DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.
MR. MORRELL: Hello, all. Good afternoon. A few quick announcements, and then we'll get to questions.
This morning, Secretary Gates was pleased to pay tribute to General McKiernan during his retirement ceremony at Fort Myer. He thanked the general for his 37 years of distinguished service to the United States Army and wished him and his family the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Tomorrow morning, the secretary travels to Fort Drum, New York, the home of the 10th Mountain Division, which I believe is still the Army's most-deployed unit. There, he will meet with recently deployed brigade commanders and command sergeants major, as well as separately with spouses to discuss the stresses and strains of frequent and lengthy deployments. He will also conduct a town hall-style meeting with hundreds of soldiers on base.
Later that afternoon, the secretary will travel to President Obama's home town to address the Economic Club of Chicago. In a speech to hundreds of executives, including many from the defense industry, he will continue to press for fundamentally reshaping the Pentagon budget and reforming the way the military does business.
As Congress debates the FY '10 budget here in Washington, the secretary will take his case to the nation that we must not just change the way -- the way -- the weapons we buy, but how we buy them to ensure that we win the wars we are waging, prepare for the wars of tomorrow and -- rather than continue to rearm for previous ones. Secretary Gates will argue that when it comes to defense spending and weapons buying, from missile defense to the F-22, business as usual simply will not do.
On Friday, the secretary will travel just north of Chicago, to Naval Station Great Lakes, where 50,000 recruits receive their basic training every year. He will observe some of that training, meet with instructors, and address the 971 freshly minted sailors who are graduating this week.
He arrives back in Washington later that afternoon, in some to bid farewell to Army Secretary Pete Geren, who is leaving his post after two years of exemplary service to the nation.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Lita, welcome back. Do you have anything on your mind today?
Q Well, let me throw sort of a budget question your way. It looks like the Senate has postponed debate on the F-22. It appears to be making more time for some it appears to be negotiating and wrangling over this.
Is the secretary making any either additional calls or just having any additional discussions with members of the Senate on this? And any comment, I guess, on the postponement?
MR. MORRELL: I heard reports that there was some procedural maneuvering going on, so it looks as though this vote will likely not take place today, and perhaps not even this week. But for why and how and all those matters, I'd refer you to the -- to the Senate.
I know we have been in close consultation with Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain throughout this process. In answer to your specific question, the secretary has made some phone calls to members of the Senate. I'm not going to get into how many or to whom, but he is making it clear to those who are open to persuasion how strongly he feels about this and how strongly, frankly, the president feels about this.
You saw this week the fact that he, in a very no-nonsense manner, sent a letter to Senators Levin and McCain promising to veto any bill that comes out of the Senate with -- with additional F-22s in it. And so I think that is being made perfectly clear on an individual basis to a number of senators who we feel are still undecided on this matter.
And I think there are still a number who are undecided. I think -- overall, I think we feel good about how -- how things are trending. I think -- but you know, it's still early, as evidenced by the fact this late-breaking development, which will likely push this to next week. But I think overall we feel good about things are trending. There's still a number of undecided members out there who we hope we can prevail upon in the time between now and when a vote ultimately does take place.
This is a vitally important issue for this department. The secretary is as serious as a heart attack about this, as is the president. And they are adamant that no more F-22s be -- be included in any future defense plans.
Q Just to follow up, a day or two ahead, if you had come up on the podium, you have been discouraged with the potential vote to keep the money in? And you're seeing progress in your direction?
MR. MORRELL: I think we're seeing -- in -- yes. Tony, I think we're seeing progress. I mean, I don't want to be, you know, an -- you know, an armchair quarterback on this.
Q An armchair whip.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, an armchair whip, thank you. You know, that's not my expertise. But clearly -- and it's not just us. I mean, this is something that is, as I mentioned, of vital importance to the White House as well.
So our folks are working it here. The White House folks are working it from there. There is a concerted, coordinated effort to work with our -- with -- with senators to try to get a resolution to this that is favorable to us and favorable, frankly, to the nation.
Q I have a follow-up, too. The Washington Post on Friday published a history of the plane's well-known maintenance -- mixed maintenance history. So, for those reading the story, they will look and see that this -- they might think this airplane's a real maintenance dog.
What was -- what's the Pentagon's view on the maintenance history of the plane? And to what extent, if any, did its mixed maintenance history impact the decision to curtail the program?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I would refer you, in terms of its maintenance history, to the Air Force. They know it far better than I.
Listen, this is the best air-to-air fighter that, to date, has ever been built. There's no denying the extraordinary capabilities of this aircraft.
What is at debate here is, how many do you need of that exquisite niche capability for the threats we face, the operations we see ourselves conducting, potentially, in the future? And it is the unanimous belief of all the decision-makers in this building that 187 is more than enough to meet the need, particularly when it is -- when they are used in conjunction with the array of other aircraft we will have at our disposal, including more than 2,000 -- nearly 2,500 F-35s, roughly a half-generation newer and more capable in many respects; the unmanned fleet that we're going to have of Reapers, which is growing exponentially; and the existing fourth-generation aircraft that we have.
