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

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
August 05, 2009
            MR. MORRELL: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. Sorry I'm a little late. Because of that, I will forgo an opening statement and get right to your questions. Actually, I had nothing to open with, so. Questions.   
 
            Anne 
 
            Q     Now that the secretary and the chairman have returned from the weekend stealth briefing, what is your -- (laughs) --? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well -- 
 
            Q     It's not a -- it's not a secret briefing, right? Because it -- a -- previously unannounced? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: However you wish to describe it. Okay. 
 
            Q     Okay. Unannounced prior to -- (off mike) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: A trip on which he took no press. 
 
            Q     That -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: And that's what distinguished it. An -- 
 
            Q     How do -- what is your expectation as far as the timing and form of General McChrystal's assessments and recommendations? Do you expect it to be one document or assessment, or two? And do you still expect it in mid-August, or might it be later, such as after the Afghan elections? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I thank you for the question, because I think we need to clear up some of these things and perhaps lower expectations just a bit about what it is that's coming. This is not akin to the much-anticipated General Petraeus assessments that we got in 2006, 2007.   
 
            I mean, this is a work product that was commissioned by the secretary and also by the secretary-general of the United -- of -- pardon me -- of NATO. It is designed to give those two people and the people who work for them a better sense of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and the way ahead as the commander there sees it.   
 
            I can tell you that based upon the secretary's meeting over the weekend, on Sunday, in Belgium, with General McChrystal, that he was very impressed with the briefing he got and the assessment thus far. But he wants him to take into consideration a few other ideas he had to address some additional issues in this review of the situation on the ground. 
 
            In light of that, the secretary has told General McChrystal to take beyond the 60 days if needed. So he anticipates getting this final product in late August, early September, at this point. 
 
            This was also communicated in a phone call the secretary made yesterday to the new secretary-general, Rasmussen, the primary purpose of which was to call and congratulate him on his new job and welcome him. But during that call he did communicate that he had tasked General McChrystal with a few other things to incorporate in this review, so he did not anticipate getting it until late August, early September, at this point. 
 
            Q     Can you frame out at all what those additional tasks would be, what sorts of things he would like the general to look at? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, frankly, the secretary didn't share them with me. So I can't share them with you. I simply do not know. 
 
            Your second question was -- you referred to two work products, I think, or something of that nature. I will tell you this. The assessment will not be, despite some erroneous reporting that I've seen, a work product that includes specific resource requests, if indeed there will be additional resource requests. I think Admiral Smith, who's responsible for communications matters in Afghanistan, has shared this with some of you, but that the assessment will focus, as I have talked about, on the situation on the ground and the way ahead, but it will not offer specific resource requests or recommendations.   
 
            If it is determined subsequent to the review being received and reviewed that there are additional resources required to complete the mission, those resources will be requested as they always are, through the normal chain-of-command process, so that they can be validated. And ultimately a decision will be made, by the secretary, about whether or not to recommend, to the president, additional resources for the mission.   
 
            Pardon the drilling that's under way. This is what I live with in my office, by the way.   
 
            Q     (Off mike.)   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah.   
 
            Q     As far as assessment and review is concerned, is this with NATO only? Or are you considering countries in the region like Pakistan or India or Russia or China, as far as progress or assessment or review?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: No. The commander -- this is a commander's review of his area of responsibility, which is limited to Afghanistan. That's what this assessment is on. It's an assessment of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, as General McChrystal and his team see it.   
 
            Q     And we are looking now at more troops. And also now because election--  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at the hammering and drilling. Sorry.   
 
            Q     I know, I know, I know.   
 
            As far as President Karzai was saying that he might need additional troops or more resources and all that. So are you --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: As I just said, if it is determined that -- if it is determined by the commander that he needs additional resources, to complete his mission, that request will be made through the normal chain of command.   
 
            It will go up through CENTCOM, to the Joint Staff, to the secretary. It will be validated along the way. And the secretary will have to make a determination about whether or not he recommends to the president additional troops.   
 
