United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
November 04, 2009


                MR. MORRELL:  Not the secretary today.  It's me.   


                Q     (Off mike.) 


                MR. MORRELL:  This is a record crowd.  Makes me a little nervous. 


                Anyway, good afternoon.  Sorry I'm a bit late.  Thank you all for coming. 


                I want to begin by condemning the attack in Helmand province by an Afghan police officer that resulted in the deaths of five British soldiers yesterday.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fallen.  However tragic and criminal this act was, it represents a rare and, luckily, thus far isolated incident.  And ISAF troops continue to partner effectively with the Afghan national security forces and continue to build their capacity to take the lead in ultimately defending their country on their own. 


                Now I have an update for you on Secretary Gates's schedule before I take your questions.  First off, about an hour from now the secretary will welcome to the Pentagon with a full honor cordon the Australian minister of defense, Senator John Faulkner.  This is his first official visit as minister, and the secretary looks forward to reaffirming our nation's long-standing alliance with Australia.   


                The two ministers will talk about a range of issues, including of course Afghanistan, where the Australians continue to make a very significant and much-appreciated contribution to the fight in the south. 


                At the invitation of former first lady Nancy Reagan, next Tuesday, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the secretary will be the keynote speaker at the Reagan Library-sponsored commemoration being hosted by the Library of Congress.  That's an evening event next Tuesday. 


                The day after Veterans Day, Secretary Gates will travel to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he will pay a visit to the MATV factory there.  The department, as you know, has contracted with Oshkosh to produce over 6,600 of these new off-road armored vehicles specifically designed for the rough terrain of Afghanistan. 


                The secretary wants to thank the workers there for doing everything they can to expedite the production of this lifesaving vehicle.  In an amazing display of industry and dedication to the war effort, the men and women at this factory will go from producing 46 MATVs in July to over a thousand per month by year's end. 


                And this, of course, is just one aspect of the department's fight against IEDs.  Secretary Gates is pushing everyone in this building to make sure they are doing everything they possibly can to provide our warfighters with everything they need, be it ISR, improved command and control, or additional authorities or even capabilities, so that they can better diagram, dissect and ultimately defeat these IED networks. 


                As you may have seen, Secretary Gates will travel to Canada during the third week of November, where he will meet with the Canadian minister of Defense, Peter MacKay.  There, he will also be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Halifax International Security Forum, created, I believe, by Minister MacKay and cosponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.  This conference is designed to bring together some of the world's foremost issues on security issues for a frank and open discussion on global security and defense challenges. 


                And finally, I would note that the deputy secretary of Defense, Bill Lynn, is traveling in India this week to participate in the Defense Policy Group Meeting.  The DPG is the highest-level bilateral defense consultation between our two countries.  At the DPG, the deputy secretary will reinforce our strengthening defense cooperation with India and explore possible new areas of collaboration, to include more joint exercises and defense sales.  As Secretary Gates has said previously, we look to India to be a provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond, which is why we attach great importance to this trip and to this relationship. 


                And with all that out of the way, let's get to your questions. 


                Is the AP boycotting today?  Reuters, you. 


                Q     Hi.  Phil Stewart. 


                I just want to know, the Italian court has issued convictions against 23 Americans, one of whom – twenty-two of which are believed to be former members of CIA, one of whom is an Air Force officer.  I'm wondering what kind of reaction you might have to -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I've seen the reports, and I would -- I would limit my comments to how the ruling in Italy impacts a -- Colonel Romano (corrected).  We are clearly disappointed by the court's ruling.  We had, as you know, asserted jurisdiction according to the NATO Status of Forces Agreement. 


                I would note that the Ministry of -- the minister of justice in Italy agreed with us that it was a valid assertion of jurisdiction and had, in fact, asked the court to respect our jurisdiction claim. 


                So our view is the Italian court has no jurisdiction over Colonel Romano (corrected) and should have immediately dismissed the charges.  Now that they have not, we will, of course, explore what options we have going forward.  But we clearly are disappointed with the ruling and the lack of respect for the -- for the fact that we have asserted jurisdiction in this case. 


