DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.
MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. Sorry I'm a bit late. A pleasure to see you all.
Just a couple of quick scheduling announcements. Then we'll take your questions.
Secretary Gates, as some of you may know, travels to Miami early tomorrow morning to participate in the change of command at U.S. Southern Command. He will pay tribute to Admiral Jim Stavridis's exceptional leadership at SOUTHCOM over the past three years and will welcome General Doug Fraser as the new combatant commander down there.
Then on Monday, the secretary travels to Stuttgart, Germany, to honor General John Craddock as he leaves U.S. European Command after nearly -- after three very productive years in charge there. And to complete this circle, the secretary will install Admiral Stavridis as the new EUCOM commander, before heading right back here.
So that's it in terms of scheduling. Let's get down to questions. Dan De Luce.
Q Can you tell us what the outlook is on missile defense and the talks with Russia about the possibility of locating radar in southern Russia if Russia would participate in the missile defense plans? Has there been progress in your talks with the Russians?
MR. MORRELL: Well, let me approach this by going backwards a little bit, which is, as you know, missile defense is fundamentally under review by this administration at this point. That review is ongoing. However, as you heard from President Obama when he visited the Czech Republic back in April, so long as there is a missile threat emanating from rogue states, such as Iran, he is committed to proceeding with missile defense in a way that is affordable and effective. So that's being studied right now.
Obviously, we have some preexisting agreements that are in place, have yet to be ratified by the Czech Parliament or the Polish Parliament. But as the secretary and others have talked about this publicly recently, it is his desire, it is the desire of this government to try to find a way to work with the Russians in devising a missile defense system that can protect each other, our peoples, our allies in Europe.
That is -- those discussions are still -- you know, they've been -- for the past two years, nearly, Secretary Gates has been engaged to some extent or another, and his team, with the Russians on that idea. He still does think, as you heard from him when he testified before the Senate recently, that there is opportunity to cooperate with the Russians on a missile defense system in Europe.
That system is still viewed as a complement to what we have done thus far with the Czechs and the Poles, and those as -- you know, obviously, the focus of our discussions right now with the Russians have been on START, leading up to the president's trip there in the next couple of weeks. But I think that everybody here remains optimistic that some sort of agreement can be worked out with the Russians on building a collective system that protects each other and our peoples and our allies in Europe.
Q To follow up, is it a case of either/or, the sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, or a radar in southern Russia? Or do you see this as all complementing each other?
MR. MORRELL: I think we view this at this stage as -- cooperation with the Russians would be as a complement to a site in -- you know, the sites in Europe; that perhaps they could help us enhance what we've already agreed to with the Czechs and the Poles, should this review internally keep us down that road in pursuing a third site in Europe. But I don't think this is viewed as an alternative. This is, rather, viewed as a complement to a third site in Europe.
Yeah. Still on this, or are you moving on? Okay, Jeff, you're on this. Go, Jennifer.
Q What is the secretary's reaction to the Russian -- to Russian officials trying to link the START talks to missile defense? Is that acceptable?
MR. MORRELL: Well, listen, I'm going to defer on the -- on how these talks are handled, to the White House. They're the lead on this, and I'm going to let them handle -- handle those matters. And I'm not going to get in the decision -- speculate up here as to what they view as acceptable or unacceptable.
Q The former commander of the Washington, D.C. National Guard was killed in Monday's train crash. Is the secretary preparing to issue a statement of some kind about his passing?
MR. MORRELL: I'm not aware of a statement in the works. Obviously, the secretary and everybody who works here grieves for those who lost their lives or were injured in that horrific crash the other day. Obviously, the former commander of the D.C. National Guard was among the victims, and that's especially tragic for those who -- those of us who work here in this building, and all people in uniform, for that matter. But I'm not aware, Jeff, of any particular plans to issue a statement with regards to that.
Q Is it possible -- could you take this question? Could we get a statement from the secretary?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I've just offered you a statement. I mean, we feel terribly for -- for all the victims of that crash, those who died, those who were injured. And of course, we feel particularly sorrowful for the loss of one of our own, the former commander of the D.C. National Guard. So his loss is felt particularly in this building, and among all men and women in uniform.
