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DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
October 29, 2009

                MR. MORRELL:  Hello, hello.  Good afternoon.  Sorry for the slight delay here.  Pleasure to see you all.  I have a brief opening statement, and then we'll get to your questions.   

 

                As you know, this has been the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a reflection of the risks and sacrifices associated with this important mission and the determined enemy we face there.   

 

                Others have suffered from these terrorist attacks as well, from coalition troops to aid workers who were helping to stage free and fair elections to innocent Afghans going about their daily lives.   

 

                Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fallen and also with their comrades in arms, who continue to press ahead courageously in the face of danger.   

 

                With more forces than ever before conducting more operations than ever before, we expect our troops will continue to be targeted by improvised explosive devices, the number-one killer in Afghanistan.   

 

                Even as President Obama weighs the best way ahead in Afghanistan, Secretary Gates is working to ensure that this department continues to do everything possible, to provide our men and women in uniform with the very best protection and capabilities to defeat the growing IED threat.   

 

                To name a few, additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities including the most advanced drones and new platforms such as the MC-12 are either in theater or on their way.   

 

                Last month, as you know, Secretary Gates ordered nearly 3,000 enablers, including additional route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal teams, into Afghanistan.  And MRAPs designed specifically for Afghanistan's rugged terrain, the M-ATVs, are being delivered by air as fast as we can get them off the factory floor, with hundreds due to be fielded to our warfighters by year's end. 

 

                Even with all these additional counter-IED resources, there will no doubt be many difficult and dangerous days ahead for our forces and, frankly, for the journalists who cover them, as well. 

 

                On that note, I would ask that you and your news organizations continue to be vigilant about making sure you do not identify units and individuals that have been involved in attacks or crashes before next of kin have been notified.  Every news account of such an incident obviously adds tremendous stress to families already going through extremely tough times.   

 

                So it is all of our duty to take precautions to avoid unnecessarily burdening our military families while at the same time, of course, making sure we do all we can to keep the American people informed of developments in Afghanistan in a timely fashion.  By and large, I must say, you all have done a tremendous job in this regard, and for that, we are very appreciative, so keep up the good work. 

 

                With that, I'll take your questions.  Ann (sp).   

 

                Q     Lara. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh.  Lara.  Sorry.  Thank you. 

 

                Q     Just to follow up on that quickly -- I have another question, but are you referring to a specific incident in which a casualty was identified before next of kin? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I am referring -- obviously, we've had a number of incidents this week, and I think if you were to talk to my colleagues downrange, they believe that while many outlets acted very responsibly on this count, there were a few that may have jumped the gun in terms of specifically the Stryker brigade -- the attack on the Stryker unit. 

 

                Q     Okay.   

 

                My other question was, there was a report out of Germany today that a German general said that the strike in September on the tanker, the airstrike in September, was appropriate even though it resulted in civilian casualties.  Can you confirm the results of that investigation or otherwise give us a status update on it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  As far as I know, we are still in the midst of -- let me just check here.  I know we were doing our own. 

 

                Q     He said that was -- (off mike). 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It was the, what investigation? 

 

                Q     He said that that was the result of the NATO investigation. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, my notes here reflect that the investigation is almost complete.  But when it is complete, it'll be forwarded through NATO and the German government, and they will ultimately have to make determinations about what, if any, action they want to take with -- regarding their forces. 

 

                Q     That's the -- (inaudible) -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  As far as I know -- as far as I know, Lara, the -- our investigation is not yet complete.  So I wouldn't be in a position to speak to whatever the German general is saying about the state of the investigation. 

 

                Yeah, Jeff. 

 

                Q     There are about 25 route-clearance teams in Afghanistan. That compares with 84 in Iraq at the heart of the surge -- at the height of the surge, I'm sorry.  Are there plans afoot to beef up that number of route-clearance teams to about what it was in Iraq? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, there's many components to that question.  I don't know, frankly -- and if I did I shouldn't speak to it -- what General McChrystal is calling for specifically in terms of additional route-clearance capabilities in his -- the recommendation for additional forces, and whether or not, if it ultimately is approved, that it would bring the levels there anywhere commensurate to what they were in Iraq.   

