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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen
July 20, 2009

                SEC. GATES:  Good afternoon.  On the recommendation of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army General George Casey, and with President Obama's strong support, today I am announcing a decision to temporarily increase the active-duty end strength of the Army by up to 22,000.  That is a temporary increase from the current authorized end -- permanent end strength of 547,000 to an authorized temporary end strength of 569,000 active-duty soldiers. 

 

                I came into this job in 2006 with the belief that we did not have enough forces to properly support the extended pace of combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.  Shortly after taking office, and mindful of the decision to surge additional forces into Iraq, I recommended and the president and the Congress approved a permanent increase in the size of the Army of 65,000 and the Marine Corps of 27,000.  At the time, it was judged that these increases would sustain the projected level of deployments and lower the stress on the force.  At the same time, I directed that the Army continue to reduce the size of the nondeployable or institutional part of the force.   

 

                Much has changed over the last two years, causing us to reassess whether we are properly sized to support current operational needs. In Iraq, significant progress has ushered in a security agreement with the government of Iraq and new policy direction by President Obama to significantly draw down U.S. forces by next year and completely by the end of 2011.   

 

                By contrast, the escalating violence in Afghanistan and political turmoil in Pakistan has resulted in a new policy direction by the president and an associated increase in American forces in Afghanistan to implement it.  The persistent pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last several years has steadily increased the number of troops not available for deployment in the Army.  The decision to eliminate the routine use of stop-loss authority in the Army also requires a larger personnel float for each deploying unit to compensate for those whose contract expires during the period of deployment. 

 

                The Army has reached a point of diminishing returns in its multi- year program to reduce the size of its training and support tail.  The cumulative effect of these factors is that the Army faces a period where its ability to continue to deploy combat units at acceptable fill rates is at risk. 

 

                Based on current deployment estimates, this is a temporary challenge which will peak in the coming year and abate over the course of the next three years.   

 

                For these reasons, I have authorized the Army to temporarily increase its personnel strength by up the 22,000 troops for a period of three fiscal years.  These additional forces will be used to ensure that our deploying units are properly manned, and not to create new combat formations.   

 

                The department will not seek additional funds for fiscal years '09 or 2010 to implement this decision, and will work with OMB and the Congress in putting together the necessary fiscal program in the remaining two years. 

 

                I am mindful that during this period of financial crisis this decision will result in additional tough choices for the department, calling to mind my comments in the past about things that we don't need creating problems for us in the areas we do need.   

 

                However, I am convinced that this is an important and necessary step to ensure that we continue to properly support the needs of our commanders in the field, while providing relief for our current force and their families. 

 

                Admiral. 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I would just add that I fully support this increase.  I've grown, as you all know, increasingly concerned over the last year and a half about stress on the force and our ability to meet the demands out there.  This temporary increase helps us address that concern. 

 

                It will also help us get a better handle on dwell time and boost the number of people we can deploy with the capabilities our commanders most need.  And that's really the larger point here.  It's not just about relief.  It's about renewing our efforts to fight these two wars.   

 

                This has many components; managing stress in the OPTEMPO for troops and families is one.  So is meeting the demands for the kind of skills and the kind of thinking we need to complete the mission in Iraq while shifting the main effort to Afghanistan. 

 

                As you all know, I just returned from a trip to both places.  

 

                And what I found was, across the theater, a much deeper appreciation and understanding of counternisurgency warfare than I found in the past, especially in Afghanistan, where nearly to a person our troops had read General McChrystal's tactical directive on civilian casualties, understood it and were executing at a very high level.   

 

                Perfect example of that were the Marines down in Helmand, who I spent a day with, and I can tell you they really do get it.  They reported not one civilian casualty up to that point in their operations and were using and were espousing a very disciplined and deliberate amount of care for the Afghan people.   

 

                And he soldiers we are looking to add to our force will no doubt give us some breathing room, but they will also give us room to run in what I believe is an even faster-paced war against an even more adaptive enemy.  It's the right thing to do. 

 

                I told the troops we're living in a time not only of great change, but also great simultaneity.  Many things are happening all at once in many different places; and though we may be tired, we must stay focused.  Now, particularly in Afghanistan, is no time to lower our gaze or pull back our outstretched hands. 