And you can't look at it through the narrow prism of just F-22s. They are part -- they are meant to work in conjunction with an array of other aircraft. And when they -- when you -- when you look at that array of other aircraft and the challenges we believe we may be facing in the future, everybody in this building believes 187 is more than enough.
Q If I could -- the only point I'm making is, is it accurate to say that Mr. Gates didn't really make his decision based on some maintenance history of the plane to date?
MR. MORRELL: No. No, no, no.
Q I don't remember hearing that, no?
MR. MORRELL: No. No. It's been made on the fact that 187 is enough for the needs that we have and the threats we believe we may face, and there are choices that have to be made. You cannot continue to be all things to all people. There are tradeoffs that have to be made.
So when you hear, for example, that certain generals within the force who speak to 187 as being vitally -- more than 187 being vitally necessary, I would remind you that they have sort of narrowly defined goals and responsibilities. They do not, as the secretary -- as the Secretary of the Air Force, as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force do, have the entirety of the force to worry about -- or, in the case of the Air Force, the entirety of that service to worry about.
And if you buy additional of those -- additional F-22s surplus, in excess to those we need to conduct the missions we foresee ourselves conducting in the future, it has to come out of something else which we do vitally need. This is -- there are -- there are tradeoffs that are inherent in pursuing additional F-22s, and ones that we believe are painful and detrimental to the overall -- our overall national security if we're forced to make them.
Q Will Mr. Gates on Thursday's talk also tell defense executives that it's not helpful for them to lobby behind his back members of Congress for restoring the --
MR. MORRELL: I don't think there is a -- there is going to be a direct admonition or plea or warning or anything of that nature to the industry. I think what this is is, as is customary of Secretary Gates, it is not an in-the-weeds address. This is not -- we're not having a knife fight here. He is an -- he will have an elevated argument for why this is vitally important for our national security.
And this is -- F-22 is just indicative of what we are facing within the department. We need to rise above narrow parochial interests and made decisions that are in the best interests of our overall national security. We need to change the way we have been conducting business in this department. Time has come, and he is going to make that case explicitly to all those in attendance, many of whom are people who run businesses and who understand that you have to make hard choices.
This building, this government has historically been loathe to make hard choices. He thinks we can no longer wait and push those choices down the road, we've got to make them now. And he's done it. And we need the support of the Congress in order to see it through.
Q I've got a couple questions on industrial base. The AIA, the lobbying association for the industry, has requested that the DOD start considering industrial base in some of its strategic framework, namely the QDR. That's never been done before, so I was curious what your response is to that.
And also, in terms of industrial base, do you guys plan to engage anyone on some of these areas that could be niche capabilities that might need some nurturing that weren't addressed in the 2010 budget?
MR. MORRELL: Such as?
Q Protected comms, low observability, solid rocket motor? I mean, you guys are the market for those.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. You know, I saw Dr. Carter's comments on this that he gave to your colleague, Bryan Bender, in his interview to the Boston Globe about the fact that -- that -- that the industrial base will, to some extent, be considered in the QDR. And you know, I don't have much to elaborate on that.
I mean, I think that's an ongoing process. I think it's always difficult to consider the industrial base. And -- and -- but the industrial base, I can assure you, as we've said time and time again, was not determinant in any decision that we've made in the budget.
You know, it -- we are cognizant of the fact that we can't do what we do without a healthy defense industry. But it certainly was not -- did not impact any of the individual decisions we made along the lines. And I don't know that it will impact any of the decisions that are made in the QDR.
But let's figure out if we can get somebody who's more expert on the QDR, maybe when it's more evolved, to speak to where the industrial base --industrial base played a role in this whole process.
Q Well, as a follow-up, there -- there's been discussion of -- or reorganizing the Industrial Base Office here in the Pentagon, perhaps taking it to a lower director level. Can you comment on that?
MR. MORRELL: First I've heard it. I'm not -- it hasn't been on my radar. I'm sorry.
Yeah, Bill. Oh, sorry, go ahead.
Q What is the secretary's position for the export version of F-22?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think we've been over this a couple times, but I'm happy to do it one more time.
Fundamentally, it's illegal right now. There is an amendment, the Obey amendment, which prohibits the sale -- the export of F-22s to anyone. So that would be a matter that would have to be overcome with some sort of legislative remedy.
The secretary's fundamental attitude about the F-22 is that we have enough of them. And -- and I think, you know, if we have enough, I think it's to be determined between other governments who wish to pursue this and see if there's a way that they can deal with perhaps acquiring these in the future.