Q There's going to be focus on Iraq next week, with the June 30th deadline date coming. The secretary is not going to be doing a presser, I guess, in the next few days, so I'd like to ask you. What are the --
MR. MORRELL: I'm glad you're so aware of his schedule, Tony. (Laughter.)
MR. MORRELL: There are other things on his schedule beyond those two trips.
Q Yes, sir.
MR. MORRELL: But you happen to be right; we won't be doing a press conference this week. (Cross talk, laughter.)
Q (Off mike) -- clairvoyant.
Q Anyway, what -- what's the best assessment you're getting and the secretary's getting from your analysts about the state of Iraq, July, August, September, as the U.S. pulls back, and the level of violence that's expected and the Iraqi security forces' capability to handle whatever levels do occur?
MR. MORRELL: I think -- well, first of all, we saw a horrific bombing take place south of Kirkuk over the weekend, which was rather unusual, given where it took place.
It was also unusual just in terms of the trend that we've been seeing lately. Security incidents, despite that awful attack, remain at all-time lows since March of 2003. So despite the fact that you've seen sporadic high-profile attacks still taking place in Iraq, the overall security climate is a good one, and we remain at all-time lows.
That said, to your question, I do believe that we have an expectation, based upon the pattern of behavior that we've seen over the past few weeks and frankly, historically in Iraq, leading up seminal dates, whether it be elections or other significant dates, of an uptick in the operational tempo of terrorists and insurgents.
And so I think we have reason to believe and I think our forces have been alerted to the possibility that we will likely see an uptick in violence leading up to the June 30th deadline for U.S. combat forces to leave Iraqi cities and towns.
That said, I think General Odierno is confident both in the capabilities of his forces to deal with that increased threat level and with the Iraqi security forces, such that we are going to proceed, per the security agreement, the status of forces agreement, to remove all of our combat forces from Iraqi cities by June the 30th.
Now, as he sent -- made clear in his press conference in Iraq, I think last week, and in his letter to his troops throughout the country, that does not mean that every single American soldier or Marine or airmen or sailors who happen to be on the ground are going to be out of Iraqi cities. We are going to have some complement, albeit in much smaller numbers, of troops still in some Iraqi cities and towns, in an advisory and assistance role, until such time that the ISF, the Iraqi security forces, have developed to the point that they no longer need us in that capacity.
Q Geoff, could you please tell us --
MR. MORRELL: Let me just -- I'll come to you once -- do you have a follow-up?
Q Well, I had a separate -- oh, okay -- capacity -- what should -- U.S. citizens can expect that will -- that U.S. troops will be back in a -- almost like a cavalry role -- to the rescue of Iraqi security forces, or reinforcing versus leading attacks or operations?
MR. MORRELL: Well, it depends on where you are. In the cities, I think this is going to be a coordinate/train/advise/assist role. So we'll really be there as a complement to them.
Outside of that, as -- and we can provide you with a copy of this letter that General Odierno provided to his troops -- that there will be a -- layers of defense outside the cities that we will provide, and conduct combat operations as we have been, by, with and through the Iraqi security forces. But there will still be combat operations that we undertake outside the Iraqi cities and towns with Iraqi security forces.
Q (Off mike) -- during the surge there was a very aggressive counterterrorism operation the U.S. executed against al Qaeda targets, fusing intelligence and going after them quickly. Woodward wrote about it in his book, and General Petraeus has talked about it. Will that structure stay in place where we will have this very -- a black operations, basically?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I don't -- obviously, we don't talk about such operations here. I will say this: that obviously with this milestone date approaching of June the 30th, it's significant on many levels, but what -- it does not mean, however, an end to counterterrorism operations in Iraq. In fact, even when we get finally to the end of August of next year, when all combat brigades are to leave Iraq, there will still be a residual force that stays behind. And one of its mandates will be to conduct counterterrorism operations. So that, we believe, is sort of a fundamental role for us to play.
However, this is not done unilaterally. This is done in close consultation with Iraqi security forces and authorities going after, you know, agreed-upon targets. These are warrant-based operations with shared intel and so forth. So those will continue.
Q Just to follow up on (Tawny's ?) question, what are the cities that we might see some complements staying there? Like, in the north, you mean?
MR. MORRELL: I would -- I'd refer you to MNFI on sort of where specifically they're -- the bulk of those forces that remain behind are going to be. But I think it's -- they're going to be where the Iraqi security forces -- where the Ministry of Defense determines they can provide an advisory, an assistance role to help the Iraqi security forces, who are now going to be responsible exclusively for security in those cities, to make sure they have the capacity to undertake that.