 

                Q     A question for both of you, please.  A couple weeks, now, past the June 30th handover of control in the cities in Iraq, how do you assess the level of cooperation and the level of tension between U.S. forces and Iraqi forces, particularly in Baghdad?  There's been a couple of reports of disagreements or even stand-offs over who gets to do what when.  Are you convinced that you have the authority you need to protect the force and that you can operate as you need to? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  I received a report from General Odierno just today that addressed this issue.  And he said that the level of cooperation and collaboration with the Iraqi security forces is going much better than is being portrayed publicly and in the media.  So my impression from his reporting, and not just this week but over the last couple of weeks, has been that it's actually, in his view, going quite well. 

 

                Admiral? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  All discussions I've had with General Odierno, including one midweek last week, about this issue have been very positive.  Certainly there are challenges.  I would point out the independent effort that the Iraqi forces provided recently in terms of providing security for the visit of many, many Iraqis to a very sacred mosque.  

 

                And that, as an example -- the -- we continue to clearly work with them.  But from the time actually before the 30th of June when we had been pulling out of cities until up to now, it's been positive.  There clearly are challenges, but I think the leadership is working its way through each one of those challenges.  So I'm encouraged. 

 

                Q     Got an F-22 question.  You know the vote is looming, and you made an impassioned speech Thursday, I guess it was, in Chicago. What would you tell a worker -- 

 

                SEC. GATES:  I couldn't tell whether I was staid or animated. 

 

                Q     Well, you were animated.  You were animated.  What would you tell a worker who -- at a -- in a tavern in Hartford, Marietta, Georgia, or Boeing in Seattle about the jobs impact?  That's -- this is what's -- it's been couched on the Hill -- Chris Dodd, Pat -- Patty Murray:  jobs.  What would you tell a worker face to face in a tavern about the impact of your decision, if they say, "Secretary, I'm going to lose my job if your decision goes through?"   

 

                SEC. GATES:  What I would say is that -- is what you've heard me say before:  The net effect of this will be a substantial increase in the number of jobs in the aerospace industry.  The F-22 has 24,000 direct employees this year; 19,000 in '10; 13,000 in '11.  The F-35 already has 38,000 employees, so it already is hiring 13,000 more than the F-22.   

 

                That will go to 62,000 -- or 64,000 in FY '10 and 82,000 in FY '11, if we don't drain money away from it.  So the net increase in the aerospace industry is, in fact, tens of thousands of jobs net added between the two aircraft as one ramps down and the other ramps up. 

 

                Q     And one follow-up.  Does it bother you that a number of prominent Democrats are basically saying we need to buy more planes? Dodd, Murray, Kennedy, I think, and Kerry.  I mean, they're going to come out in favor of the -- 

 

                SEC. GATES:  What I have not heard is a substantive reason for adding more aircraft in terms of our strategic needs.  

 

                Q     Secretary, over the weekend the Taliban, as you know, released a video of PFC Bowe Bergdahl, captured around June 30th in Afghanistan. 

 

                Has the U.S. military, has the department been able to glean anything from that video?  And for both of you, please, what was your personal reaction when you saw this American soldier put on display in that manner? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, let me -- because the admiral just got back from there, let me ask him to address it.  But I would just say, by way of introduction, that first of all, our commanders are sparing no effort to find this young soldier.  And I also would say my personal reaction was one of disgust at the exploitation of this young man. 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  And I deplore the exploitation of him and would just reaffirm what the secretary said, having been with the forces in fact who are conducting the operations to recover him or to find him is -- they are extensive, vast.  They're on it 24/7.  And we're doing absolutely everything we can to get him back. 

 

                Q     And anything anyone was able to glean from this video? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, from a -- I mean, from a -- I guess, an intelligence perspective, we certainly wouldn't share that publicly. And I guess I -- we're certainly looking at that, studying it very hard, and I'd just leave it at that. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Elizabeth? 

 

                Q     In your upcoming talks with the Israelis, what is the message you're planning on delivering --  

 

                SEC. GATES:  My secret visit.  (Soft laughter.) 

 

                Q     I just mentioned talks.  (Soft laughter.)  I didn't mention a visit. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  This is -- since it's all over their newspapers, there's nothing particularly secret about it, I guess, at this point. But it is a routine visit, as far as I'm concerned.  It has been probably at least two years since I have visited Israel.  I have been in regular contact over the last long while, with my counterpart, Minister Barak.  This is an -- I see this as a very routine visit to touch base with my counterpart and others in the Israeli government.   

 

                Q     But on Iran, are you going to reassure the -- I mean, that will come up.   