                Barbara Starr. 


                Q     Geoff, we've seen the DOD's priority list for H1N1 vaccines.  So that, I want to be clear, is not my question about the priority list.  My question is this:  Can the secretary and the department absolutely assure the people in this country -- civilians who do not work for the government, but people who are in this country -- that they will be -- who need or wish to get the H1N1 vaccine shot, that they will be offered it before the detainees held by the Defense Department in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I can tell you, as you all probably know, that we, like a lot of institutions right now, have a very limited supply of vaccine.  A bit of good news here is that we have now delivered to Central Command about 50 percent of what they require for their roughly 300,000 forces in their AOR.  Those arrived in Qatar overnight.  They will, hopefully in the next 24 hours or so, be pushed out to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and other locations where we have troops deployed in the Central Command region.   


                I can also tell you that our forces on the peninsula -- the Korean Peninsula have received now a hundred percent of their requirement this week, roughly 26,000 doses.   


                So we're making some progress in terms of getting the H1N1 vaccine to our forces worldwide.  But because we are still operating with a limited quantity, we have to prioritize those who will get it. And according to our prioritization list, our military forces and those who support them are at the top of that list.   


                And right now we don't have enough to even take care of all of them. So our focus is making sure we get enough vaccines to take care of our forces and those who support them.  That is where our focus is right now worldwide.    


                Q     With respect, I know you understand, that wasn't my question.   


                My question is, can -- since there is limited supply by all accounts everywhere, at this point, what assurances can this department give, since you have said you are going to offer it to the detainees?   


                And I am presuming that includes the 9/11 perpetrators at Guantanamo Bay, and you will offer it to them.  What assurances can you give people in this country that the people in this country will be offered it before the detainees?   


                MR. MORRELL:  Let me explain to folks how this works.   


                We've got a five-category prioritization list.  At the top of that -- of that hierarchy are U.S. forces.  Number two on that list are deployed health-care workers, both civilian and contractors. Number three are civilians.   


                Beyond that, you do get into the realm of detainees and non-Defense-Department contractors.  But we haven't even taken care of the first lot or the second lot or the third lot before we would even consider vaccinating anybody beyond that, including detainees.   


                So we're not there yet, Barbara.  We're just pushing out what we have at this point, a limited quantity, to forces.  The first vaccines for our troops downrange will probably take place in the next week. And that's where our focus is on right now.   


                We haven't even begun to consider vaccinating people beyond category one, two and three at this point.   


                Q     Absolutely no disrespect intended, but then what I'm hearing is, since I've asked twice, and no disrespect intended, Geoff --  


                MR. MORRELL:  I never take -- I never take intended disrespect.   


                Q     You cannot give that assurance at this point, because I've asked --  


                MR. MORRELL:  The assurance that no detainee will be vaccinated before every single American stateside who wants it has been.   


                Q     The detainees -- yes, and that they will not be offered it.  


                Will they be offered it before the people --  


                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, I can't speak to the protocols that will take place stateside, in terms of how the general population is being handled here.   


                All I can tell you is that we have this very clear hierarchy of priorities for all of our -- all of our bases across the world.  And I've delineated for you where our forces stand vis-a-vis where detainees and others stand.   


                Q     Okay.  Would you -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  No, excuse me, let me finish my thought here. 


                And that -- that hierarchy is based upon a number of factors. Chief among them -- chief among them is military readiness.  It is imperative that we keep our forces able to do their job so as to provide for the protection of our interests around the world.  So part of force protection ultimately does factor into the people who are vaccinated beneath categories one, two and three. 


                So particularly, for example, you're asking about Guantanamo. This is a rather confined, close-quartered camp.  And so, in the interest of force protection, it would be that at some point, once the other categories are taken care of, it would be offered them based -- offered to them based upon the need to protect our forces from the risk posed by an outbreak of swine flu within the confines of the detention facility. 