 

                As bad as things are in Afghanistan right now with regards to the IED threat, they still pale in comparison to the losses we were suffering at the worst of our days in Iraq.  And that is -- you know, I think we had 56 U.S. personnel killed in Afghanistan this month.  I think you'll recall, in the worst of it in Iraq, I think there were -- there were a few months where we lost 130-plus U.S. forces.  So I think some perspective is needed.   

 

                That said, it is a very real concern, and -- as evidenced by the fact that the secretary has tried, even while this discussion is going on at the White House, to figure out what we can do to provide immediate help to our forces.  And thus, last month, he approved the deployment orders for roughly 3,000 additional counter-IED enablers, including route-clearance and explosive-ordnance-disposal teams. 

 

                Q     Very quick follow-up.  Did you say hundreds of M-ATVs would be fielded by year's end?  If so, can you give a more precise estimate? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I can -- I'll have to look up what our -- what our charts, goals are in terms of production and fielding.  But that is -- that is -- that is the hope.  Obviously, this all ramps up, but you and I can follow up afterwards if you like.  But I think, while it starts off slowly, it picks up steam very quickly.  And so the hope is that we can get significant numbers of M-ATVs into theater by year's end.   

 

                And a footnote to that:  For those of you who have not had an opportunity to see these vehicles yet, there's going to be a static display here -- I think it's static, right -- static display here on Monday from 10:00 to 2:00, between corridors two and three, by the south parking lot.   

 

                So this is open to the media and the public.  And Undersecretary Carter and Brigadier General Mike Brogan will be there, about mid-day, to offer some perspective on these new vehicles, just for those who are interested.  This is not -- this is a test vehicle that's been brought down temporarily from Aberdeen, to quickly show you all its capabilities.   

 

                Okay, yeah, Justin.   

 

                Q     The 2010 Defense authorization bill includes CERP [Commanders Emergency Response Program] funds that will be used, as Senator Levin puts it, to peel back the layers of the Taliban in Afghanistan.   

 

                Can you explain how that -- how those funds will be used?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, ultimately it's a determination of the Afghan government, to determine if they want to pursue a reconciliation and a reintegration program.  But due to the National Defense Authorization Act, we now have the authorities to support that effort, with CERP money, if that's something the Afghans want to roll out on.   

 

                So we now have the latitude, the authority, to provide CERP in much the same way we did in Iraq.  And so that flexibility now exists, if that's something the government of Afghanistan wishes to pursue on any, you know, large-scale level.   

 

                Q     So as you understand, they may be asking certain lower- level Taliban to switch sides essentially and provide security.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's a question that's best directed to the government of Afghanistan, as to what they want to pursue and how they want to pursue it.  We though in the authorization process like to anticipate potential needs and to make sure we have the authorities required to be of assistance.  And that's all that's taking place here.  We now thanks to the work of the Congress have the latitude to support Afghanistan's reconciliation efforts, with CERP funds, if that's something they pursue.   

 

                Q     Okay.  And on a -- one separate topic, can you explain why the decision was made not to scramble those jets last week when contact was lost with Northwest Flight 188 for 40 minutes and --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can't.  I honestly -- it's not even a subject I've done much thinking about.  I think you want to talk to NORAD. They can probably help you out. 

 

                Q     Well, we're talking about a plane that was lost in the air essentially for 40 minutes. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     What kind of -- you know, those -- that could have serious terrorist implications. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It's a great question for the -- for the -- for the command that's responsible for such things.  And I'd -- I'd urge you to direct it to them.  If you can't get a satisfactory answer, by all means come back to me and I'll dig into -- dig into it myself. 

 

                Q     We can't get a satisfactory answer. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  NORAD won't give you an answer? 

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  All right.  Well, you're welcome to work with me. I'll try to get you one.  How about that?  Okay?  

 

                Barbara. 

 

                Is that a question that you are all having a tough time getting an answer to?  No one has raised this with me.  I have an e-mail account, and usually you ping me on all sorts of things.  But I haven't heard any complaints about the inability to get an answer on this question.  But let's look into it, okay? 

 

                Barbara. 

 

                Q     Rahm Emanuel said a few days ago that, quoting him, "The president is" -- regarding Afghanistan -- "the president is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side and the strategic side."   