I don't know that this is something we are advocating. We believe that the F-35 is the aircraft of the future. We believe that is the aircraft that we want to develop in conjunction with our -- with our partners around the world. It's what makes it affordable to all of us, that we do this together. And, frankly, we believe it's the aircraft that best serves joint operations around the world. It can be used by all services -- the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines -- and it can be deployed in a similar way in foreign militaries as well.
So I think that, overall, we believe that where we should be focusing on is a newer, better -- in many respects -- aircraft that we can develop together, reduce the costs collectively. It would be enormously expensive for Japan or other countries to buy the -- to buy an export model of the F-22, money we think could be better spent in developing the F-35 together, and develop a platform that would have interoperability if we were to work together in the future.
So I guess my position on that evolved. So I think we're opposed to an export of the F-22. (Laughter.)
Q Can I just take another stab at industrial base here? The three issues that I mentioned were just three that Secretary Donnelly has actually acknowledged publicly. Without having industrial base as part of a consideration in the strategic framework that comes out of the QDR, what other mechanism could be used by the DOD to manage this -- this consolidated industry and some areas where there really isn't a whole lot of competition?
MR. MORRELL: Listen, this is -- this is a -- this is a problem that I think we ought to have somebody who -- with some more thoughts on it than I address. So let us work to help facilitate an interview with somebody who may be more skilled on this -- on this issue than I am. I'd hate to sit up here and tell you something that's not terribly informed on that subject.
Q The secretary recently said that he was going to have the department try to find a -- members of the department try to find a more humane way to apply the don't ask, don't tell policy that bans open homosexual service in the military. Can you give us a status on those efforts?
MR. MORRELL: I can't, really. I mean, he said that to -- we were flying back from Germany and he shared that with some of the reporters who were traveling with us.
I mean, the bottom line is that the president has made it perfectly clear to the secretary, to the chairman, where he wants to go on this. He wants to repeal don't ask, don't tell. And he's made that clear, frankly, to the world at this point. But he's also made it clear to the secretary and the chairman that he wants to do so in a way that is least disruptive to the force, appreciating the fact that we've been conducting two wars simultaneously for eight years now.
They've had several conversations about this. And as the secretary revealed in that conversation on the way back from Germany, he is -- has asked the general counsel to look at ways in which to make the application of the existing law more humane. And the example he used is when -- if someone were outed by someone else -- someone's behavior and statements were perfectly consistent with the law, but someone else chose to out them -- are there ways that we can apply the law that does not adversely impact this person, who is behaving and acting in accordance with the law?
I don't know what the answer is to this. He doesn't know what the answer is to this. The law, as he pointed out, is very prescriptive. As far as he could tell at first glance, it didn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room. So he wanted to bring it to the attention of the general counsel and see if they could figure out, if there was latitude, to apply it in that manner.
Which -- and this is -- I think this is really indicative of the Witt case, the Air Force versus Witt case, or the Witt versus Air Force case. Actually, it may be Witt versus Secretary Gates case. But anyway, that's where it stands. I don't think we've had -- I don't think he's had any feedback yet from the general counsel on what they've discovered to date.
Q Given the president's sense of urgency that he's attached to the issue, is there any sort of timeline that the secretary has been given or has directed his folks, the general counsel, to try to come up with something for him?
MR. MORRELL: He did not mandate a timeline as far as I know, Bill. I think that -- well, the president -- and you've heard him speak of this in an interview with CNN, I think, over the last couple days -- he talked about how that, you know, he wants to make sure that -- I'm just quoting here -- he wants to know if "there's a possibility we can change how the law is being enforced, even as we are pursuing a shift in congressional policy. But the bottom line is, I want to see a change, and we've already contacted congressional allies. I want to make sure that it's changed, though, in a way that ultimately works well for our military, and the outstanding gay and lesbian soldiers that are both currently enlisted or would like to enlist." He wants to make sure that the Pentagon has thought through all the ramifications of how this would be most effective.
I don't get the sense from the president or anything I've heard from the secretary that there is a prescribed timeline. I think the idea here is he wants to do it, but he wants to do it with care. They are clearly working with the Congress on this matter, and the secretary's working with the general counsel to see what we can do in the interim.
Q But is there a sense of the general counsel that this is a top priority item for the general counsel versus something -- I mean --
MR. MORRELL: Well, there are a lot of top priorities. We're trying to close Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility]. We're trying to move detainees to where they can be housed other than Gitmo. We're trying to deal with a new -- with the military commissions process. We're waging two wars. And we're also dealing with don't ask, don't tell and a number of other things. There are a lot of high-priority items for -- for the general counsel.
But I can assure you, it's been asked directly by the secretary. It will be given the utmost -- the utmost care and consideration, I am sure, on a timely basis.