                Q     But detainees at Guantanamo could then get it, by that definition, before deployed troops fighting in Helmand Province get it. 


                MR. MORRELL:  The hierarchy is given according to each forward- deployed location.  So each location will go through categories one, two, three, four, five and distribute the vaccine according to that. Correspondingly, another forward-deployed location will do the same thing simultaneously or maybe slightly on a -- a slightly different schedule from the other locations. 


                Q     But you're saying they could get it before the deployed troops in a different -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- I really think that is nearly impossible to happen. 


                Q     (Off mike.) 


                MR. MORRELL:  Excuse -- Justin, I'm addressing this question. You raised your hand.  I'm happy to call on you in some point in this engagement. 


                At some -- at some -- yeah. 


                Q     Let me rephrase the question so we're very clear here. First, again, I haven't heard an assurance that detainees will get it after civilians in this country. 


                MR. MORRELL:  I -- but Barbara, Barbara, Barbara, you're -- you're presuming that I have the knowledge or the wherewithal to tell you the protocols that are being used for the general population here. All I can do is speak to what the priorities are in this department. And I think everybody's getting a little carried away here because our focus is making sure men and women in uniform, and those support them, get that -- get it.  And we are still a long way from making sure that happens.  And not until that happens will we even consider taking care of those beneath them on the prioritization list. 


                Q     The other point you made that I want to be clear on is any forward location, let us say, Guantanamo Bay, because it's a confined population.  Everybody in the priority list from top-down will get it.  Does that -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  There's no guarantee that everybody will get it. It depends on how many quantities are shipped to Guantanamo. 


                Q     The question remains:  Within the Guantanamo priority "column," if you will, detainees near the bottom, will you ensure that forward-deployed U.S. troops fighting in combat get the vaccine in their locations in Afghanistan and Iraq before detainees? 


                MR. MORRELL:  What I can tell you is, as I just told you based upon the news that I could provide you, that 50 percent of the vaccines required by CENTCOM have now been shipped.  They will be shipped out to these forward locations, hopefully within the next 24 hours, and hopefully very shortly after that they will begin to be administered to our forces.  I can tell you that nothing has been shipped to Guantanamo yet.   


                So our forces, right now, are on schedule to be vaccinated, yes, ahead of detainees and ahead of others who are beneath them on the prioritization list, because they are our number one priority in this department and we are taking every measure possible to ensure that they get it as quickly as possible -- not a political consideration, but because our guys downrange who are on the front lines require this ahead of others.  They are already in very difficult circumstances. Every one of them is needed, and we can't afford to have an outbreak of the swine flu in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in any other location where our forces are deployed.  So we're doing everything within our power to make sure our guys downrange get this as soon as possible. 


                Yeah.  Luis. 


                Q     Geoff, has the secretary received his own personal vaccination for H1N1?  Does he intend to?  Or like the president, does he -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I believe the secretary has received an H1N1 -- I haven't -- I believe he has.   


                Q     May I ask, then, since you've laid out this prioritization category, where does he fall in that category, given that DOD  civilians are -- come third on the list?  Because it's been always been deployed civilians -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Luis, I'd have to -- I want to double-check to ensure he has.  My belief is that he has.  I think this is in the interest of making sure you've got somebody who's able to run this department.  


                Q     The president himself is deferring until there is adequate H1N1 flow and -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  That's -- I suppose that's -- that's the choice he made.  I can't speak to the -- to his rationale for it. 


                Q     Are you aware of whether there are any other doses that are available within the Pentagon? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know about other doses.  And I'll have to confirm the secretary's.  I believe that to be the case, but I'm not 100 percent certain. 




                Q     You had Admiral Mullen this morning using very tough language about corruption in Kabul and also saying that basically it wouldn't really make sense -- all the troops in the world wouldn't make a difference if there isn't a legitimate government in Kabul, whereas the Defense secretary recently said that the decision to send more troops couldn't wait for a legitimate government in Kabul, couldn't wait for legitimacy.  Isn't that some kind of contradiction? And which is the kind of correct one? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I -- where was Chairman Mullen speaking?  I didn't even know he was speaking. 