But obviously, Baghdad will be one of those places where we will provide advisory and assistance to Iraqi security forces within the city.
Okay. Yes, anything else on Iraq? Yeah.
Q Not on Iraq.
MR. MORRELL: Okay. Yeah, Nancy.
Q Geoff, the violence levels are at record lows, and the United States is handing over security force -- the security situation to the Iraqi forces and going into this advise-and-assist role. Why is there such a hesitancy to declare this, then, a victory? Why not declare this "mission accomplished"? What defines, then, a mission accomplished in Iraq?
MR. MORRELL: Did -- I'm sure, Nancy, you or your colleagues wrote about the attack that took place south of Kirkuk on Saturday. I mean, that was an absolutely horrific attack in which dozens of people were killed. I mean, obviously, there still is a threat that remains. And it requires our vigilance to make sure it doesn't metastasize once again into a strategic threat to the government itself, into an existential threat to the government.
We think we have beaten back al Qaeda to the point where they are now conducting attacks that are basically propaganda campaigns in an attempt to make it look as though they are driving us out of Iraqi cities, when, in fact, the truth of the matter is that our -- that the work of our brave men and women in uniform over the past couple years has created a climate such that we can leave Iraqi cities and the Iraqi security forces are developed to the point where they are capable of taking over that responsibility.
But so long as there exists still this -- this threat in Iraq, and so long as the government is still trying to develop to the point where it can assume all of these responsibilities that we have been assisting them in, we still think there is a role for us, and we would be hesitant to declare victory.
Q I guess what I don't understand is, if that situation -- that problem that you're describing, as I understand it, is now an Iraqi problem, by virtue of the fact that the United States is handing over security responsibilities right now.
MR. MORRELL: But they've asked for our assistance, Nancy.
Q So when is it then -- is it when they no longer ask for assistance that it's no --
MR. MORRELL: That we would -- I don't think we're -- frankly, I don't think anybody's too preoccupied with declaring victory. I don't think that was -- necessarily something we'll ever do. I think we feel as though we've had great success recently in helping the Iraqi people develop capacities to govern themselves, and to create a security climate that people can live in peace and go to work and develop an economy and have democratic rule and respect for minorities and women.
And all those things are improvements. And we signed a security agreement with the Iraqis nearly a year ago in which they asked for us to stay in Iraq for the next three years, to help them continue to build upon that momentum. We view that obligation seriously, and we intend to honor it.
Q There's one other thing. A lot of these major bombings that have happened in the last few months, nobody's taken responsibility. The military has said that they're al Qaeda. Do you know why al Qaeda is not taking responsibility for these attacks the way they did just six months ago? Has the United States shut down their Internet site? Is there any sort of intelligence work that's being done to shut down their communications and means of communicating responsibility for these attacks?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I wouldn't hazard a guess as to why al Qaeda does what it does. And without acknowledging what we have done in these specific cases, clearly, our efforts to target al Qaeda have not been exclusive to capture-and-kill operations. We have also been very interested in trying to shut down their ability to produce propaganda and, you know, recruit people via the Internet.
So have we worked in that area? Yes, we have. Have we had success in that area? Yes, we have. But I don't know if that's a reason for why we haven't heard claims for this.
Q Could you give us a status update on the North Korean flagship you all have been following, and explain what procedures you might enact? The secretary and the chairman last week outlined a "hail and query" procedure. Has it been done? Will it be done?
MR. MORRELL: I know there's great fascination about this one ship out there that -- that we have shown some interest in. Yeah, we have been interested in this one ship, but we've been interested in, frankly, multiple ships. I mean, we've been interested in North Korean ships for some time. It preceded the UNSCAR, frankly. Under PSI, we had obligations to and an interest in -- in tracking ships to make sure there was no proliferation of any banned goods. We obviously, under 1874, have additional responsibilities and authorities, and we appreciate that.
I also would push back on this notion that it's us and this one ship. I mean, the U.N. authorized all of us who have an interest in deterring North Korea from proliferating banned weapons -- in their case, all weapons now -- to try to deter that, prevent that, stop that. And so it's not just us who have this authority or this responsibility. All members of the United Nations have that authority and responsibility. And it's not just us who are interested in North Korean ships. There are many other navies in the area who are also keeping an eye on said ships.