            I think he has been very forthright with you all over the past several months if not years now, about his concern about having too large a footprint -- coalition footprint, international footprint -- on the ground in Afghanistan, for fear that we could be viewed not as liberators or allies but as occupiers.   
 
            So he has been mindful of -- that there could be a tipping point here. That said he's also not in the business, as secretary of Defense, to be imposing arbitrary troop caps on his commanders.   
 
            So it's a fine line. And it's one that if additional resources become an issue, that they will work through together.   
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- is secretary, one, satisfied with the progress going on now in Afghanistan? And second, is secretary in touch with countries like India for additional resources or troops or any other -- any additional help? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know about any communications with India.   
 
            Is he satisfied with the progress? I don't think anybody's satisfied with the progress. I think that what he is heartened by is the fact that we have a new commander, a new deputy commander, a new ambassador, a new team that he thinks is better equipped than any other to solve this problem. If it can be solved, it can be solved by this team. That's how he approaches this problem.   
 
            But I think it's very, very early, too early to be gauging satisfaction with progress. We've just undertaken these major military operations as a result of us just now getting these additional forces on the ground. So, I think anybody who were to make judgments about the direction of things -- I think it's premature at this point. I think everybody is very, very cautious and mindful of the fact that we are early in this new approach by General McChrystal.   
 
            But I think, at the same time, he has seen signs from the population from the Afghan people that if we are there to stay, if we are committed, if we are willing to see this through, that they are with us. They want to support us, but they also want to know that we're there for them. And that's the whole purpose behind this new strategy of General McChrystal's. So that's what I would offer on that. 
 
            And -- yes. Gordon. 
 
            Q     On his last trip to Iraq, the secretary indicated the possibility of an acceleration of the drawdown. To what extent is it fair for us to link in any way that with the possibility of more forces for Afghanistan? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: It is not fair in any way.   
 
            Q     There's absolutely no connection? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: No. Well, I mean, I -- the secretary's -- what he -- you know, the opinion he offered on the situation in Iraq was based upon the situation in Iraq. It was not offered with the potential needs in Afghanistan in the back of his head. He was merely commenting on the incredible progress that General Odierno has noted in Iraq.   
 
            And I mean, for example, just last month, July, we had four battle deaths. That's our lowest in the history of this conflict. We had our lowest number of security incidents on record last month overall, I think just under 900 total throughout the country. We had -- you know, we've -- clearly on the security front there has been enormous progress, but there are -- despite what some colonels may offer in their memos, there are still real concerns out there, particularly Arab-Kurd tensions.   
 
            And those of us who traveled to Iraq last week with the secretary heard from General Odierno and others and the secretary their concerns about a potential flashpoint between Arabs and Kurds, which is why the secretary is very pleased to see this week a meeting between Prime Minister Maliki and the Kurdish leader Barzani about -- in which they both sort of pledged to reconcile their differences through political and peaceful means and not through military conflict. 
 
            But his judgments about accelerated withdrawals are solely based upon the conditions on the ground, while being very mindful of the fact that there are still real hurdles that have to be cleared, including solving these Arab-Kurd tensions. 
 
            Q     So he's confident that, if asked for more troops for Afghanistan, he can draw from that well -- there are enough troops in that well to draw from? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know we're getting to a hypothetical. But I think the drawdown plan -- to answer your question focused on Iraq -- the drawdown plan from Iraq is predicated on the conditions in Iraq exclusively. 
 
            Yeah, Tom. 
 