Q Just to follow on don't ask, don't tell, what caused the secretary to change his tune on this? We've asked you at the podium a number of times already about don't ask, don't tell, what can be done. The repeated answer from you and the secretary himself has been, this is the law of the land; we're not going to do anything about it until Congress makes a move. Now we're seeing that the secretary is making an effort to bend the law in certain ways. Why -- why the sudden change?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think he's looking for a way to bend the law.
Q Or work around it, as best he can, to -- to make modifications.
MR. MORRELL: I think what's happened here, Justin, is that there have been specific examples, specific cases which have come to his attention. The Witt case is one, for example, where the circumstances of it seem to some unfair. And he wants to know whether there is latitude within the law such that in unusual cases such as this -- where someone was behaving according to the law, acting according to the law, speaking according to the law, and yet someone else chose to out them, and in the process get them -- try to get them thrown out of the military -- whether or not there is latitude for us to enforce the law in a way that would not be so draconian, would not be so -- would not so adversely affect this person for no doing of their own.
So, anyway, that's where -- you know, he's in the -- he's asked that. He's seen some examples. He's now asked the question. And, obviously, this is something that he's focused more on as a result of the fact that the president has made his -- his position on this very clear, and the direction he is heading on this very clear.
Q Well -- okay, so either way you look at it, if the secretary gets his way and is able to make these changes, then the military will be operating, in some cases, with known homosexual members. So is that -- is it the secretary's opinion that that will cause a disruption in the force in any way?
MR. MORRELL: I think we are a ways from that point. I think right now he is just asking the question whether or not there is latitude to do this. Executing it, following through with it is the next step. I don't think we're there yet. I don't know when that will take place, if it will take place. He's just asking the initial question. So I think we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit in terms of the impact -- the potential impact it will have on the force.
Q Geoff, just so we're up to date --
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q Who -- what other efforts in the department to look at this, the Joint Chiefs --
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that -- I don't know that there will be any others.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q Just a different subject. What's the secretary's position on expansion of the Army that's been proposed?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think he obviously has a great deal of concern about the stress that the Army has been under for a number of years now. And he understands that his prescription that they reduce their dependence upon stop-loss to keep units intact when they deploy has created additional stress on the force.
So he is engaged in discussions with a number of people about that possibility -- obviously, with the Chief of Staff, General Casey, Secretary Geren, and others about whether or not it would be wise on a temporary basis, as been has -- as has been advocated by Senator Lieberman, to increase the size of the Army to get them through what is still a stressful period as we draw down in Iraq and continue to plus-up in Afghanistan.
But no decisions have been made. He is right now still in the -- in the consultation process. But he is clearly considering it.
Q Just a follow-up on that. My understanding was he had a meeting on this. Is he in the consultation process, or is he considering the presentation and the next step will be a decision? Is he -- it sounded like he had already consulted. Is he now kind of mulling it over?
MR. MORRELL: Well, just because he's had a meeting in which this was presented to him doesn't mean he has talked to all the people he wants to talk about on this subject before ultimately making a decision. And what I can tell you is that he still has people he wishes to speak with and that a decision has not been made yet. But obviously, this is something he is -- he is considering.
Q On this. As part of the budget proposal, there was a reduction by two BCTs [Brigade Combat Teams], not to proceed with the creation of the additional brigade combat teams. Is this something new that could reverse that? Or are we talking about an addition to those BCTs or a greater size within the --
MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I -- frankly, Louie, I'd refer you to the Army. I frankly don't know how the -- if we were to proceed with a temporary increase in soldiers, how the -- how that would impact the force structure and whether or not we would reconsider capping BCTs as we did in the 2010 budget.
But I think we're not quite there yet, and I'd ask you just to hold on a little bit. He's not -- he hasn't made this decision yet. He's still considering it. But he obviously appreciates the stress that the force is under and is listening intently to the arguments that are being made by General Casey and others.
Q I want to just go back to the F-22 to just find out a little bit more about --
MR. MORRELL: Anybody else on this, for the Army? Okay, thanks.
Q Isn't growing the Army was getting more expensive than buying more F-22s?
MR. MORRELL: It will be -- that's -- it will be very expensive. You're absolutely right. You know, our personnel costs in total I think in the '10 budget are north of $160 billion. Our health-care costs alone are $42 billion. Every person you add has enormous costs -- legacy costs especially. And that -- that is clearly part of the consideration here. That's why this is being looked at as a temporary fix to a near-term problem, this notion that we are going to, according to General Casey, continue to have considerable stress on the force over the next 18 months to two years in particular, and that we need to look at the possibility of trying to diminish that stress by temporarily adding more forces.
But I -- you know, this is not a -- this is not being viewed as an addition to the roughly 50,000 troops we have added to the Army on a permanent basis. That said, it is always hard to do things on a temporary basis in this building. They have a way of becoming permanent. So that is a challenge associated with this, Tony.