 

                Will you be reassuring the Israelis?  Will you be -- 

 

                SEC. GATES:  I think the only thing that I'm prepared to say about that is that I'm confident that subject will come up. 

 

                Q     Admiral Mullen, I wanted to talk to you about Afghanistan. You spoke about the tactical directive, counterinsurgency -- (inaudible).  You said that troops, I think, were showing a lot of discipline.  And I think you were quoted in the papers over the weekend as saying -- if this was accurate -- that "We killed too many civilians.  One is too many." 

 

                But what I wanted to ask you, and maybe both of you, is, both of you for so many years have sat here and talked about the notion that the U.S. military takes every precaution and is more careful than any other country out there about the caution on civilian casualties.  But yet I don't see how that squares with the fact that you now have done something else; now you have the tactical directive.  So clearly, there was something else that could be done that wasn't done until now.  And yet you talked for so long about being more careful than anybody else.  How do you square both these views? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I think every -- every civilian casualty is a tragic loss in and of itself.  And in fact, the secretary, myself and commanders earlier this year, beginning of the year, took a -- what we believe was a significant step in that direction.  And yet we continue to have -- we had -- we've had incidents, and most recently the Farah incident.   

 

                And what struck me on this trip was how -- how quickly and how deeply this message from General McChrystal had penetrated, both on the aircraft carrier when we talked to the air wing that was having a much more comprehensive discussion about a target set, if you will, and other choices before you had to release a weapon, to the Marines who had conducted this operation most recently and not had a single casualty.   

 

                And I just found it much more inculcated, and in ways it's very much a learning process.  I don't -- I think it's -- when I talked earlier about -- we've -- you know, we've killed too many civilians, I think part of it has been, since we've been in the fight, a learning process, which has brought us to this point.   

 

                Believe me, if I thought taking additional steps six months ago -- if I had thought of those, I certainly would have done that.  And that's part of what we've gone through.  What I was taken with, again, is how quickly McChrystal's directive had been grasped by everybody. 

 

                Q     But Mr. Secretary, let me try it this way.  If you -- for so many years, yourself, your predecessors have said the U.S. does everything it can.  I mean, you've said this for many years now.  And yet clearly, there were other steps to take.  Are you satisfied that it has taken eight years to figure out these other steps? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I'm only going to speak to the last 2-1/2. And my view is that it has been an evolutionary process.  I think all of the things that I have said and that the admiral has said about the U.S taking more care with respect to civilian casualties than anybody else is absolutely true.  I think that, you know, when I was in Afghanistan over a year ago, I took Afghan press with me to Bagram, where they received a briefing, along with me, of the measures that were taken by our pilots to check and double-check and triple-check to try and avoid civilian casualties when they were attacking a target. 

 

                What I think we've seen is, first of all, I took the approach early last year that we should change our approach when there are civilian casualties, in terms of how we react, because we were reacting too slowly.  And then General McKiernan took steps to try and tighten up how we went at operations with respect to avoiding civilian casualties.  And I think General McChrystal has taken it to yet another level, with, frankly, some fairly significant changes in tactical direction, but also from a strategic standpoint.   

 

                And I think that -- our concern all along has been that we -- that we not place our own troops in increased jeopardy. 

 

                And so the question has been, how do we design our offensive operations in a way that will reduce the possibility of civilian casualties?  And I think that's what General McChrystal has undertaken. 

 

                I stand by the fact that nobody cares more and worries more and works harder to avoid civilian casualties than we have over the last -- certainly ever since I've been in this job, and I'm confident before.   

 

                But I think it has been an evolutionary policy, and I think it's reached a completely different level under General McChrystal.  And it really keys off of his testimony during his confirmation hearing that the measure of success is not the number of Taliban killed but the number of Afghans protected. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Senator Gillibrand is talking about adding a -- an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would give an 18- month moratorium on "don't ask, don't tell."  Do you support that -- such an amendment being added?   

 

                And some have noted that there's been a change of tone from this building about "don't ask, don't tell."  Earlier this year you said, "It's the law; we will implement the law."  Later you said you were looking at ways to bend the law.  Why the change in tone? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, for one thing, we have a new president -- (chuckles) -- who has a different policy, and we will support what his goal is here.  I'm not going to speak to specific legislation.  I would just say this:  that if -- first of all, we -- even as we look for ways to apply the law more humanely and as we look at how we might begin to implement the law, the only thing -- a change in the law, should that happen -- the only thing we have continued to say, and I think certainly I believe, and I think I can speak for the chairman in this, is that if the law does change, then it is important that the implementation be deliberate and careful.   