            Q     You made the point that it's too early to be either satisfied or dissatisfied with progress in Afghanistan. That's certainly fair enough, but there's a military clock on the ground there and a political clock back here. And lots of people are saying, you know, you need to show some kind of success by time X to maintain support for this. What is that sense of when you will come to the podium, or General McChrystal or the secretary, will be able to say yes, it's working? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Hopefully -- well, I think the secretary's talked about the notion that within a year to 18 months that we need to be able to demonstrate to the American people that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is not stalemated, that we are indeed making progress -- perhaps not definitive progress, perhaps not victory by that point, but clearly progress in the right direction; that the additional forces, the additional resources that we have flowed into the country are making a difference on the ground. So that has to happen in the next 12 to 18 months, by the secretary's estimation, in order to maintain the support of the American people and of their representatives in Congress who fund this war. 
 
            I think it's also, frankly, necessary for -- to maintain the support of the Afghan people. I mean, they are the ones who are suffering through the day-to-day violence. 
 
            And I would note, just yesterday you know, was an example in which you see insurgents rocket -- rocket attacking the capitol of that country indiscriminately, aimlessly, wounding civilians in the process. You see this attack in Herat in a marketplace, killing civilians in the process. 
 
            So the Taliban has complete and utter disregard for the well-being and the safety of innocent civilians. 
 
            But in order to -- in order to sustain this, though, Tom, I think everybody recognizes we have to show progress. Now, does that mean that I'm not going to come up here, or he's not going to tell you in a time sooner than a year to 18 months that he sees progress, or we see good momentum, or we see gains? No. We hope to report to you far sooner than -- than a year, that indeed the efforts of our forces on the ground are having a tangible impact. 
 
            I would say to you now that clearly the Marine operations in RC South have -- are making a difference -- not a game-changing difference yet, but clearly a difference. And we're going to keep at it until we -- until we make a difference that ultimately results in either the Taliban laying down their arms and becoming contributing members of the Afghan society or their -- you know, the eradication of -- of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and hopefully, the support of the Afghan people. 
 
            Adam, welcome. 
 
            Q     Thanks. Thank you. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Glad to have you here. 
 
            Q     Can you tell us what these Russian submarines are doing off the U.S. coast, and whether the United States had any idea before they got there that they were coming? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: It's a wonderful time of year to visit the United States. 
 
            No. I mean -- what they're doing? I don't know what they're doing off the coast. I don't think any of us know what they're doing. 
 
            Did we have an indication that they were coming this way? Sure. We have an indication of most things of that nature. But it, frankly, is, I think -- the larger question is, is it of concern to us. And the answer to that is, no. So long as they are operating in international waters -- as, frankly, we do around the world -- and are behaving in a responsible way, they are certainly free to do so, and it doesn't cause any alarm within this building. 
 
            Q     The Russians told you in advance, or you saw them coming in advance? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know that this was communicated to us in a formal sense, but we certainly had the means to -- to derive where they were going. But, you know, it is -- I mean, I -- I tell you nobody is alarmed by it because nobody is. 
 
            But it is the first time in -- you know, in roughly a decade that we've seen this kind of behavior. We obviously note it and watch it, but it is not of concern. 
 
            Q     Do you do similar things? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: As I said, we operate in international waters around the world. Have we had our submarines, our ships off the Russian coast from time to time? Sure. We operate in international waters freely, and they are entitled to do so as well. 
 
            Q     Have you guys asked for a clarification from the Russians? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know that there's been a formal request. I don't know -- I mean, we're talking about them being several hundred miles off the coast of the United States. So while it is interesting and noteworthy that they are in this part of the world, it doesn't pose any threat and it doesn't cause any concern. So we watch it, we're mindful of it, but it doesn't necessitate anything more than that. 
 
            Okay? Mike? 
 
            Q     On a different topic. Apparently Congress recently approved three -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Let me just note one thing. Pardon me, Mike, one second.   
 
            I would also put this in the context -- the larger context of the fact that President Obama has made it clear that he wishes to sort of -- to reset our relationship with Russia.  As he made clear in his July speech in Moscow, the days when we faced Russians as Cold War rivals have long passed. So we don't look at this action and automatically see threatening motives. We view this, we are mindful of it, we watch it, but we do not assign motives that we don't believe are there. 
 