                Q     (Off mike.) 


                MR. MORRELL:  At the what? 


                Q     Press Club. 


                MR. MORRELL:  National Press Club.  I didn't see his remarks.  I can't -- I have to take your word that that's how he -- how he characterized his position.  I don't know that to be the fact.  I'd want to take a look at his remarks first. 


                But there's nothing that requires that those two individuals agree on every issue.  But, again, I haven't seen his comments.  Sorry about that. 


                Q     The administration is sending mixed signals about what is required in terms of partnership in Kabul.  Sometimes we hear grave concerns about corruption; other times we say we just have to move forward and possibly handle -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  No, I think everybody has -- I think there is universal agreement that corruption is a problem that needs to be remedied.  I think the only distinction, if there is one, between people at times is over how long that will take and what you should be doing in the interim.  But I don't think there's any disagreement over the fact that corruption in the long term inhibits our ability to be successful in Afghanistan. 


                Yes, Joe. 


                Q     Different topic?  Today, this morning, Israel's navy, Geoff, intercepted a container ship carrying Iranian rockets from Iran to Lebanese Hezbollah.  I don't know if you could give us any comment -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Joe, I've -- you asked me that question this morning.  I've asked about that particular incident, and I have some information that is being sent to me.  So come on over to me afterwards and I'm happy to try to provide it to you, okay? 


                Q     I'd like to follow quickly, if I could.  It may be that the information you have relates to that, but there has been -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  You're welcome to come to my office as well. 


                Q     Thank you very much.  There has been word that the USS Anzio has been involved in tracking that cargo ship.  Do you know what the U.S. military involvement was -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't. 


                Q     -- as far as them spotting it? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't. 


                Q     Is that part of the information that you -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Let's see what they -- let's see what they're providing for me.  I don't know what they've given me. 






                Q     (Off mike) -- please, what you can, what the secretary's plans are for meetings at the White House in the next days and weeks on Afghanistan?   


                And has -- he met with the president yesterday, correct? 


                MR. MORRELL:  He did have his weekly meeting with the president yesterday.  I don't know -- I assume you're speaking with regards to the way ahead in Afghanistan.  And I don't know, frankly, what the schedule is for any additional meetings at this point. 


                Q     There's nothing on his schedule at all? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't believe at this point there is anything scheduled, but the White House would be the best to tell you as for -- as to when they are planning, for example, this next engagement with the chiefs that has been talked about.   


                Q     Right. 


                MR. MORRELL:  As far as I know, that has not been scheduled yet. 


                Q     But there was -- (off mike) -- civilians this week.  


                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'm not -- well, I mean, he meets -- he's over at the White House, you know, every day, multiple times a day, about a range of issues.  So I can't speak to -- I do not believe another meeting has been scheduled, but it -- I could -- I could be wrong on this.  I may not have the latest and greatest in terms of the meeting schedule on the way ahead in Afghanistan.   


                But the White House is -- I'm sure would provide that for you.  I mean, all I can tell you is that, you know, he obviously -- he and others who work in this building continue to participate in the process.   


                And you know, his views on this subject, I think he wants to keep confined to this close-hold, deliberative process.  And they should be shared with the president and those who are advising him, and beyond that, he doesn't care to share them.  Okay? 


                Yeah, David. 


                Q     If the IEDs in Afghanistan can already blow MRAPs off the road, why is the department buying 6,600 lighter ones?   


                MR. MORRELL:  Couple things, Dave.  I mean, first of all, the IED problem in Afghanistan is of deep concern to the secretary.  He is watching it closely; he's following it closely.  In fact, he's hosting a meeting this afternoon, probably the biggest meeting of this kind that I've been -- that I'm aware of, in which he will bring together all the disparate elements of this building that deal with IEDs together in one room -- and frankly, downrange as well, via secure video teleconference -- to have a discussion about what we -- what more we can do.   