That said, with regards to the second part of your question, which is have we hailed or queried this particular ship, we have not.
But I wouldn't read anything too much into that. We are interested in that ship. We're interested in other ships. And we will continue to monitor them.
Q Why not handle them earlier? What triggers that?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think that's a decision that will have to be made at some point, and not necessarily just by us or this government. But that is a decision I think we will likely take collectively with our allies and partners out there and make a determination about whether we choose to hail and query this particular ship and, if we make that decision, when and where to do so.
But that is not a decision that's been made yet, and I don't get the sense that it is imminent. So I would urge everybody just to take a deep breath and to not hyperventilate about this particular ship. We are in this for the long run. We are committed to working with our friends and partners and allies in the region to make sure that North Korea is not able to proliferate weapons of mass destruction, nuclear capabilities, parts, arms, any banned goods. And we will continue to work to that end.
Q Where is Kang Nam?
Q On --
MR. MORRELL: Sorry?
Q Where is Kang Nam? On the way to Myanmar? What's --
MR. MORRELL: Oh, I'm not going to get into where it is and where it's going. You know, obviously we have some notions of that, but I don't think it's productive for us to discuss it.
Q So wait, are you saying that you -- that you have followed other ships since the UNSCR was --
MR. MORRELL: That's not what I'm saying.
Q This is the only ship that has been tracked, right?
MR. MORRELL: As far as I know, it's the only ship that we've been -- that we have -- that we have tracked like this. There are other -- there are -- we have had interest in many ships over the years coming out of North Korea.
Q The North Korean --
MR. MORRELL: This one obviously has a particular history that makes it more of interest. But we've had interest historically in many ships.
Q On North Korea?
Q Geoff, the North Koreans today, they threatened to wipe the United States off the map. Are you not taking that threat seriously?
MR. MORRELL: I don't even know how I -- how I even respond to such silliness. I don't -- I -- "wipe the United States off the map" -- for what and with what?
Q "If the U.S. imperialists start another war, the army and people of Korea will wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all." The official Korean central news agency said this.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don't think I'm going to dignify that one with a response.
Q (Off mike) --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Can you stop North Korea behaving like this or affecting the region or regional relations without the help of China?
MR. MORRELL: Oh, I think China is obviously key to this. I'm not so sure that anybody has tremendous influence over Kim Jong Il or his regime, but if anybody does, it would be the Chinese. Obviously they are crucial to our efforts to try to bring about a multilateral approach to preventing the North from developing a nuclear weapon, developing long-range-ballistic-missile capabilities, and from proliferating.
They are obviously a linchpin to our efforts.
But as we talked about at Shangri-La last month, we are proceeding on a multilateral basis, a bilateral basis, even a unilateral basis, to take measures to protect ourselves and our friends and allies and partners in the region.
Q Is China with the U.S.? Because there was (an op-ed ?) in the Washington Times very recently that North Korea -- it was not North Korea's nuclear test but it was China's nuclear test in North Korea.
MR. MORRELL: I think I got what you were asking. You're saying somebody in the Washington Times wrote that it was a Chinese test in North Korea? This is -- I think this falls into Jennifer's category.
Q Is China with the U.S.?
MR. MORRELL: Is China with the U.S. -- ?
Q On North Korea.
MR. MORRELL: On North Korea? Well, they voted with us in -- they voted with us and the rest of the world unanimously to pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, which gives us unprecedented authorities to deal with the North Korean threat.
Q Go back to North Korea?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q North Korea seems to be ready to test fire intercontinental ballistic missile very soon. I mean within one week. Do you have anything, update or information on that?
MR. MORRELL: I think when we were -- again, on this trip that we took, you know, over -- a couple weeks ago, the secretary acknowledged publicly that we have seen some missile activity which has caught our attention and that we are closely following. I'm not going to get into specifics beyond that, but we continue to monitor any and all missile activity in North Korea.
Obviously, previous Security Council resolutions have prohibited the North from testing long-range ballistic missiles. We have seen missile tests of smaller range. We have seen this warning that was put out to mariners off its east coast. So, obviously there does seem to be some suggestions that it may be gearing up for something. So we are closely monitoring that.