 

                On the military side, the questions that have never been asked certainly would have been the responsibility of Secretary Gates, since he's been here for many years now.  So why did the secretary not ask the questions that Rahm Emanuel is referring to?  Or is Mr. Emanuel incorrect? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, what I would urge you to do, Barbara, is probably to get -- probably get the most up-to -- up-to-date information from the White House on this matter.  I think you're referring to Mr. Emanuel's appearance on the Sunday shows nearly a -- 10 days ago, and I think since then the White House has addressed this issue and sort of clarified what Mr. Emanuel's speaking of.  And I don't think it was the questions; it was more of the answers that were not satisfactory. 

 

                But I don't have anything to add to the state -- the current state of their statements on this issue. 

 

                Q     Well, let me ask you this, in a different way, then.  The secretary has been here for many years now.  It is -- it is -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Almost three.  December 18th will be three. 

 

                Q     It is on his watch that the security situation, as identified by himself, Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal, has deteriorated.   

 

                So what responsibility, as secretary of Defense, does Mr. Gates have for the deteriorating situation?  Why -- as we go through this assessment, what is the assessment about how it got so bad and why no one dealt with it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  A couple things you're asking there.  As for the assessment -- and I'm going to be very careful about how far I go down this road, but the assessment is a forward-looking enterprise. It is not about looking back and trying to assign blame for where things went wrong.  It is about how we chart the best course going forward.  So I don't think the assessment deals with the matter that you're raising with me now. 

 

                As for the degree of responsibility that Secretary Gates feels for Afghanistan, historically and in its current state, he's spoken to these issues before.  Historically -- and you can go to his testimony before Congress over the past year, where he very candidly said that he feels a certain degree of responsibility for the fact that we miscalculated after the collapse of the Soviet -- or after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and turned our back on the Afghans, and the Pakistani government, for that matter, and that was a mistake.  So he -- he has been very candid about sort of his historical responsibility here. 

 

                As for how things have transpired over the past three years, it is not a secret to anyone here that the focus and the priority of this department and this government was on Iraq when Secretary Gates took office.  In fact, he was hired specifically to right the ship, so to speak, with regards to Iraq, to fix the problem that -- that Iraq had devolved to.  That's what his focus was.  That was the direction given to him by the president, by the commander in chief, and that's where he directed his time, energy and the department's resources. 

 

                At a certain point, because of the incredible turnaround that we've all witnessed in Iraq, it became possible to begin to accept greater risk there; i.e., using fewer forces to ensure the gains we got there would hold. 

 

                And so at that delicate tipping point, we began to adjust the balance between those two theaters and or imbalance, as some would suggest, and started to flow additional resources into Afghanistan.   

 

                And I would note that even coming into office, although his priority was on Iraq and his orders were to fix Iraq, obviously we were fighting another war at the same time, and he took steps along the way to ensure that that one was at least better resourced, extending a brigade very early on, adding a brigade very early on. And over the course of his tenure in this job, our footprint has probably tripled in Afghanistan.  I would venture to say that -- I'd have to go back and look at it, but we probably had 20,000 troops in Afghanistan when Secretary Gates took over, and we're now at 68,000 troops.   

 

                So although the priority was clearly on Iraq, it's hard to say it was -- Afghanistan was neglected, but it clearly was not the priority that Iraq was and that at a certain point he made, along with the commander in chief, a judgment about flowing additional forces into Afghanistan at a greater rate.  And that's -- and now we're at a point where we have the ability to do so even more if that is the direction the president sets forth. 

 

                Okay?  Yeah, Tony. 

 

                Q     May I ask you about another assessment that's forward- looking?  This is on the Pentagon's largest weapons program, the Joint Strike Fighter.  I understand that this Joint Estimating Team assessment that reviewed last year's numbers has been recirculated to senior-level officials, including the secretary, Mr. -- and Ashton Carter, and it basically comes to the conclusion that it came last year -- that this program, it all went poorly, with -- based on historic patterns, could need another $16.6 billion through fiscal 2015.  Can you shed some light on where it's at and broadly what your conclusions are? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Sure.  Sure.  Just to clarify a couple things, the Joint Estimating Team's most recent analysis is still a work in progress.  The analysis continues.  So I'm not going to get into numbers, because numbers could change.   

 

                As for the state of its -- it being briefed to senior leaders, I can tell you that it -- that Undersecretary Carter has begun to be briefed on the JET.  I think he's completed the first of what will be three briefings on it. 

 

                It has not yet gone to Secretary Gates or Deputy Secretary Lynn, although I'm sure Secretary Carter will share it with them at the appropriate time. 