            Q     What would be the friendly motive in sending the ships off -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, like all navies, the Russian navy has to exercise and train and work in different conditions. And I assume that's the purpose of this. 
 
            Q     Just to follow up on that, do you see a greater projection of Russian naval power? I mean, after -- you said yourself -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I think -- yeah. 
 
            Q      -- after a decade to restart these patrols. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think you've seen, Chris, over the past year or two a greater projection of not just Russian naval power but air power. You've seen -- we've noted on several occasions the Bear bomber flights, that have caused -- that have caused other nations to take -- not just us, the Canadians, the British -- we've seen long- range Russian bombers fly to South America. We've seen the Russian naval forces make their way down to South America, as well. So, clearly there is an effort on their part to project force around the world, or at least to take excursions around the world.  
 
            And we note it, and we're mindful of it, but, again, no one here is overly concerned by it. 
 
            Okay? Yeah. Sorry, Mike. I cut you off. You were asking about? 
 
            Q     That's all right. The Air Force has apparently asked for a -- for Congress to approve money for a Learjet-type aircraft, an additional Learjet. And Congress -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think it's a Gulfstream. The jet? 
 
            Q     Gulfstream, yeah. Sorry. And Congress approved, apparently, money for three of the aircraft. And now I'm hearing also that they had also asked for a seven forty -- a 737, and then Congress gave them money for two additional ones -- two additional aircraft. Did the Air Force need that many jets, if they were asking for, you know one apiece and they're given money for three? Is the fleet getting that outdated, that they -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. What I would say to this, Mike is we ask for what we need and only what we need. And beyond that, I would direct you to speak to the Congress. If, indeed, this is something that has been added to the budget above and beyond our request, they're the ones who should answer to it. But we make it a point of asking for those things we need and nothing more.   
 
            And we've always frowned upon earmarks and additives that are above and beyond what we ask for, because inevitably we, in order to fund those or just, at least, sustain those after they are appropriated or -- we have to find money from elsewhere in the budget to support those new buys. So it comes at a cost to us, even if the up-front money is appropriated above and beyond what our budget request is.   
 
            Q     Did the secretary -- (off mike) -- the -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I -- you know, listen, it's a -- it's an enormous budget, as you know. And I don't know that this specific line item, the additional Gulfstream jet, has come to his attention. His attention has been mostly focused on the items that he believes are red lines. The F-22 -- you know additional F-22s are clearly a red line for the secretary. An alternative F-35 engine is a red line for the secretary. The VH-71 program is a red line for the secretary.  
 
            So he's been focused on big-ticket items and, frankly, not an additional Gulfstream or two. That said, we ask for only what we need and nothing more, and the Congress will be the one who would best be equipped to answer why it is they've added additional Gulfstreams to the budget. 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- subject?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. 
 
            Q     You're talking about big spending, but this is $200 million, which is $150 million more than the initial budget request by the Air Force. I mean, isn't this a concern for the secretary that Congress is boosting its request for (things you don't need?), given that -- (off mike) -- language that specifically requests that two of the airplanes be based at Andrews -- (off mike)? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think -- Luis, I think I have addressed the range of concerns associated with this. 
 
            Q     Are there serious concerns that maybe you won't accept this, that this becomes another red line? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't want to -- I don't want to speak for the secretary. I know what his -- in terms of what may or may not become a red line. I know what his red lines are right now. I've communicated those to you, or at least some of them. I do not know this to be one. But as I said, Luis, anything that is above and beyond what we ask for comes at a price to us, maybe not in the up- front cost of purchasing that aircraft, but in terms of the follow-on maintenance and sustainability of that aircraft, that comes out of our budget and we've got to find dollars elsewhere for programs that are needed in order to fund one that is excess to our needs. 
 
            Yeah, Gordon. I'm sorry. This gentleman. Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.   
 