Q Has U.S. deployed the interceptor missile already in place?
MR. MORRELL: I'm sorry? Has the U.S. deployed -- well, the secretary talked about last week we've deployed to -- in and around Hawaii we deployed THAAD missiles as well as X-band radar. But you're asking have we deployed assets to the area of the Western Pacific?
MR. MORRELL: I think at this time we have had no new deployments other than what is the normal sort of rotation of naval assets in that region. I think we're perfectly comfortable with the assets that are in place. Obviously, this threat that is posed by North Korea is not a new one.
So we have adjusted our assets that are normally in that area some ago, and we are comfortable with the platforms we have there, and we take our security commitments and our alliance obligations in the region very seriously.
Q Just on Iran --
Q I'm on North Korea --
Q Do you have a question on -- okay --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'll come back.
Q So last week the secretary in the briefing said that he was concerned. He was asked specifically about a missile going towards Hawaii or being aimed at Hawaii. He said he was concerned, deployed the THAAD missiles again and everything. It sort of ratcheted up the rhetoric on this debate. So the question is, does this --
MR. MORRELL: He ratcheted up the rhetoric?
Q By saying that he was concerned when specifically asked about it being headed towards Hawaii --
MR. MORRELL: Low-key Bob Gates ratcheted up the rhetoric. (Laughter.)
Q (Laughs.) I'm just reporting it the way it was done -- (laughs) --
MR. MORRELL: He's been accused of a lot of things. Ratcheting up the rhetoric isn't one of them.
Q So by saying he was concerned, people are now taking -- some people are reading that as --
MR. MORRELL: It's like E.F. Hutton.
MR. MORRELL: Right?
Okay. That predates many of you.
All right. So what you're --
Q So my question is -- if I can finish it, is -- is the secretary really concerned that a North Korean missile's going to hit Hawaii?
MR. MORRELL: I think the secretary's -- I have no reason to doubt that the secretary was being truthful with you about how he feels when he spoke to you last week. I don't think he would have deployed the THAAD missiles and the X-band radar if he didn't feel there was reason to do so.
Now, specifically, obviously, previous long-range ballistic missile tests by the North have been failures. But they obviously are intent on developing that capability, and so long as they are, we need to do responsible, prudent things. And in this case, he thinks the responsible, prudent thing is to deploy those assets.
Q And it's the standard procedure when there's a belief North Korea's going to launch, is to deploy those assets. Correct?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we did not do it for the last launch. We didn't --
Q They were in maintenance --
MR. MORRELL: Well, but they could been taken out of maintenance. So there are judgment calls that are made for the situation that we find ourselves in. And the judgment this time is that he wants to have those assets in place.
Q And you said earlier that there are other navies that are keeping an eye on North Korean ships. Are there other navies that are now shadowing other North Korean ships? Do you know?
MR. MORRELL: I didn't say "shadowing." You --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Right. And you said "shadowing." I didn't say "shadowing."
I think are many navies that are interested in this. There are many navies who understand they have new authorities and responsibilities. And I think they take those responsibilities hopefully as seriously as we do.
Q So are they watching any other ships?
MR. MORRELL: I can't speak to what other navies are doing, other than the fact that I know that there are other navies out there that are as -- that are concerned about this as well.
And we hope that -- you know, this does not -- the idea is that this is somehow being made a U.S. responsibility. The world spoke through the United Nations. This is a collective concern, and there are now collective responsibilities and authorities given to us, and we hope it doesn't just fall on us to exercise.
And frankly, I don't think it should fall upon this building to answer all of these questions in the sense that the Security Council resolution was not just about military authorities. It also -- it was much more comprehensive than that. There are new economic restrictions and sanctions, and financial restrictions and sanctions. And so I would urge all of you to pursue some of those angles as well -- maybe not here at the Pentagon press corps. But there are other components to this other than just the military one.
Q Geoff --
Q Geoff --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Donna.
Q It's -- it's been pretty widely reported that the secretary yesterday signed off on this new cyber subcommand.
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q Can you talk to us about exactly what he did authorize and what it will bring to the fold, and when we could start looking for some of this to be standing up?
MR. MORRELL: I think this has been reported ad nauseam by now. It was the least-best-kept secret in Washington. But it was finally signed -- signed yesterday. But this does establish a sub-unified command for cyberspace under United States Strategic Command.