                What are we doing to combat IEDs?  And what more must we do to combat them, including what more must -- should we be doing, in terms of collaborating amongst all of us, whether it be --  


                So for example, the MRAP task force folks will be there.  The ISR task force folks will be there.  The JIEDDO folks will be there. These are all individual groups that have done a tremendous amount of good in their respective areas.   


                But we need to make sure that we are bringing all of our resources to bear together and are collaborating effectively and providing our troops, as I mention in my opening statement, with whatever they need: armored protection, ISR, new capabilities, authorities, better command and control, those kinds of things.   


                But it is a problem that he is keenly aware of, very concerned about, and is determined to make sure this building is doing everything it can to combat.  But Dave, you've just come back from being downrange.  You've seen how incredibly large these bombs which we are facing are.   


                This is not like Iraq, where we had a very sophisticated enemy who was, you know, getting EFPs from Iran and others and deploying those in a sophisticated way against our forces.  These are people who are massing together fertilizer and other homemade bomb-making devices and just using quantity over sophistication.   


                For example, the Stryker that was -- that was hit last week was hit with a thousand-pound bomb.  There's not an armored vehicle you could build that would likely protect you against a thousand-pound fertilizer bomb.  Even if it doesn't penetrate the hull, those inside of it are going to suffer a concussive blast that is clearly going to be a real danger to them.   


                So it's not -- while armored vehicles are very important to this effort, and that's why we bought 16,000 MRAPs, and we're buying 6,000 more M-ATVs.  But if we're relying simply on better armor at the point of contact, we're not going to succeed.   


                We need to be attacking this problem from 360 degrees, just as we did in Iraq and proved so successful there, by watching the roads, by watching for patterns of life, by mapping those patterns, by developing intelligence that allows us to penetrate the networks and take them down.   


                But ultimately it's going to take, you know, as I said -- you know, diagramming, dissecting and defeating the networks to protect our forces.  Vehicles alone is -- are not going to do it. 


                Q     Does the secretary expect a -- any particular actions or conclusion to come out of this series of meetings this afternoon? 


                MR. MORRELL:  Well, it's one meeting this afternoon.  But let's see -- let's have the meeting and see what comes of it and see if more are required, as likely will be.  And we'll go from there.  But this is something that is -- that is clearly a priority for him. 


                As for -- your original question was the -- what's the premise behind the lighter MRAP, given the fact that we're seeing large bombs in Afghanistan.  The premise is that the traditional MRAP was having real problems on -- off road in Afghanistan.  And clearly we have to do a lot of work off road.  And these new vehicles will provide our forces the ability to travel more safely off road -- certainly off paved roads -- than they would have been able to do with other vehicles. 


                But we've never -- we've never -- and I hate to belabor this point -- but I want to go back, and you can pull my quotes from two years ago, when this first came up -- we have never advertised MRAPs or M-ATVs as a silver bullet for the IED program.  This is -- this is but one element of a vast array of capabilities that we need to bring to bear to protect our forces -- and not just in a defensive posture, but in an offensive posture, to go after these guys who are planning these bombs.   


                Okay?  Jeff. 


                Q     Thanks.  Is -- first, is it possible we could get some kind of readout from this meeting today? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that it requires a readout, but I'll be there, and we -- you can talk to me this afternoon.  I'll see where we are. 


                Q     Second -- if this question sounds stupid, you can slap me. If the enemy in Afghanistan are using enough explosives to liquefy armored vehicles, why bother sending M-ATVs at all? 


                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I didn't say -- who said anything about liquefying? 


                Q     Well, a thousand pounds of explosives -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I didn't say anything about liquefying.   


                Well, why bother sending M-ATVs at all is because we need to operate on- and off-road to do our job, okay?  The mines that we are seeing are predominately on roads, not necessarily paved roads, in fact more often not paved, because they're much more difficult to detect that way.   