 

                What I can tell you is, obviously the JET is a very important tool in the budget process.  It provides us a worst-case assessment of how the program will likely develop.   

 

                And that is balanced against, on the other extreme, the Program Office's assessment of it, which is generally much more optimistic.   

 

                And so what we need to do, what the secretary tries to do, is to sort of figure out the sweet spot, if you will, between those.  What's the appropriate balance between the JET's sort of sky-is-falling assessment and the Program Office perhaps rosier view of things?   

 

                And just by way of example, in the fiscal year '10 budget, the secretary clearly took a much more conservative approach, to the F-35 program, investing heavily in -- hundreds of millions of additional dollars, in the testing program, trying to buy down some of the risk that had been identified by the JET, in their -- in their -- hundreds of millions of dollars in the last JET.   

 

                So the new JET will clearly play a very important role, as we go about figuring out what levels to fund the Joint Strike Fighter program at, going into FY '11 and throughout the Five Year Defense Plan.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.)  This current edition is as pessimistic as last years, although you don't want to talk about the numbers.  But you mentioned sky is falling.  I mean, that's one extreme.  But is it an accurate depiction thought that this is still a relatively pessimistic look at the program?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's an accurate depiction, that it still does -- that the JET clearly raises concerns about the course the program is on.  And so you know, this is something -- listen, this is -- this is the biggest, most expensive and arguably most complicated program this department has ever pursued.  We have a great deal riding on the success of this program.   

 

                You saw Secretary Gates go down to Fort Worth and tell Lockheed Martin's president and CEO -- chairman and CEO that he is going to hold their feet to the fire on this, that there are -- that there are timelines and that there are budgets that are going to have to be met, the most immediate being the initial operation -- the IOC [Initial Operational Capability] for the Marine -- for frankly the testing squadron and then the Marine Corps.   

 

                And those, despite whatever the JET says, the secretary expects to be met on time.  So we will continue to watch this program like a hawk and, if necessary, make adjustments in our budgeting to buy down some of the risks that the JET identifies. 

 

                Q     May I ask one follow-up? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Lockheed today put out a statement to us that said, "We acknowledge that moderate risks to our cost and schedule baseline exist."  It -- do you agree with that, that the JET said moderate risk, or -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- I'm not in a position to characterize it as moderate or -- moderate or serious or minimal.  All I know is that we take the JET very seriously, but it is one input into the budgeting process.  And as the secretary moves forward with the FY '11 budget, I am sure he will be weighing the view of the JET in how much we fund for the -- 

 

                Q     It doesn't paint a rosy picture, though, going forward.  Is that an accurate -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, if I -- if -- (chuckles) -- I think it's fair to say that if the JET had provided some especially good news, we would be trumpeting it. 

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  So obviously -- but the JET I don't think ever provides good news.  I think that's its job, to be pessimistic, and we appreciate that.  And we will -- we will work with their -- with their team and the program office to try to figure out the best way ahead. But there is a lot of pressure on Lockheed.  There is a lot of pressure on this building to make sure we get this right.  And the secretary is determined to do it.   

 

                Okay?  Yeah.  Bryan. 

 

                Q     Speaking of pressures, the president's signature yesterday of the -- on the authorization bill obviously is a pretty clear victory for Secretary Gates.  He got most of what he wanted.  Still a few items, I guess, to be ironed out on the appropriations side.   

 

                But can you give us any sense for whether he's committed himself to sticking around to do this again -- not just to put together the budget proposal for FY '11, but to see it through?  Many people will agree, and I -- I'm sure you would too, that a one-time victory in reshaping this department could be fleeting unless you follow it up with another one.  So can you give us any insight into his commitments to stay, or when he will make such a commitment? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm surprised none of you called me when the president said yesterday that -- "Secretary Gates and I look forward to working on this in the months and years to come."  I don't know -- I can't tell you, Bryan, how long he intends to stay to work on that or any other problems this department faces. 

 

                What I can tell you is that he is on the job and has a full plate and is -- you know, is looking down the field.  He is not -- he's not looking at his feet, he's looking down the field.  And clearly, the budget is something that is extraordinarily important to him, and he's very appreciative of the tough decisions that the Congress had to make, and the president is backing him on this very -- on some of these very, very difficult decisions. 