So the idea here, though, is that this is not some sort of new and necessarily different authorities that have been granted. This is about trying to figure out how we, within this department, within the United States military, can better coordinate the day-to-day defense, protection and operation of the department's computer networks.
So this is, I think, best described as an internal reorganization, focused only on military networks, to better consolidate and streamline DOD's cyber capabilities into a single command that unifies all aspects of cyber to defend and operate our networks.
I know there's been -- you know, there have been those who suggest that this is some sort of militarization of cyberspace. It is not. This is not an attempt for us to take over, you know, the government's cyberspace efforts. This is part of a holistic governmentwide effort to better organize and situate ourselves to deal with this very real threat. And it is a complement to efforts that are taking place elsewhere within the United States government.
Q Geoff, onto -- onto --
MR. MORRELL: Hold on, let me just make sure. Anybody else on --
Q When -- and when will this actually start coming together?
MR. MORRELL: I think we -- I think by the -- I think soon. I think in the fall we hope to get things moving in that direction.
So I mean, obviously, there's -- this is not -- we -- cyber has been an issue within all the services and within STRATCOM. But the hope is here, by giving it to one person, a four-star, whose responsibility will be to coordinate all of our DOD-wide efforts, that there will be greater focus, greater energy, greater expertise brought to bear on this very real problem.
Q Geoff, on to Bagram, former detainees who were there, from 2002 to 2008, have been telling the BBC that they were abused physically and otherwise. I wanted to talk to you specifically about these allegations and what your response is.
MR. MORRELL: I don't have any knowledge of the specific allegations.
Q Some of these detainees are saying that they were victims of physical abuse: guns pointed at their heads, excessive heat and cold, things like that, forced to take off their clothes, in front of female soldiers, and things like that.
What is your general response to that?
MR. MORRELL: Well, without speaking to the specific allegations, of which I have no knowledge, I can just tell you that we operate according to the Army Field Manual, which is very strict guidelines about what is permitted and what is not permitted, in a detention setting and an interrogation setting.
And if anything were to exceed those parameters, go beyond those parameters, that is a problem. I am not aware of any instances in Bagram, such as you describe. I mean, Bagram is a -- there have been critics who have taken shots, at Bagram, not for how I think people are necessarily treated, at Bagram, but for its very existence.
Obviously we view it as an essential component to our warfighting efforts in Afghanistan. It is necessary to be able to take people off the battlefield and get them out of the fight, so that they no longer pose a threat to us or the Afghan people.
So we very much believe in the detention operations that we have at Bagram. I have no reason to believe that they are not being done according to the Army Field Manual and all the other restrictions we place upon them. But I am sure we'll take a look at what your allegations are. But I'm not aware of them specifically.
Q Geoff, Secretary Gates said yesterday, at the chief defense ministers in Washington, D.C., that Iran keeps training, supplying groups, threatening Iraq's stability.
Do you have any information, any details on that? Could you elaborate more?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that I'm going to get into specifics, Joe, but I think this, as I've said and he's said many times before, remains a persistent problem. I mean, it ebbs and flows in terms of its severity, but it has remained steady in terms of the fact that we still see instances in which there are insurgents in Iraq who have clearly been trained, supplied, funded by -- in some way tracing back to the Iranian government. And that is a real concern, and as the secretary said yesterday, speaking to the chiefs of defense throughout the Middle East and the Gulf region, we will continue to conduct counterterrorism operations against those people. We will not let them undermine the peace and security that the Iraqi people are trying to develop in their country. And we are committed to that, with the Iraqi security forces.
Q But you can't say who are those insurgents? Are they from --
MR. MORRELL: Well, they -- they've traditionally been, you know, Shi'a special groups that --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean -- like -- there are many Shi'a special groups, but I'm not going to get into name-calling. I mean, historically there were ties with Sadr's militia and so forth. But we've seen problems beyond just Sadrists. We've seen problems throughout Shi'a extremist groups in Iraq, and -- frankly, but we've seen problems on the other side of the spectrum with -- obviously with Sunni -- with Sunna groups that have supported or lent support to al Qaeda terrorists, and we will go after them just as vigorously.
We are committed to making sure that this government in Iraq be given the opportunity to develop and provide peace and security for its people.