                But we clearly need -- a commander needs a range of capabilities for his forces in terms of how to maneuver.  In some -- in some cases, the traditional MRAP will be precisely what he wants -- what he wants to use if he's on a paved road to get from Point A to Point B.  If he's going off-road and still requires the same kind of protection, he'd want to deploy with the new M-ATV.  That's what's going to give him the best chance of protecting his forces if they were confronted with a -- with a mine. 


                Q     Sir, the reason I ask is, as Dave pointed out, the M-ATVs are about 25 tons versus the 40 to 60 tons that MRAPS are. 


                MR. MORRELL:  Correct. 


                Q     If basically you're saying, well, the enemy is going to use enough explosives that it doesn't matter what size, what type of vehicle you're using, that sounds like it undercuts the rationale for the things in the first place, because our Humvees also go off-road .    


                MR. MORRELL:  No.  No, we're -- no.  Now, because, as I said to you before, we are doing a multitude of things here, among them, I should point out, is working, particularly in RC South, on an ammonium nitrate buy-back program, going around to farmers and others who we are finding with large quantities of fertilizer and you know, buying it from them so that they can buy an alternative, less deadly fertilizer. 


                I think I've been told that, back in the '60s, even, Afghanistan -- ammonium nitrate was banned because it wasn't -- it wasn't an effective or good fertilizer.  So when we're finding it, we want to -- we want to get it out of the hands of people who still have it or may be hoarding it or may be using it for purposes other than farming.  So in the south, at least, we're making efforts to try to get ammonium nitrate off the streets.  We hope there will be more of a nationwide effort in this regard, with regards to criminalizing it, but we aren't there yet. 


                Q     So you probably don't have this now, but it would be good if we could get some stats on how much has been bought, you know, in pounds. 


                MR. MORRELL:  It's a good question to ask downrange.  You can pick up the phone.    


                Q     (Off mike.) 


                MR. MORRELL:  I know.  It's so difficult to pick up that phone and call Afghanistan.   




                Q     Questions, quick.  One, as far as India-U.S. military-to- military relations are concerned, Geoff, can you confirm special assistant to Prime Minister Singh and the national security adviser have made a secret trip to Washington, are meeting high- class officials, including somebody in the Pentagon and the White House national security adviser?  Is that something -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Prime Minister Singh? 


                Q     His special assistant and national security adviser -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I -- I'd -- not that I'm --  


                Q     -- (off mike) -- this trip by his assistant going to India -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not aware of such a visit, but you may want to ask the White House. 


                Q     And he's never met anybody here at the Pentagon -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Not that I'm aware of.  He could have.  Not that I'm aware of.   


                Q     As far as Afghanistan war is concerned, many, many think tanks are having discussions and also assessments, are bringing high- class experts, including Wesley Clark and others.  What they are saying is that including President Obama and secretary of State and secretary of Defense -- that at peak of -- center of terrorism is not Afghanistan or enemies are not Afghanistan but in Pakistan.  But why the war is going on in Afghanistan? 


                MR. MORRELL:  Well, this, I mean -- I mean, are you serious?  Is this a serious question? 


                Q     That's what they are saying -- really, why they are fighting the war -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  We're fighting in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan on 9/11.  I'm not going to go re-litigate the history of why we're in Afghanistan at this hour. 


                Yes, Yoso. 


                Q     Secretary Gates urged the Japanese government to make a decision on Futenma replacement issue before President Obama visits -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, Yoso, I mean, this is -- I hate to cut you off, but I've said what I can say on this.  The secretary's said what he's said on this.  And I'm going to leave it at that.  I mean, our position has been made clear to the Japanese government.  Their position has been made clear to us.  We're going to continue to talk and hopefully resolve this issue as quickly as possible.  But I don't feel any need to clarify what have been very clear statements by the secretary and others on this issue.  Okay? 


                Q     Well, my question is, how damaging do you think it is for U.S.-Japan relations if Japanese government does not come up with an agreement -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  If, if, if -- I'm not going to get into these ifs.   