 

                Yeah, he wants to -- he wants to make sure that this is not a fleeting victory; that the changes that have been -- that have been brought about in the fiscal year '10 budget are built upon in '11 and beyond.  As we build the '11 budget, we'll build a five-year defense plan.  So that will -- that will help chart a course that can be, if not executed by him, by his successor.  We didn't do that in '10, obviously, because there was a new administration taking over.   

 

                But I think he is fully committed to trying to do as much as he can for as long as he can to make sure that the rebalancing of priorities in this department takes hold and those roots are able to grow deep and it ultimately flourishes in this building. 

 

                Yes.  Yoso. 

 

                Q     Secretary Gates visited Japan last week and made it very clear that there's no alternative for Futenma replacement facility. But after the trip, Japanese foreign minister is proposing that Futenma's functions to be consolidated to Kadena Air Force Base. Could you explain why DOD thinks Kadena consolidation plan is not operationally workable? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yoso, I don't know how I can improve upon Secretary Gates on this issue.  You were with us just last week in Tokyo.  But the bottom line is, we have certainly looked at Kadena as a(n) alternative to Futenma.  And we've carefully studied it, and it simply does not work, in addition to the fact it's probably politically untenable, but that's an issue for the Japanese government.   

 

                Operationally, it is unworkable.  And so you cannot consolidate the Air Force operations, the Marine Corps operations onto that facility and do all the things that we need to do to provide for the defense of Japan.  So that is not a suitable replacement for Futenma. 

 

                The only replacement that works is the one that's been agreed to by both of our governments, that's been built over the last 15 years, and that's Camp Schwartz [Schwab] to the north of the -- to the north of the island.  And that's where we are focusing our efforts, and we hope the Japanese government will, as well. 

 

                Yeah.  Yes? 

 

                Q     Thank you, Geoff.  Finally, South Korean government has announced yesterday 300 South Korean troops will send to Afghanistan. Any comment on that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I haven't seen that, frankly.  I'm not in a position to comment on it.  But obviously, we would welcome any -- any and all contributions from our friends in South Korea.  They've -- they've been there a long time, and the notion that they are -- that they would -- I'd have to take you at your word that they are -- that they are plussing-up their contribution.  But if indeed that is the case, that would be most welcome news. 

 

                Q     But is the United States ever been asked on that issue of providing -- (off mike)? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Have we been asking?  Frankly, I don't -- I don't recall it being a major subject for the secretary when he was in Seoul this week.  Obviously, you know, our -- at a -- our departments talk to each other about things like that.  And I think, whether it be Japan's contribution or Korea's contribution, I think our only -- our only hope would be that it would be commensurate to the size of their wealth, of their economies. 

 

                In Japan's case, they're the second-largest economy in the world; in Korea's case, a top-15 economy in the world.  There is a certain responsibility that comes with countries of that power and that wealth, to contribute to this international effort in Afghanistan. And so we are welcoming of whether it be additional forces, or money, or PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams], or expertise.  Any and all would be appreciated. 

 

                Yes, Ann Scott Tyson. 

 

                Q     Back to the route clearance and EOD teams, I was just curious, why did these teams not go in when the major forces -- you know, along with the major forces, so that they could be there with them?  Is it that this was an unexpectedly severe IED threat so a decision was made later to bolster them, or was it that they were -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think -- Ann, I think it's a combination of things.  I think certainly -- a certain number of route clearance teams did go in with the 21,500 forces that have been deployed under President Obama's administration. 

 

                Some of those, I think, are indigenous to the units that actually deployed.  I think we also did others in addition to that.   

 

                Also, clearly the IED threat has become worse over the -- in the six months since the -- six or seven months since the president made the decision to plus-up in Afghanistan.   

 

                And finally, it obviously is also predicated on the situation in Iraq.  As we -- as the commander there believed he could take on greater risk, he volunteered to give up these kind of enablers to go to Afghanistan.  And I think in some cases -- and I'll have to double check -- I think, in some cases, there were specialists with highly -- with urgently needed capabilities and expertise that went directly from one theater to the other.  So -- but this has been -- you know, for a variety of factors, the levels have changed.   

 

                Yup. 

 

                Q     Thank you.  Two quick questions:  One, as far as Turkey and Iran relations, the prime minister of Turkey was in Iran.  Military viewpoint: Do you have any problem -- the agreement (inaudible), and it might be some kind of even military-to-military dealings? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  How does India fit into that question -- or Pakistan?   