Q Can I follow up? (Inaudible.)
MR. MORRELL: Barbara?
Q Well, the secretary's remarks yesterday of course were made as he chose to make them in the context of the domestic turmoil inside Iran. So more broadly, what are his concerns? What are you hearing about the concerns about the domestic turmoil leading to security challenges in the region, security threats that have posed a military concern to you? They're now conducting air exercises. There's been warnings not to get too close to their ships in the Persian Gulf. What are -- he made these comments in a -- you know, with a global spotlight on Iran right now. What are his concerns about this --
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that he views, frankly, the elections and the fallout and the unrest and the crackdown that has followed as necessarily a regional security threat. This seems to be mostly focused internal to Iran. Obviously you heard from the president yesterday we deplore the crackdown and the mistreatment of Iranians who are seeking to peacefully voice their displeasure with the election and how it was handled.
But I don't -- you know, obviously, the government would seem at this point to be focused, obviously, mostly internally on dealing with the turmoil in its midst. So I don't know that we've seen evidence that has led to any -- any greater external threat posed by Iran at this point.
I will tell you this. It does seem as though that externally, on either -- both the east and the west border, that the Afghans on the east and the Iraqis on the west are -- do seem to be paying close attention to it. And they have elections in the not-too-distant future, in August in Afghanistan, in January in Iraq. And I think it obviously puts even more pressure on those governments and us and the international community to make sure that we hold free and fair elections in those countries.
Q It wasn't -- (inaudible) -- to rephrase it -- thank you -- but what I was really trying to get to is not that at the moment --
MR. MORRELL: Sometimes you and I have a difficult time figuring out what we are asking and answering.
Q Not at the moment that you see a threat, but I was just wondering if you've heard the secretary articulate what he's watching for, not what --
MR. MORRELL: I think he spoke to what he was watching for last week. I mean, he obviously is paying close attention to this, as everybody in this government is. You asked him a great deal about the social networking component to this. But I think he views this, as most people do, as the biggest development that has taken place internal to Iraq -- or Iran, since the Islamic Republic came into being 30 years ago. And we are all waiting to see how it turns out.
The president was very forceful in his condemnation of how the government has been handling the protest situation, and we're closely watching it. But it's fundamentally at this point an issue not so much for this department as it is for the State Department, at the White House and others. There's not -- to get through my first answer to you -- a threat that we see at this point which would require us to do anything out of the ordinary.
You saw Admiral Gortney's admonition to his sailors in the region. I think that was just him being -- taking precautions, taking prudent measures. It's totally consistent with how the secretary's viewed our operations in and around Iraq. And he has made this -- long before the election situation and the turmoil that's followed, he has made it very clear to commanders in Iraq that they should be very mindful of the borders, very mindful of airspace, very mindful of naval demarcations, because we don't want to give the Iranians an opportunity to do something -- something stupid. And so we are going to be very responsible about how we behave so as not to find ourselves in a situation where they may do something that is not wise.
Q (Off mike.) You must have --
MR. MORRELL: (I'll stay ?) a couple more and then I got to -- Bryan's already nervous that I've been here this long. So. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. You must have seen some press reports that Chinese and Iranians both have warned the U.S. as far as Iran situation is concerned. And also, do you see any Iranian hands in Afghanistan?
MR. MORRELL: Do I see -- similar to Joe's question about meddling in -- yes, I think we've seen similar interference in Afghanistan, although to a much smaller degree. To a much smaller degree. And then, you know, just as it is in Iraq, an attempt to play both sides of this.
So not all of their behavior is unproductive. Some of it is designed to help these nascent governments. But unfortunately, there's two sides to this coin, and they are also doing things that are designed to destabilize the same governments they are ostensibly trying to help.
Q Mr. Morrell?
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q Regarding the air strike yesterday and was there a --
MR. MORRELL: She just elbowed you.
Q Another warning one, you didn't answer the warning one.
MR. MORRELL: I didn't even hear the warning. It's her question now.
Q We are hearing about the U.S. was responsible for this air strike in Waziristan and Pakistan and that there are more than 60 casualties. Can you --
MR. MORRELL: I'm not -- I have nothing for you on that. I'm not aware of what, if at all, we had any role in it at all.
Yeah. Oh, no, I've already done you. Luis. No, you've already been done. Luis.