            Q     On the F-35, the Pentagon's independent report suggested that their deployment could be like delayed until 2016, which is about two years beyond the projection of 2014. Has the secretary expressed concerns about any possible delays on the F-35? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: He has -- obviously, he's -- he is watching the F- 35 program carefully, because his budget calls for a huge investment in that program. The FY '10 budget has a lot of money for the F-35 program in an attempt to boost the number of aircraft available to do testing. The hope is that by providing more funds and more aircraft for more testing up front that we can avoid delays in the program down the line.   
 
            You're referring, I think, to some internal work that was done by one of our organizations, PA&E, to determine -- and it's their job to be the skeptical -- to take a skeptical look at the program office estimates of how fast they can develop a program.   
 
            In this group, the jet's evaluation was that there could be a delay. And this was, despite some of the reports that came out, in no way suppressed by us. The jet evaluation was provided to the Congress last fall, nearly a year ago. There was a GAO report about it in March. So this was out there. The program office disagrees with the evaluation.   
 
            But one of the reasons the secretary put more money into the program in the FY '10 budget is to avoid delays by doing more testing now. But the jet is in the process of doing more evaluations. It's nearly a year after the last one. And they will soon go to PA&E with their new -- the results of those evaluations, and there will be a new estimate made about where the program is headed. 
 
            And if it is that they anticipate delays still, we have the ability to fund even more money to the test phase to buy back time and avoid delays essentially. 
 
            And that will be a determination that's made at some point in the near future.   
 
            I will make the point though that in terms of delivery of our first production aircraft that, in fact, we're ahead of schedule in some senses, that the Air Force is due -- let me just look here -- will deliver in June of 2010, I think, which is ahead of schedule.   
 
            The Marines are due for September 2010, and the Navy in December of 2010. So the Air Force is ahead of schedule. The Marines are right on schedule. And the Navy has slipped by two months, in terms of the first aircraft produced.   
 
            But we're mindful of this. We're watching this. The secretary obviously has placed an enormous priority on the F-35 as the future, fifth-generation tactical fighter for our forces. That's one of the reasons he believes we do not need additional F-22s. So obviously he's going to be very, very much on top of that program as it goes forward.   
 
            Yeah, a couple more.   
 
            Gordon.   
 
            Q     (Off mike.) Now that the Pentagon is reviewing this policy to, I guess, create a policy by the end of September, a uniform policy, regarding social networking sites, the Marine Corps though said yesterday they would essentially ban them.   
 
            The services are allowed to do their own thing here and there. But to what extent? And can you say if whether this ultimate DOD policy would supersede the Marine Corps's own banning of these, of the use of these?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. The department sets the policy for the building, for the services, yes. So we would -- that would supersede. I think the Marine Corps policy, if I'm not mistaken, has actually -- it's come to light now. But I think it actually has been in effect for quite some time.   
 
            And I think it was, you know, commanders have the authority and the wherewithal to take precautions if they, you know, in order to secure their operations, and I think that was the judgment made by the Marine Corps some time ago.   
 
            We're going to -- I think the deputy secretary has ordered now this review by the chief information officer. It will be probably the most exhaustive look that we've taken at this new phenomenon of social networking. And at the end of it, I think, we'll all have a better understanding of the pros and cons.   
 
            I think you've heard from the secretary, several times in this room, about the value he sees in these new communications devices, especially in communicating to 18-to-25-year-olds. I mean, that's -- the majority of his force is roughly in that age frame.   
 
            They are -- they are using these tools. We need to be mindful of that. We've got to be able to use them, to greater effect, to communicate to our own folks. Frankly the people who we're trying to win over and avoid conflicts, around the world, are in that age frame. And they're also using these tools. So they can be enormously valuable, not just in communicating to our own internal force but to friends and foes around the world.   
 
            That said there are clearly risks associated with these new devices. And we've got to get a better understanding of the benefits and risks and how we can protect ourselves, from the cyber threats that may be associated with this and frankly not just cyber threats but from -- we have a need to protect information.   
 