Q Is there an associated cost --
MR. MORRELL: But that's another reason, frankly, Tony, why we cannot afford F-22s. We cannot afford things we do not need more of than we already have because it forces us to take money from something else that we do need. And it looks as though the Army believes it needs additional soldiers to do the job that we have asked them to do. So buying more F-22s would very much inhibit our ability to even temporarily grow the force.
Q Associated cost, though?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that we've come up with an associated cost. I'm sure somebody has come up with it. I haven't seen an associated cost.
Yes, go ahead.
Q So in this lobbying effort to strip money/funding for F-22s out, is Gates meeting directly with senators on a face-to-face basis? Is he making calls? Or can you characterize this?
MR. MORRELL: As I said at the beginning, he's made some calls, and he will continue to make calls as necessary to make his case to those who are willing to listen. But I do not believe this week that there have been any face-to-face engagements on this. And as I said before, his -- the calls are not limited to him. There are calls being made by the White House as well, and I'd urge you to talk to them as to see who's making those calls.
Q And is he also talking to the White House directly about this, this week? Or has --
MR. MORRELL: Oh, I -- well, I mean, he meets with the president this afternoon. He -- but I can assure you that he has had discussions with people at the White House this week about the state of play with regards to the F-22 in the Defense Authorization Act. Absolutely.
And in fact, I think you saw the White House today release an updated SAP [Statement of Administration Policy] today and -- where they make it clear, as they did in that letter to the -- to Senators Levin and McCain, that the president will indeed veto any provision -- any -- any bill that contains additional F-22s.
Q Another topic. Can you give us some sense of whether the secretary has been updated on the progress of the Marine-led operation in Helmand province? Is there any light you can shed on that, on progress being made, whether -- how long this operation could last, whether more troops would be needed?
MR. MORRELL: The secretary did not, this week, have a SVTS with -- a secure video teleconference -- with his commanders in Afghanistan. He did with his commanders in Iraq. That said, he gets regular updates on operational matters, including the new operations that the Marines have launched in -- in Helmand, Operation Khanjar, as well as the British forces, their operation, Panther's Claw. And he obviously also gets notification every time we lose a U.S. service member, which unfortunately we have lost in Afghanistan at an alarming rate this month.
I think that we are -- I think we are on -- I think we've lost 22 U.S. service members in Afghanistan this month, 17 coalition service members. So it is an extraordinarily difficult month for all of us who are so heavily invested in trying to better the situation in Afghanistan.
So -- but he's closely following it, and he is encouraged thus far by how things are going operationally -- aside, obviously, from the losses we've suffered. But it looks as though our forces have let -- have met little resistance, as they've moved, in particular, into Nawa and Garmsir, those districts of Helmand. I think they've generally been -- been welcomed by residents of those areas. But obviously, as we move into areas where we have not traditionally been operating, we are -- we are confronting insurgents along the way, those who are not running and hiding. There are those who, through, IEDs [Improvised Explosive Device (s)] and indirect fire, hit-and-run operations, are trying to impede our progress.
But I think, as was made clear by the tactical directive that you saw from General McChrystal this week, or last week, we are committed, for the long run, to maintain a force presence in as many populated areas as possible to protect the population from the Taliban and other terrorists, and to help the Afghan government be able to exert itself more throughout the country to provide services, to provide economic development so that people there have something else they can believe in other than the bankrupt ideology and the fear that is promoted by the Taliban.
So that, I think, is sort of where we are now. But this is a long-term effort with, as you know, additional resources flowing in. There's another brigade that's due to arrive this fall of trainers, so that we can get not just U.S. and coalition forces doing this -- because we are right now sort of the -- the clear operation and now, by default, the hold operation. But ultimately the hold and build has to be conducted by the Afghan national security forces. So we need additional trainers, and we've got a brigade coming in that will make a big difference in order to grow the Afghan national army from roughly about 90,000 that it is now to 134(,000) by the end of -- by the end of next year.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.
Q Just to follow up on Brian's question, do you have any idea about the duration of this operation; I mean, the Garmsir operation in Helmand province? Could you say how long it will last?
MR. MORRELL: By the end of 2011. I apologize. Yeah. I don't think we're going to --
Q Is it a matter of months, weeks?
MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I don't think we want telegraph how long this operation is going to last. I think that's an operational detail that we're not going to disclose, or I'm not going to disclose, at least from this podium.
Suffice it to say, this will not be -- this is not the only operation we are going to undertake. There will be -- there will be many such operations. If this operation is ultimately not sustained over the long run, trust me, there will be many more to follow. This is all part of a renewed focus and effort to protect the population in Afghanistan. And you have a new commander and a new strategy, and that's where we're headed.
Q More on this. General Nicholson said the other day he needs more Afghan troops in the operation in Helmand. I think he said he only has 650 to the 4,000 Marines, plus other coalition forces. And today, the head of the British army said they need more forces in Afghanistan in general, whether they be U.S. or British or Afghan or others.