 

                Q     Well, I -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm just teasing you.  Come on.  This is a -- 

 

                Q     (Laughs.)  I report for Turkey television and --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  Turkey and Iran's relations, I don't have anything for you.  I'm sorry. 

 

                Q     And as far as India is concerned now, second, can you confirm -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I should have just waited. 

 

                Q     -- (laughs) -- press reports that there is billions of dollars in military-to-military package aid, including fighter planes and all that.  It might be before prime minister of India's visit on November 24th in Washington.  Is there something on the --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- not that I -- not that I have good knowledge of here at the podium.  But if you have a specific question about what we're working on with India with regards to potential arms sales or otherwise, I'm happy to take the question. 

 

                Q     The question that I'm asking is --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Come by the office or send me an e-mail and we'll get you precise answers, okay? 

 

                Let's -- Jim. 

 

                Q     Geoff, you have -- it's pretty close to the deadline for that social-media policy and for the thumb-drive changes.  Have you got anything on that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I don't.  Sorry.  Go fish. 

 

                Here we go.  (Laughter.) 

 

                Go, Jeff. 

 

                Q     I just wanted to clarify something.  When you were talking about the CERP funds, did you say they could only be used if the Afghan government launches a reconciliation effort? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think the question was, this authority -- this authority deals with using CERP for our reconciliation efforts.  We don't launch reconciliation efforts; we're there to support the Afghan government.  If they choose to launch a reconciliation effort, you know, we have the wherewithal, thanks to this, to support it.  But it's not something that we are going to pursue on our own.  That's just -- 

 

                Q     So a brigade commander can't approach local groups and say, "Do you really want to fight us -- I mean, there's some money in it for you"? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  A brigade commander can use CERP to try to put people to work, to do local development projects, things of that nature.  And if you can get idle hands, or hands that were otherwise spent fighting you all, to become a part of the process at a local level, I'm sure that's something they can pursue.   

 

                In terms of large scale, you know, lots of money being used to support reconciliation efforts in a very organized, nationwide effort, as we saw in Iraq with the Sons of Iraq, that's something that obviously has to be pursued at the government level, not at the brigade commander level, or at the -- 

 

                Q     I thought the big benefit of CERP is it gives people at the brigade level -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It gives you -- it gives the ability of commanders at a variety of ranks the ability and the discretion to use funds as they see fit.  Most of it is for development purposes and putting people to work and improving the lot of people in the -- in their towns.   

 

                But this new authority gives us the wherewithal to use CERP dollars if the government wishes to pursue a large-scale reconciliation effort.  But we're not going to independently pursue that. 

 

                Q     Is that -- is that what the Defense Department wishes to pursue? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, that's the authority we asked for. 

 

                Q     Okay. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, no -- is that what we wish to pursue?  No, it's not -- it's not for us to wish or decide. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- hope to engage the Afghan -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  At a certain point, Justin -- we've been very clear about this for a long time -- at a certain point, when the momentum shifts, it makes sense to pursue reconciliation and -- reintegration and reconciliation.  But I don't think you'd find many Taliban willing -- you know, in a hurry to pursue that right now.  They have the impression, at least, that they're doing quite well.  So why would they want to -- why would we want to do that?   

 

                Why would -- we want to bargain from a position of strength. 

 

                The government of Afghanistan will want to pursue this from a position of strength.  And hopefully the additional forces that have gone into country will be able to turn the tide very quickly.  And we'll be in a better position to pursue those things.   

 

                Q     Just a quick follow-up to one of the other questions, about Iran having been the focus for a number of years; Afghanistan not.   

 

                For many years, this department had a strategy that it committed itself to.  And that was to win two wars nearly simultaneously. Obviously it's gone through some iterations since then.   

 

                But do you think it's safe to say, given recent history, that that's not possible?  In other words, the department does not have enough resources to prevail.  (Off mike.)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, listen, there's a couple -- there's a couple things you're -- I mean, first of all, you're getting at the heart of what is part of the QDR discussion that's ongoing right now.  But you know, listen, we obviously can go to extraordinary lengths to fight and win multiple wars.   

 

                We have, you know -- you know, nearly two-and-a-half million men under arms.  So we have the ability, if we want to stretch the force and use the force in that way, to go about fighting two wars in a very aggressive way.   