 

                This is not something that should be -- in my view, should be done abruptly, because I think that we have a force under great stress in two wars, and to try and do something abruptly, I think, would be a real concern. 

 

                Q     Have you taken any steps to apply the law more humanely, as you said? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  We're still looking at that. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, is a further U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan now all but certain, given General McChrystal's desire to increase both the size and the pace of the training of Afghan security forces? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  No, I don't think it's inevitable.  We're waiting to see what -- what his 60-day review produces.  It's fine with me if he takes the full 60 days to examine it.  I've asked him to scrub very hard the forces that are already there, to ensure that we're using them to maximum effectiveness, and so we'll just wait and see.  But I don't think there's -- I don't think an answer either way, or an outcome either way is inevitable at this point. 

 

                Q     How can you make a dramatic increase in the pace and size of training of the Afghan security forces without more trainers? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, for one thing, we have another brigade coming in later this summer -- early fall -- whose principal responsibility is going to be for training, so that's 4,000 additional forces that are going to be devoted almost exclusively to training. 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  The other thing I would add to that, David, is the -- almost every major unit that's coming in is going to have a training responsibility in addition to its other responsibilities.  I mean, so there's very heavy focus on training police as well as the army.  And additionally, there are -- there are forces coming in, training capabilities coming in, from other countries, as well. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yes. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary and Admiral, there seems to have been a change, both substantively and rhetorically, coming out of Iraq, where, substantively, lower-level American commanders say that they're being asked to provide route convoy information before they leave, which they worry about for obvious security reasons.  And rhetorically, there were comments today, which I was struck by, from the spokesperson for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, who was describing America's soldiers in Iraq as being under house arrest.  He said that: They're getting impatient because we confine them to their bases, which are like big prisons; they're under house arrest. 

 

                So, two questions.  One, substantively:  How confident are you that the safety of American troops is being protected, given that you  have commanders speaking openly with fears that it is not currently as safe as it could be?  But, two, if the Iraqis see our presence there as putting us under house arrest, putting our soldiers into that prison, why are we there? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I think that I certainly have not heard anything from General Odierno that would indicate that our soldiers have been put at increased risk.  And second, it is perhaps a measure of our success in Iraq that politics have come to the country. 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  What I would only add to that is, being -- having been in Kirkuk the other day and spending the better part of the day with the brigade commander there, who has been there over a half a year, his interaction with the security forces, both police as well as the army -- and in addition, he's in a spot where he's looking at the interface between Peshmerga as well as the Iraqi army, as well. 

 

                And believe me, the idea that he was somehow either handcuffed or unable to do what he's doing -- was -- what he's supposed to do, it just never came up. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Admiral, from your Afghanistan visit, what's your assessment of the level of Taliban resistance or response to the U.S.- led offensive?  And are you satisfied that, as Secretary Gates said, the new rules about protecting civilians are not creating more dangers for U.S. troops? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  I discussed the civilian-casualty issue and the tactical directive broadly with seniors and juniors alike, and the issue of not being able to execute or protect themselves just never came up.  In fact, what I found was an enthusiasm for that that was very important.   

 

                And I'll give a quick example of Marines who actually had a group of Taliban in a house, and they were very patient, where some time ago they may have taken that house out.  They were looking, they were waiting and waiting.  And, in fact, they were assured all women and children were out.   

 

                They continued to wait, and not too long after that, in that patience, an -- or a -- sorry, an Afghan woman came out with two of her fingers shot off, bleeding very badly.  The Marines went to her. And in that regard -- you know, while that was occurring there were about 12 other individuals that came out dressed in burqas thinking -- with additional -- with childrens (sic) -- in their hands, walking with them.   

 

                And, in fact, they were actually Taliban masquerading as women. And, in fact, in the end, what the locals said was that they were cowards, how dare they hide behind women -- you know, dress as women and hide behind children. 

 

                So what that said to me is our people are thinking three and four steps out.  And, in fact, the message is that the locals turn against the Taliban, which, in the long run, is the right answer.  So I just -- and I found other examples of that while I was there as well.  So that's -- that has really -- in my view, that's an example of it really sinking in. 