So two questions. One, if there are 90,000 in the Afghan army, why only 650 involved in that operation? And two, what's being done to increase that number, as well as to speed the growth as well as the -- the growth of the Afghan army as well as the training of those they already have?
MR. MORRELL: With regards to the first part of the question, why are there only roughly 600 associated with this operation, I'd refer you to the folks over there. I don't know the tactical decision as to why that number for this particular operation.
If we elevate the discussion a little as to do we need more Afghan national security forces, the answer is we are growing the Afghan national security forces. We're growing the ANA [Afghan National Army] as we speak. In fact, the original growth plan for the ANA had us getting to 134,000 over five years. The decision was made in the -- in the strategic review that the White House conducted to do this in really -- basically two years instead, two-and-a-half years instead.
So we're going to go from -- you know, we're at 92,000, we're going to go to 134,000. We think approximately 26(,000) new soldiers were trained in 2008. We're on track to train roughly 28,000 soldiers this year. So that certainly puts us on pace to get to our number of 134,000.
As you've seen in some of the articles that have been written lately, General McChrystal is looking at this very issue, do we need to get bigger faster? And he has had some communication with the secretary on this. I'm not going to go into the specifics of it. But when he reports back on his overall evaluation of the situation on the ground, I can tell you a component of that will be a recommendation on whether to go bigger, and if so, how much faster do we need to get -- do we need to do it. And I think the secretary will obviously strongly consider that.
What he has said to you all to date, though, is we will have a big task ahead of us in getting to 134(,000). That's going to be a real challenge. You know, trainers have been at a premium. We've had to contribute more of them than we would like because it's been difficult getting them from our allies. If we all believe that it is necessary to grow the Afghan national security forces even beyond that, it's going to take an enormous commitment from not just us, but with the world to provide the trainers necessary to get it done in a time that can have an impact on the ground, and also to pay to sustain this force in the long run.
It is enormously expensive, albeit, far less expensive than to have us and our coalition partners do this job. But it is still far more than the Afghan government can afford on their own. We're going to spend -- I think this year alone I think we've got seven-plus billion dollars in our budget to deal with the growth and sustainment of the Afghan security forces. So -- and I think the Afghan government's budget is roughly 7 to $800 million.
So if we are serious about this, if the world is committed to this, it's going to require all of us accepting additional responsibility and burden in this area, both in terms of trainers and in terms of financial contributions.
Q If I could follow, is there -- is the U.S. essentially doing everything it can at the moment in terms of money and number of trainers it can provide, moving as quickly as possible now? It's up to others if that's going to be sped up?
MR. MORRELL: I -- I would not say that, Al. I mean, obviously we are -- we are very stressed and very strained as it is, and we are -- but we are always looking at ways that we can enhance the growth of the Afghan national security forces.
Right now, we are -- you know, right now, we have 68,000 forces that have been authorized to go to Afghanistan. We are still waiting for the addition of this -- this brigade of trainers. We think that will make a big difference in the rate and -- ultimately, the size and the rate of growth of the ANSF [Afghan national security forces]. So let's let that brigade get in there, see how effective they can be, and then we'll make likely an evaluation about how much bigger or faster we need to grow.
Q Staying on the financial cost of this, this most recent increase in the size, to 134,000, the secretary had sought to have partner nations bear a large portion of that cost, but was unsuccessful. Is he still going to try to pursue that if the recommendation comes forward to increase the size even beyond 134(,000)?
MR. MORRELL: I think I've sort of addressed it, Louie. I mean, we are -- we are taking the -- we are bearing the vast majority of this -- of this load. And we are, like everybody else, in a difficult time financially right now.
I think we would, if there were a determination to go forward with growing the Afghan national security forces bigger and faster, there would have to be a real international effort to meet this challenge. We could not, I don't believe, bear that alone. So I would imagine that if that were the decision that were made -- and no decision has been made yet, obviously -- we would want to work to persuade our friends and allies around the world that this is in everyone's best interest, and that we must collectively do what we can to make this happen. It's -- it's imperative for our country's security, but it's also ultimately, although it requires an initial investment, cheaper for the Afghans to do this for themselves than for us to continue to deploy tens of thousands of forces indefinitely.
Q Can I just ask another question about Guantanamo? The six-month review I think is coming up. Can you provide an update about where that --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, I think we are -- we are and have been actively involved in discussions, meetings, consultations with our colleagues at Justice, at the White House, and we're in the midst of it. I would point you to the White House in terms of whether there is -- whether anything is imminent in terms of announcements, but I can just tell you we continue to work closely with our colleagues across the river on these thorny issues. You know, I was a little flippant, I know, with Bill about, you know, is this a top priority for the general counsel. I can tell you he is -- he is up to his neck right now in dealing with a range of issues, chief among them the -- the executive order signed by the president sort of mandating action by a prescribed time with regards to Guantanamo and military commissions and interrogations and so forth. So I don't have a concrete answer to you, other than we're continuing to work it.