                Yeah, Gordon. 


                Q     Geoff, with the president leaving town next week and there's no sense that a decision on Afghanistan is coming within the next hours or days, how do you characterize the sense of the urgency within the administration to make a decision? 


                And are you confident that, if a decision doesn't come until late this month or even early December, that you -- this department can deploy the number of forces potentially required? 


                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, I can't characterize the feelings of the administration.  I can characterize the feelings of the secretary and this department.  And I think the secretary believes the process is -- continues to be a useful one.  And he is working, as are other people in this building, to try to help the president arrive at a decision on this matter. 


                I can tell you though -- because I think the premise to your question is that the deliberations that have been under way now for several weeks are in some way impeding our ability to support our forces downrange.  And I would tell you this:  that there -- the secretary has no request for forces on his desk that has not been met for forces that could deploy this year.  So everything that is needed for this calendar year has been dealt with and has not been adversely impacted in any way by the discussions that are taking place at the White House. 


                So -- as for beyond that, into next year, there will be a time at which the longer you take, it impacts the deployment of forces into next calendar year.  We have not arrived at that point yet.  I can't tell you precisely what that point is.  It's not a concern for the secretary yet.   


                But I would also urge you to keep in mind that it's not just a -- it's not just about our ability to provide forces.  It is about the -- it is also about the ability of our colleagues downrange to absorb those forces.  We have a capacity issue there as well, in terms of facilities and support and so forth, whether it be ramp space or lodging or whatever it may be.   


                So it's not as simple as -- even if a decision were made overnight, we are going to have challenges in absorption as well, that we are working on dealing with even while this discussion is taking place.  So it's not as black and white as you would -- as some would lead you to believe.  And, at this point, it has not at all inhibited our ability to provide our forces downrange with the support they need this year. 


                Q     But Afghanistan could absorb, say, 20,000 more -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- I don't have those numbers for you. 


                Q     Come to a conclusion however privately about the way --  


                MR. MORRELL:  I think I'm going to leave it to what I've said which is, I'm not going to get into the views that he's expressed to the president.   


                I mean, he believes that his advice and counsel, and frankly that of everybody else involved in this process, should remain private while these pre-decisional discussions are still ongoing.  And so --  




                Q     Has he made a recommendation to the president?   


                MR. MORRELL:  Again I'm going to leave it as I've characterized it.  His -- he believes his advice and counsel, whatever he has expressed to the president, should remain private while these discussions are under way.   


                Okay, Nancy.   


                Q     Geoff, I wanted to follow up.   


                On Afghanistan, has the White House asked for cost estimates for the various scenarios in Afghanistan?   


                MR. MORRELL:  I would -- sorry, have they asked for cost estimates?   


                I don't believe they've asked us for cost estimates.  We may be doing our own costing analysis.  But I don't believe there has been a tasker for, give me the cost associated with whatever -- however many options might be on the table.   


                Q     And do you know how many scenarios that you're making those estimates for and what the --  


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't and even if -- I don't.  But if I did, I wouldn't want to share it anyway.   


                Q     Okay, I'm sorry, and is that cost estimate strictly on the cost of training Afghan forces?  Or is it also for just the deploying of forces?  Because those are two --  


                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, the training of forces in Afghanistan has already been provided for, within the -- within the OCO for next year.  We have already budgeted the growth rate.   


                You know, going -- by October of 2010, to be at 134,000 has already been budgeted.  Obviously the NATO Training Mission- Afghanistan and General McChrystal are calling for even higher levels of forces in Afghanistan.   


                But that's in -- that's -- we've got to get -- we've got to get to 134, by October of '10, before we can figure out how to get to whatever the number is going to be three years from now.   


                But that -- those numbers have been budgeted and have already been provided for in the -- in the OCO for next year.   


                Q     Then the budgeting would be for the cost of deploying however many forces or even withdrawing.   


                MR. MORRELL:  How would additional forces -- what would that -- what would the bill be associated with that?  I mean, obviously there's a cost associated with sending one, two, three, 20,000, 30,000, however many thousand.   