 

                Obviously after fighting many, many years in both Iraq and Afghanistan and after having to extend deployments for our forces in Afghanistan -- in Iraq rather to 15 months, with 12 months dwell time, and having multiple, repeated and lengthy tours in those theaters, the secretary and the chief of staff of the Army have made a decision that they need to provide more rest to the forces.   

 

                And so we are trying to get a better balance, between boots on the ground time and dwell time.  And so now no one is deploying for 15-month tours. We're doing 12-month tours.  And I think it's made a big difference for our troops and for their families.   

 

                And hopefully the ratio of deployment time versus dwell time will -- dwell time to deployment time will improve even more, so that people are spending 18 months at home for every month deployed, two years at home ultimately, hopefully three years at home, which is what is the norm, for every year deployed.  But that's what we're working towards.   

 

                But obviously we have the ability to go to extreme measures, if needed, to take care of such things.   

 

                Q     Kind of a follow-up:  In light of the Sunday bombings in Baghdad, has there been any discussion about delaying the drawdown of troops in Iraq, at this point, or further beefing up security than originally anticipated, in the runup to the elections?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, no.   

 

                I mean, the greater impact potentially on the drawdown plan would be when the election takes place and whether or not the council of representatives can pass an election law and we can hold an election in late-January as planned.   

 

                The drawdown plan is predicated on that more than anything else. But with regards to these, you know, the most recent just horrific and deplorable attacks, it has not caused anybody to reevaluate or reassess or reconsider the drawdown plan.  Nor has it prompted the Iraqis for that matter to ask for our forces to come back in, to Baghdad, to assist in the aftermath of this attack.   

 

                I think we sent very limited numbers of highly specialized teams, mostly forensics experts, to help with protecting evidence in the wake of the bombings.  But we did not -- you know, units were not called back in to sort of help secure the city.  And that's encouraging, that the Iraqi security forces were confident enough and capable enough to deal with this tragedy on their own. 

 

                Q     The Kurds today boycotted a procedure in parliament that is believed to further delay the elections; that it will be well past the 16th.  So are you saying that if the elections are not held on the 16th, that the draw-down schedule will be reevaluated? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- was the date the 16th?  I thought it was the 30th. Anyway -- 

 

                Q      No, it's January 16th. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It's the 16th?  Anyway, I think the bottom line is, you know, it is very -- I think the schedule is predicated on the elections taking place in January, as I think is mandated by law.  I think that's what I'm thinking of, that the constitution mandates the elections have to take place by the end of January.  So the plan is -- is contingent upon that. 

 

                Obviously, we'll make judgments and assessments based upon how far it's delayed and whether or not we need to retain this certain force level for longer.  But the idea is we want a certain force level to provide security leading up to the elections, clearly on the election day, or to assist the Iraqis in doing so, and also to provide a certain level of security in the wake of the elections during a transfer of power that would take place in the weeks following. 

 

                That's what -- that's why we are hanging on to as large a force as we are in Iraq. 

 

                Q     For two months after the elections, correct?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'd have to look at the precise draw-down, but I think it's by March it starts to drop off pretty quickly. 

 

                Okay, let's take one or two more and – (inaudible) Justin, yep. 

 

                Q     Were you able to get a date on -- as to when the McChrystal troop request formally went through the chain of command? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I did not.  And I'm not so sure -- you know, I think -- listen, bottom line is -- and I'm surprised you-all haven't tried to pursue it more, and I appreciate the fact you haven't, but I think things are right now in -- at a certain point where it is probably best for me not to discuss these matters in any substantive way while -- while we are still -- while we're at the end stages of what is this sort of close hold, pre-decisional, confidential process over at the White House. 

 

                So I -- I'm just not going to get into a lot of these matters, given how close we are to the -- to the end here. 

 

                Q     Does it make sense for the decision to be announced before the runoff election on the 7th, though?  Is there talk about delaying it till after the election? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not -- you know, obviously, I'm not the one who would speak to when this would be announced or wouldn't be announced, so I'd urge you to talk to folks over there.  I don't -- my understanding is I don't -- I think they've been very forthright about their desire to wait for the election to take place on the 7th.  But you should really probably talk to them about when precisely they hope for the president to have made a decision and be able to roll it out. And obviously, there's some international travel involved as well in this month for the president and his team, so that factors into things as well. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- Geoff? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't. 

 

                Okay?  Thank you all.  Have a great rest of your week.

 

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