Q And so that deadline's still going to be met, then?
MR. MORRELL: I have no reason to believe it won't be. But ultimately, this is something that I would really urge you to ask the White House about because they'd have probably a better sense of the status of it than I would.
Q Just a quick tanker question. What's the latest on the draft request for proposal? And has the secretary decided yet whether the Air Force or the Pentagon civilian acquisition corps will manage the program?
MR. MORRELL: He had a meeting about this, I believe, last week, where this was -- very question was discussed/debated, and no final decision has been made on this yet. I think this is something that is still being worked. I mean, obviously we've had some enormous challenges with this process in the past, and I think -- I know we told you there might be something in the spring and then we told you there might be something in the summer. And you know, frankly, this may go into the fall because we want to make darn certain we get it right. And so everybody is double- and triple-checking our -- the proposed way ahead to make sure that it is bulletproof.
Q When you say that this may go into the fall, what are you referring to? The release of a draft RFP [Request For Proposal]?
MR. MORRELL: I know we had told you, as I said, Tony, that we would release an RFP in the spring. And then we told you that it may be more likely the summer. And I'm telling you, so that we don't have a weekly question on this, that it may be that we don't get this out until the fall. I could be wrong, but the point that I'm trying to make is that everybody wants to be extraordinarily cautious about how we proceed in order to make sure we get it right. It's too important a project. It's too -- it's too necessary for our -- for our Air Force for us not to get it right this time.
Q Nobody is actually concerned, though, the longer you let this drag out, the more you're going to give an opening for the Appropriations Committee to give you direction in which way to go with the RFP?
MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I think there's -- again, I don't want to be a prognosticator about how the Congress is going. I think we're seeing less evidence that that is the direction they -- they wish to go. So I think they want, like we want, to get this right. They want our -- our warfighters to have the benefit of a new tanker as much as we do. And I think they trust the secretary when he tells them that he is working to make sure that this process is bulletproof.
Q Can we get a little more definition? You said you wanted to make sure you get this right, obviously, but what is the "this" part? Have you narrowed it down to a few final issues that still have to go through the legal wickets, or?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'm not going to speak to what the RFP will contain, but we want to make sure we get the process and the request for proposal right, so that we ultimately can produce a result that everyone can agree was the right one, and that we do not run into the challenges and obstacles that we had over the last couple of tries.
Q Have you decided who is in charge of that?
MR. MORRELL: As I said, there's been no decision made on that yet. He's had -- he's heard some arguments as to who should lead that effort, and -- but he has not yet made a final decision.
Q So will that decision be made before fall, you say, whether the Air Force or the Pentagon is going to manage it?
MR. MORRELL: I think you will ultimately see from us -- when we ultimately do roll this out, I think you will have all that information together.
Yeah. Yeah, Kevin.
Q You said earlier on Afghanistan the forces are meeting little resistance, except from things like IEDs. And I'm wondering if this is the kind of concern, after so much money and time was spent on trying to defeat IEDs in Iraq, with things all the way up to the MRAPs, that as soon as the fighting has started, by my count in the last couple weeks more than half of the U.S. casualties have been specifically from IEDs.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q You know, did we send troops ahead of time, too early, before we had the right protection for them from this? Or --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, keep -- a couple of things. Keep in mind the context here. We wanted to make sure that we had a sizeable force on the ground in order -- as did our allies, for that matter, and that's why you saw them -- saw them plus-up over the last few months -- in order to positively impact the elections that are due to take place next month.
The security situation, particularly in the south, was not conducive for holding free and fair and safe elections in -- in August. Everybody agreed we had to change that dynamic on the ground, and the only way to do it was to get forces there and get them there fast. And that's what we have done and that's what our allies have done, and that's why we are moving out and trying to improve the situation in the limited window of time that we have.
That said, the secretary long ago knew that the IED threat was -- was emerging and increasing in Afghanistan, and that's why he pushed his people to make sure that we were moving MRAPs to Afghanistan. So as MRAPs were being built and as the situation in Iraq was improving, we started to flow those newly built MRAPs to Afghanistan instead of Iraq, and even move some MRAPs from Iraq to Afghanistan. The result has been that we now have -- I don't know -- I think 3,000-plus MRAPs in Afghanistan.
That's not enough, and that's why we now have this new altering MRAP. A contract, as you guys saw, was let on that just before the 4th of July to Oshkosh. And you know, I think the requirement right now in Afghanistan for M-ATV [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle] is north of 5,000, and I would imagine that number would only grow.