            You know, oftentimes through carelessness or whatever, information is disseminated that shouldn't be. So we need to be mindful of those trying to get information from us and our own actions, in terms of inadvertently leaking information.   
 
            So we're going to look at all these things, as part of this review. And hopefully in the next few weeks, we'll have a better understanding of the way forward.   
 
            Okay.   
 
            Q     Different subject.   
 
            Geoff, are you aware of -- according to press reports, now Burma is acquiring nuclear weapons, nuclear programs, from -- (inaudible).   
 
            And also, reports are also saying that now nuclear weapons are spreading in the third-world countries or in developing countries, and it might be alarm for -- to get hands in the terrorists. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I am not aware of those reports. I would direct you to the State Department. Maybe they have a better sense of the goals and aspirations of the Burmese military. But I don't have a sense of it. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     Thanks. Did the Defense Department provide support, logistical support, for the -- for former President Clinton's trip to North Korea? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I had that question from a couple people, and I think Bryan did this morning as well. And we took a look into it. As far as we can tell, there was absolutely no U.S. military role in this at all.  But that's based upon our initial look at this. So as far as we can tell at this point, no.   
 
            Q     But, I mean they did land at an Air Force base in Japan? And -- did they land at an Air Force base in Alaska? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I -- 
 
           
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know. Did they? 
 
            Q     Yes. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Okay. Well, that's -- see? If it was going to come out, you'd find a way. So I -- (laughter) -- that's news to me that they used either of those facilities. But I don't know if that's a courtesy we'd extend to other people as well if they were in need of that. 
 
            But, obviously, the White House has described this -- and again, I think they're the -- taking the leads on how to talk about this -- as a private mission, and I know -- I don't know otherwise. So you should really talk to them. And I'll follow up on the news you've provided me in terms of what we -- what role we had in all this. 
 
            Anybody else? Last one. Mike. 
 
            Q     Just for fun: Late last week the Iraq -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: That's always the problem, right there. Just for fun. (Laughter.) 
 
            Q     (Chuckles.) Late last week the Iraqis tried to establish a police station in the MEK camp in northern Iraq. From our understanding, the U.S. had asked them to kind of be gentle with it. It turned out there were some deaths, and the U.S. actually apparently used helicopter assets to pull wounded or dead out of that camp.   
 
            Just for some clarification, because it is a little -- confusing situation, the MEK is classified as a terrorist organization, what is the role with the United States in monitoring -- protecting, in some people's words -- that the MEK -- (inaudible) -- up in northern Iraq? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: As I understand it, Mike, as part of the security agreement with the Iraqis, they -- the control, the monitoring, the -- that -- the responsibility for that camp was turned over to the Iraqis some months ago. That is part of their -- the increased responsibility, and reflects their sovereignty throughout the country.  
 
            So they are now responsible for that camp, and we, I think, have some assets nearby that sort of monitor the situation there. Obviously we have made it clear to the Iraqis that we believe those people who live within that camp should be treated humanely, regardless of what their designation is by the State Department; that they deserve to be treated humanely.   
 
            And I think we were and have been encouraging of the Iraqis, as they go about exercising their sovereignty over this area, that they do so in a responsible and careful and humane manner. And we are providing, as you noted, some assistance from a medical standpoint, or did provide, to assist those people who were wounded in this operation last week. 
 
            But I wouldn't -- I think, in terms of the specifics of it, I'd ask you to talk to MNF-I. I don't -- frankly don't know where it stands at this moment. But this has been in the works, in terms of the Iraqis taking responsibility for this camp away from us, for some months now. 
 
            Q     And does the U.S. still have interest in that camp in terms of intelligence and all the Iraqi -- or Iranian dissidents -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: No, I think not at this point. But I can't say for certain. I mean, we are -- we did not oppose, in no way had an issue with the Iraqis taking responsibility for this camp. All we ask is that how they move forward to exert their sovereignty over this camp be done so in a humane, responsible and careful manner. And hopefully going forward it will be. 
 
            Thanks.
 
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