the executive order --
MR. MORRELL: Okay, but everybody works for somebody. And that judge works for somebody. And the somebody that judge works for will have to make a determination on what does indeed happen. And I think we should hear from that person in the not-too-distant future. And we'll get some resolution to this.
But the bottom line is, we all work for the president of the United States in this chain of command.
And he has signed an executive order which has made abundantly clear that until these reviews are done, all of this is on hiatus.
Q And you'll expect to hear from Judge Crawford, then? Is that what --
MR. MORRELL: Well, she's -- she runs the convening authority.
Q Are we going to hear from her today?
MR. MORRELL: I -- frankly, I have no estimation as to how soon we'll hear from her. But obviously, this is now in her lap, and she'll have to deal with it.
Q (off mike) --
MR. MORRELL: Okay. Let's take a couple more and then we'll get out of here.
Q (Off mike) --
MR. MORRELL: Now, hold on. Hold -- you've gone a couple times. Let's go to my friend Jim Mannion.
Q Recently, Secretary Gates has made a big push for modernizing nuclear infrastructure and for the reliable replacement warheads.
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q Is the Obama administration -- is President Obama on board with that, or is that all something that is going to have to be sort of reconsidered?
MR. MORRELL: Jim, the truth of the matter is, this is -- this is one of -- not many, but a few issues where reporters are trying desperately to find some daylight between the holdover secretary and the new commander in chief. And I hate to disappoint you, but this is -- on all those issues, really, they have not had a chance to really have a significant conversation yet. Undoubtedly, they will; hopefully sooner than later.
But I think it's way premature for people to sort of take campaign statements made by the president and take statements made by the secretary and try to dissect them and put them at odds. Because when people sit down and work together, you often find that we may not be far off on these issues, or people may be confusing apples and oranges.
I mean, I think the bottom line here is that, you know, I think they both agree, the president and the secretary, that we need to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist in this world. The secretary's argument about the reliable replacement warhead is that our arsenal is aging rapidly, and we have to maintain a larger arsenal than we would like because we have had a self-imposed moratorium on testing for nearly 20 years now and we don't know exactly how many of our weapons are reliable. [sic] (Clarification: Mr. Morrell meant to say “will remain reliable.”) By building a new weapon with no additional capabilities, but one which we know will work when called upon, God forbid, we believe we could reduce the overall size of our arsenal far below what it is now and ultimately, we believe, make the world a safer place.
I think the secretary believes that, fundamentally, we have not done a good job of selling the importance of the reliable replacement warhead and -- but these are discussions that he is going to have to have with his new boss. But I'm not so sure that there is the gulf between them that at least one reporter has tried to paint.
Q And for that -- I presume that he still feels as strongly about the need for the reliable replacement warhead?
MR. MORRELL: I think so.
Yeah. Let me just be fair here. Yeah, Ann.
Q Geoff, about supply lines running through Pakistan, obviously, as troop levels increase in Afghanistan, and with 75 percent of supplies going through Pakistan now, with attacks on those supplies it's going to be a -- you know, a greater and greater issue. Do you have additional details on alternate supply lines through areas like Russia, Uzbekistan?
MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I don't think I have probably details that would satisfy you. I can tell you this. I mean, I -- yes, there have been attacks on some of our lines of communication from Pakistan into Afghanistan. And while -- but largely, that has been more of an inconvenience than anything else at this point. It has not had an operational impact.
We, you know, keep large surpluses of supplies, materiel, weapon -- ammunition and so forth. But we obviously do need to have supply lines coming into Afghanistan to sustain this fight. Not just us, by the way. The Afghan military needs it especially.
But we have -- we don't put all our eggs in one basket, either. While our relationship with the Pakistani government and their assistance with these supply lines has been very good, we have also looked and are pursuing, and to some degree have, additional supply lines from the north as well. And I stress, supply lines. There are multiple avenues which we believe we are -- we will have to supply troops in Afghanistan from the north as well.
Q Do you know which countries we're looking into --
MR. MORRELL: I think it's premature for me to start identifying agreements we have with each of these countries. But I think things are progressing very well. I think -- you know, General McNabb, who's now head of TRANSCOM, has worked very, very hard on this. General Petraeus has done a lot of personal lobbying in that part of the world. And I think both believe we've made significant progress to have an -- have alternative routes into Afghanistan.
Q Could you try India?
MR. MORRELL: I don't believe so.
Q Thanks. Just one other --
MR. MORRELL: And then I'll come to Julian, because I blew him off earlier.
Q A question --
MR. MORRELL: And then I'm out of here.
Q You talk about hard choices. Can you give us any insight into the secretary's strategy going forward over the next couple of months about making hard choices when it comes to the Pentagon budget? I mean, obviously the new administration's going to have some time, and he will get some instructions from OMB, but is there anything you can tell us about the hard choices that he himself says, as he did in the Foreign Affairs article, need to be made? Is there a process yet for starting to scrub some of those big budget items?