                There is an additional -- there's an additional cost associated with that.  And so we obviously have to -- have to account for that as well.   




                Q     So what is -- how does that relate to any discussion of another supplemental being necessary or related to it?  There's some discussion about whether another supplemental would be necessary.   


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know what the status is or the -- I mean, I think it depends on what the decision is.  I mean, I -- there hasn't been a decision made.  I don't know what's being contemplated.  And I think that's very contingent on what the president decides.   


                And obviously the budgeteers and the White House will work together and figure out the best way to fund any additional forces, if that's the decision that's made.  But I don't -- we're not there yet.   


                Yeah, Courtney.   


                Q     On H1N1 and Guantanamo, are there vaccinations that are on the way there now?  And how many?  And when will they --  


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't believe there's anything en route to Guantanamo now.   


                Q     (Off mike) -- when they should arrive, if they --  


                MR. MORRELL:  I think you've heard from Bryan yesterday that I think there's some expectation that they could arrive by the end of the month.   


                But I also hope that nationwide -- I mean, I've seen some of these reports that nationwide we may be able to have enough vaccine out there, to deal with the demand, by that time.   


                So this may all be a moot point. 


                Q     Are going by the end of the -- (off mike)? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know.  I mean, we only -- we've got 2,600 personnel down there.  Hopefully an adequate number to deal with our personnel. 


                Q     And then -- (off mike) -- the secretary and Afghanistan, for a while you were characterizing him as still being in the decisional stage, and -- 


                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'm not going to -- the beauty is, now I'm not characterizing where he is, other than to -- saying that his -- that -- 


                Q     (Off mike) -- so he's -- so he's -- (off mike)? 


                Q     (Laughs.) 


                MR. MORRELL:  No.  I'm not -- I'm not saying that either.  I'm saying that --  


                Q     (Off mike) -- assume that -- (off mike). 


                MR. MORRELL:  I'm saying that whatever he's expressed to the president on this matter he wants to keep private.  That's all I can tell you. 




                Q     Just a very quick follow-up on the corruption comments that Admiral Mullen was making today.  So the position of the secretary remains that that should not affect the timing that the decision is made within, of additional troops to Afghanistan? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I have no reason to believe that the secretary's comments are no longer operational.  I mean, he said to you all when we were traveling in Asia, when this issue first came up, that the legitimacy question, the competency question is one that's not going to be answered with the outcome of an election.  It's one that's going to take weeks, months, if not years to solve.  And obviously he doesn't believe a decision about additional resources in Afghanistan can wait until those questions are ultimately answered. 


                Okay?  Luis? 


                Q     (Off mike.) 


                Q     Thank you.  I've had my hand up the whole time. 


                MR. MORRELL:  I didn't see you.  I'm sorry. 


                Q     I don't believe that for a second.   


                Senator Graham has proposed an amendment that would essentially rule out trying Gitmo detainees in U.S. courts by cutting off Justice funding.  Gates and Holder have since sent a letter to Reid and McConnell asking them to oppose that amendment.  So would Gates have a problem seeing KSM, for instance, tried in federal court and given the same constitutional rights as every other American citizen? 


                MR. MORRELL:  I am familiar with the letter you speak of.  I think the best place to direct this question is to the Department of Justice.  I think, yes, it was co-signed by the secretary of Defense, but I think the spirit of this letter is that we don't want the Congress to limit our options just as we are in the process of trying to determine the best way to adjudicate those who are held at the Guantanamo detention facility.  


                So we are very much in the midst of this discussion, hoping to come to a conclusion to it shortly.  And it is not helpful to that process, in the estimation of the attorney general or the secretary of Defense, for the Congress to be limiting our options there.   


                I don't think he's weighing in one way or the other with regards to where any particular detainees should be tried.  I think he is taking exception to the legislative branch, in this case, limiting the options of the executive branch. 


                Thank you all.










Additional Links

Stay Connected