Q Do you guys have a plan to bridge the gap, though, between the amount of MRAPs that are now -- before those ATV versions can get there, which is, you know, months from now?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we have -- I mean, we have -- the number of MRAPs, period, in Afghanistan has probably this year alone I would guess -- and we can certainly find out for you -- probably tripled. There's been enormous priority to get MRAPs to Afghanistan to meet this emerging threat, and not just MRAPs; ISR [Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance] as well. I mean, this is -- ISR assets have been shifting to Afghanistan from Iraq to meet this challenge as well. But more are needed, just as more MRAPs are needed. And that's why we're working that problem as well.
We've got to tackle this -- this threat from, you know, basically 360 degrees. We've got to get them from, you know, the air. We've got to monitor the roads. We've got to watch patterns of life for these IED networks. We've got to provide force-protection measures that will keep our troops safe if they do encounter them. And we've got to increase our intelligence on the ground to ultimately dismantle these groups.
But fundamentally, you got to win over the population. And that's what this whole new strategy is all about. You got to win over the population. You got to have them believe that you are there for the long haul, you are there for their best interests, they're the ones you should trust -- or we are the ones they should trust, and we are the ones they should provide information for about the people who are trying to make their lives miserable.
Yeah. I know Bryan's very nervous. Let's take the last -- let's go boom, and this lady here, and then I think that's it. Do you -- okay, three, that's it.
Q Geoff, quick question. This anti-smoking effort, there was a study.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Do you have anything from the secretary yet on that?
MR. MORRELL: I do. I do.
I mean, obviously, I know the secretary -- the study, I think, was commissioned in part by this department, and the secretary shares those involved's concern about the health and well-being of the force. And he obviously understands the president and this government's desire to ultimately create a smoke-free America, but I think you should not expect him to take any action which would restrict the use of tobacco products by people -- our service members in conflict zones, in war zones. He knows that the situation they are confronting is stressful enough as it is, and I don't think he is interested in adding to their stress levels by taking away one of the few outlets they may have to relieve stress, and that may be chewing tobacco or smoking a cigarette.
Obviously, it's not our -- it's not our preference to have a force that is using tobacco products. It's enormously expensive. By some estimates it costs us nearly $1 billion a year, tobacco-related health problems. But you know, we're fighting two wars right now, using a force that we're demanding more of than we ever have before. They are under enormous stress and strain. And the secretary does not want to compound that stress by taking away from them one of the few outlets they may have to relieve that stress.
Q They're I guess, on the record with suggestions about limiting sales on bases and things like that. Does he --
MR. MORRELL: I think we're -- he hasn't gotten the report yet. I think he's going to -- he'll certainly look at it, certainly give it full consideration. There may be things we can do to try to move towards that goal. But he has been very clear to me up front that one of the things he is not prepared to do is to restrict the use of tobacco products in combat zones.
Q On North Korea. After the North Korea test fired multiple missiles on the 4th of July, Independence Day --
MR. MORRELL: They were celebrating with us.
MR. MORRELL: Right? It was their fireworks display.
Q Yes. So America's also saying that they're not working, you know. So --
MR. MORRELL: What's not working?
Q Diplomatic options, the message --
MR. MORRELL: The new U.N. resolution is not working, you're saying?
Q Yes. So --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I would -- I would -- I would beg to differ with you. I mean, yes, we did see that that fireworks display exhibited on July 4th. But you also saw the fact that we were monitoring a ship that was of concern to us for some number of days. And it wasn't just us, it was our coalition partners, our allies around the world who are also -- who also unanimously supported the U.N. Security Council resolution. They were also monitoring this ship. And the collective efforts ultimately resulted in that ship turning around short of its destination and returning back to North Korea.
So I think that the -- that the new authorities, the new responsibilities that the new Security Council resolution has given us and given the rest of the world is having an impact. Not -- it's not perfect by any means, as was evidenced by that -- by that fireworks display. But I think we are -- we are confident that if we continue to work together, that we can ultimately impact the behavior of the North.
Q Is it time for the U.S. to take military actions?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think that is at all a consideration at this point.
Let's go. Last one. Yeah.
Q Geoff, I want to ask about another report and the secretary has seen it. This is the Army's Fort Carson report.
MR. MORRELL: I haven't seen it and I don't think he's seen it. Yeah.
Q And on the tanker thing. I want to be clear. When you saw the fall, you're talking October, November possibly? (Laughter.) Well, but seriously --
MR. MORRELL: (Laughs.) Actually, I knew I shouldn't say fall because most of September's not in the fall, is it?
Q No. But just --
MR. MORRELL: All I'm saying to you, Tony, is stay tuned. But this -- you know, it's probably not going to happen this month, and so it may -- we may be looking at August. We may be looking at September. The bottom line is we are determined to get this right and are doing the work in advance so that we don't have problems later on.
Okay? Thank you, guys.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2009, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE.
NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW,
AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL CARINA NYBERG AT 202-347-1400.