Q I know the answer to this, but has the secretary decided on the acquisition authority for the tanker?
MR. MORRELL: Not quite yet.
Q Can we anticipate something forthcoming later today?
MR. MORRELL: I checked on it today. I don't think so, Luis. But hopefully, soon.
Q And how will that be announced?
MR. MORRELL: We'll talk about it. I don't know how we're going to announce it.
Okay, what's this? All right, let's do you, you and you, and that's it. These three, done. Go.
Q Back to North Korea, on threats from North Korea, nothing new, as you've noted; but this one was serious enough to generate a United Nations resolution and the secretary's actions vis-a-vis Hawaii.
MR. MORRELL: Well, it was collective. I mean, it was this -- it was a nuclear test coupled with a launch and so forth.
Q Given all that, has the department given any second thoughts, or had any second thoughts about increasing the number of troops who can take on accompanied tours in Korea, or is there any thought about slowing down that movement --
MR. MORRELL: No, I think Jeff asked -- did you ask this last time?
Q I did.
MR. MORRELL: You asked it, Donna. I thought you were asking are we going to increase troops on the peninsula, and the answer to that is, no, there are no plans to do that at this time. Are we committed to moving towards more and more accompanied tours? Yes, we are. I think you heard General Sharp speak of that recently, how he sees nothing in the security situation there which would warrant us at this point to reevaluate that decision. And I think the secretary, like General Sharp, and like the Pacific Command -- commander -- are all supportive of the notion of normalizing towards -- in Korea.
I mean, frankly, a lot of troops stationed in Korea end up going to do tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then return to the Republic of Korea and are still, you know, separated from their families back in the United States. And we're trying to normalize that. And it'll make it less onerous if they can -- (audio break) -- return to South Korea, and be with their families. So that's what we're working towards.
Kevin, and then Dan.
Q On the Ospreys, yesterday in the House Oversight Committee, the chairman said, based on Pentagon data they received and on --
MR. MORRELL: The chairman, what chairman?
Q The chairman of the House Oversight Committee --
MR. MORRELL: Okay, well, I've got -- we have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- we've got a lot of chairmen around here.
Q Sorry. No, it's Congress.
MR. MORRELL: Okay.
Q Out of your lane.
MR. MORRELL: And I'm already sensing this question is out of my lane, but go ahead.
Q Well, he said, based on Pentagon data and the GAO report, yesterday, that they have serious concerns about the performance of the Osprey in Iraq, and on its reliability, supply chain, a whole list of things. Has there been a reaction to that report and will --
MR. MORRELL: I have not -- Kevin, I, frankly, have not heard that. I mean, anecdotally, you know, as you know, within the last couple of months, we've flown on an Osprey. I think it was a great ride. I know the commandant is a huge fan of them. I know it's his desire to get them eventually to Afghanistan, where they probably have even greater utility, given the fact that they can cover range, a long range, at high speeds. But I know of no issues with the Osprey that have -- that have risen to the secretary's attention like that.
All right, Dan, with the grand finale.
Q On the Manas Air Base, could you just confirm that this agreement is in place to resume use of that air base, and the U.S. has agreed to pay a much, much higher rent; and also, that there's going to be some restrictions on how it's going to be used, as opposed to how it was used previously?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I'll tell you this.
We obviously are pleased that the Kyrgyz government has taken this agreement to its parliament to be ratified. We anticipate that happening in the next couple of days. And we are very -- we are very pleased with those developments.
We think it's to our mutual benefit. They are -- they obviously have a great stake in what's happening, in that region, as do we. And we look forward to continuing to work, with them, to supply our troops in Afghanistan, so that we can help with the overall security situation in the region.
As for what the agreement calls for in particular, in terms of monetary compensation, I'm not going to get into that at this point. Obviously it was a negotiation.
There is give and take in any negotiation. And I think we arrived at a place where we both felt comfortable and to the point where they are presenting this to their parliament. And hopefully the parliament will endorse it. But we are not counting our chickens before they are hatched.
There's obviously a legislative process in Kyrgyzstan. And we respect that process. And we anxiously await the outcome in the next couple of days. But we look forward to continuing hopefully to working with the Kyrgyz, at Manas airfield, to provide for the overall security in the region, through our operations in Afghanistan.
Okay, thanks, guys.
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