MR. MORRELL: There is a process. It's just begun. I mean, ultimately all these decisions, these hard decisions that we've all been talking about lately, are going to take place in the context of the budgeting process. Obviously the fiscal environment we live in now is so dire that it's going to require some very hard choices for the entire government, and this building won't be immune from them. But I would venture to say that even if there had not been a downturn in the economy, the secretary would be advocating that we make some of these hard choices to get a better handle on how we do business here, and particularly in the acquisition front.
We've been enormously joint in how we conduct combat operations. We're more joint than we've ever been. We are less joint when it comes to how we procure weapons systems and other high-dollar programs. And the secretary really wants us to think more jointly about this, so that -- and he's given examples -- we don't have a tangible example.
But if one service has a capability, can another service assume a certain degree of risk in that same area, knowing they're covered by a sister service? Do we need to have duplicative capabilities in all the services?
That's something he is very much pressing for, as well as, I think, the other hallmark, in addition to jointness, the other hallmark of this will be flexibility.
In order to be balanced in our approach to our defense strategy, he believes that we -- that everything we do has to have the flexibility to adapt to threats we may not have predicted.
I mean, this is an intelligence professional who is saying, you know what? Our intelligence over the last 40 years has been inadequate, in terms of predicting what we eventually face. So knowing that we may not see it on the horizon, we had better be buying things that are flexible enough to allow us to do -- to face a variety of threats.
So I think that's -- those are sort of a couple of the driving forces behind how we will go about this budgeting process. But it has just begun. You know, obviously the new administration, I think -- I haven't heard from them officially. But obviously they've got pressure to get the president's budget up to the Hill as soon as they can.
I think we're working with the understanding that that could be in early -- in April. And so we've got a lot of work to do, between now and then, to -- you know, on the '09 supplemental and then on the -- and then on the FY '10 budget. There will be reworking of the FY '10 budget as well.
Q (Off mike) -- tell this department, here's your top line.
MR. MORRELL: I think probably very soon, probably very soon.
Okay, I promised Julian. And then I'm out of here.
Q The secretary of Defense said, before the House, that no Gitmo prisoners who posed a danger, to the U.S., would be released into the United States. Does Secretary Gates oppose any Gitmo prisoners, former Gitmo prisoners from being released into the United States, like say a Uyghur?
MR. MORRELL: I've never talked to him specifically about the Uyghurs. I think what the secretary was talking about before is, he has always thought that whatever solution there is, to the Gitmo conundrum, has to include some sort of legislative remedy. Or maybe you could do it without legislation, I don't know.
I think he envisions it as requiring legislation, to ensure that if somebody who’s -- if the alternative to housing them at Gitmo is to put them at some facility in the United States, at the end of whatever judicial process they are afforded, and if by chance they were acquitted and they walked out of that courtroom, I don't think anybody wants -- anybody in this country would want for one of these accused terrorists to then seek asylum in this country and become our neighbor.
That's my -- he said that to you publicly; that's my understanding of it. But I don't ultimately know what he thinks the disposition of the Uyghurs should be. I think what he was saying --
Q (Off mike)?
MR. MORRELL: -- I think what he was saying to the Hill was, "If you're worried about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or somebody winding up as your next-door neighbor, I wouldn't worry about it."
Q Right. But there's a group of people who are not, perhaps, as dangerous as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed --
MR. MORRELL: But I think he was talking about --
Q -- (off mike) -- asking other European nations to take, and some groups have suggested the United States needs to show -- take one as a sort of leadership --
MR. MORRELL: I think we're -- I think we're ahead of ourselves. I mean, this is a -- you know, this is -- you know, as the three executive orders laid out, this is a work in progress. This has also just begun.
The secretary will be intimately involved in this process. I mean, his first order of business -- as you know, part of this executive order, or the executive orders, is for us, DOD -- the secretary has been tasked with it, but this department will go down and review the situation in Guantanamo Bay and determine if, indeed, it is, as we believe, in compliance with Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions. And so we have 30 days to do that -- less, now -- after the order was signed.
And so we have just begun that process, and we'll report back quickly to the White House on what we find. I think they want a fresh-eyes look at what the situation is down there in terms of detention conditions. We have no reason to believe they are not in compliance with Common Article III. But we are going to go down and take another look at it and report back; that, in addition to all the other responsibilities, you know: The disposition of detainees, the -- and how we eventually adjudicate them.
Q Can you ask (off mike) about the Uyghurs -- (off mike) the judge has ordered their release? Uyghur/Uyghurs.
MR. MORRELL: I will try to remember that.
Q Thank you.
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