 

                And the first part -- 

 

                Q     And just -- the first part was the level of Taliban resistance.  And if I could add also, General Nicholson said he only has 650 Afghan troops with the 4,000 Marines.  Any word on why that is or whether that can be increased? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, that's how the forces have been distributed. I'm assured that General McChrystal is going to make that part of his assessment, and so we'll see what that distribution is and whether or not it changes as a result of that. 

 

                Two aspects of the Taliban.  One is, in some places they're just not standing and fighting.  They're dispersing.  But the other is that they've reached a level of sophistication, in some cases, which is pretty high.  And I've talked to a couple Rangers who were in some pretty tough fights that were surprised that the Taliban were as good and as sophisticated as they were. 

 

                Q     If I could ask you about the -- what you call General McChrystal's approach in Afghanistan.  As part of the search effort for the missing -- of the captured American soldier, some leaflets have been handed out, one of which shows an American soldier kicking down a door, with the words, in Pashto, saying, "If you don't hand him over, we will hunt you."  Doesn't it sound -- send a conflicting message to the local population if you're trying to wind hearts and minds when you have a leaflet like that?  And what is your opinion of that leaflet? 

 

                ADM. MULLEN:  Well, I mean, it's a -- again, I would reiterate that there's a tremendous effort ongoing to return this individual to us, and it is full spectrum.  Clearly, the enemy is able to, as they are, use this in their own -- in their own information way.  I don't think that message is meant to be -- to be threatening as much as it is to express the concern and that we will go to every end to find this individual, which is what we're doing right now. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  You know, that's the kind of thing that I leave to the judgment of the commanders in the field.  I'm not going to try and second-guess those kinds of things from here.  Clearly, there's a balance here between the effort to try and recover our soldier, get him back, and how we interact with the local population.  And I think in a tactical sense the commanders in the field are a lot better able to do that than I am. 

 

                Q     Back to the announcement you made earlier.  You referred to additional tough choices.  Can you just speak a little bit more to that? What would those choices perhaps be, say, out of the supplemental to pay for the expansion?  And what's the cost, do you think? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  It goes -- it goes to the line I have been using all spring.  This is a zero-sum budget.  If money for one thing as opposed to another has to come out of it, there has to be an offset.  And so  the cost we expect for the rest of fiscal year '09 -- just a couple of months left, a little over that, two and a half months -- probably on the order of less than a hundred million dollars; for FY '10 a billion dollars. 

 

                I've told the president and the Hill that we need their support obviously for reprogrammings, but we will absorb those costs within our current top line, and then work with them, as I said in my statement, in terms of '11 and '12.   

 

                But we will take that money from some place that we think isn't as high a priority as more soldiers and taking some additional steps to relieve the stress on the force.  This is a very high priority, and this is why, frankly, some of the wheeling and dealing on the Hill of a few hundred million (dollars) here and a few hundred million (dollars) there for a pet project here and a pet project there confront us with ever more difficult choices when we're trying to make trade-offs in terms of how do we help our soldiers out, how do we relieve the stress on the force.  The money's got to come from somewhere, and this is the point that I've been trying to make all along. 

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering if you can talk about the ramifications of the F-22 vote.  If you prevail, does this mean it's going to be easier for you to retool the Pentagon in the way you want? Conversely, if you lose, are your efforts doomed? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I -- you know, first of all, I think it's important to remember -- I mean, the vote this evening clearly -- I guess it's going to be this evening -- is important, but the reality is that the president has been quite clear that if there is money for the F-22 in the budget that comes to him, he will veto it.  So that's pretty clear. 

 

                I would say that while there are several areas where we do have a disagreement with some on the Hill, I made about 50 program decisions that I -- and I announced the main ones on April 6th.  But the reality is, the Congress has embraced most of those.  And they certainly have embraced all of the initiatives that I announced with respect to taking care of our people and taking care of the force. 

 

                So I think that there is -- while there are several very high- profile programs that are a source of contention, the reality is that much of what we are trying to do is reflected in the markups that have been passed so far and I think is being internalized inside this building, as I watch the QDR go forward and so on. 

 

                You know, I wouldn't presume to say that such changes are lasting at this point.  But I think that just based on what I see in the discussions of the QDR, I think a lot of the points have been internalized. 

 

                Last question.   

 

                Q     Some of us just returned from Guantanamo, and we were surprised to see that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed didn't show up in court. I was just wondering if you had any reaction to this or any thoughts on how this case is advancing and developing. 

 

                SEC. GATES:  No idea.  Easy last question. 

 

                Thank you.

 

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