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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
February 25, 2010

                MR. MORRELL:  Hey, guys.  I apologize for being late.  I'll make it up with a short opening statement.  Good to see you all. 

 

                A couple of scheduling items.  First, the secretary is right now on Capitol Hill meeting with about 40 senators at the Democratic Policy Committee luncheon.  This is the second such luncheon that he has been invited to attend, and it's part of his -- really his ongoing outreach and his continuing engagement with the Hill.  

 

                There's no set agenda for this luncheon.  It is an open -- it's an opportunity for an open and frank discussion between the secretary and the Democratic Caucus. 

 

                When he returns to the Pentagon later this afternoon, the secretary will sit down with Ehud Barak, the Israeli minister of defense.  It is the latest in a series of ongoing consultations with our close ally, reconfirming our unshakable commitment to Israeli security. 

 

                Over the course of the past year, they have met four times and exchanged multiple phone calls.   

 

                Today the two will pick up their discussion on a range of important issues, such as bilateral security cooperation, most notably ballistic missile defense; the Middle East peace process, focusing on our continuing support to the process through Lieutenant General Dayton's work training Palestinian Authority security forces; and of course Iran's nuclear program, where we share many of the same concerns as Israel and where Iran's failure to respond to a year of sustained and genuine outreach has left the international community no choice but to pursue a robust regime of sanctions. 

 

                With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.  Ann? 

 

                Q     Pakistan has claimed they've rounded up half of the Afghan Taliban leadership, and there was another report today of a CIA strike of another high-value target.  What should we make of these captures and killings as they relate to the war?  Should we expect -- do you see this as, you know, something that will turn the tide of the war? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I can go through this again for you.  I'm happy to.  I'm not going to speak to any specific operation, any specific capture or kill.  Generally, I will say to you, as we've been saying for practically the last year, that the commitment that the Pakistani government, the military, its intelligence forces have demonstrated over the past several months to combating this threat within their midst is commendable.  We laud them for it.  We are here to help them in any which way they are comfortable as they continue to pursue this enemy that's a threat not just to us and to our efforts in Afghanistan, but obviously to the Pakistani people as well.  So --

 

Q     (Off mike) -- 

                 

                MR. MORRELL:  -- as to whether -- as to whether or not this will be a game changer -- listen, time will tell.  I'm not in a position -- I don't think anybody's in a position to tell you whether or not this will -- what's taken place over the past several weeks, if not months, will change the course of events.   

 

                Clearly the momentum at least has been perceived to have been with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  And to some extent, the situation is the same in Pakistan, with the Pakistani Taliban.   

 

                And so just as we are attempting to change the dynamic on the ground in Afghanistan, with the surge of American forces, the surge of coalition forces, and we're now seeing signs that the deterioration that had marked the situation for months, in Afghanistan, has now -- has now halted, I think that people with regards to Pakistan are hopeful that the same trend is taking place there, that their efforts are paying dividends and that the Taliban feels as though they are under more pressure than they have been under certainly within the last few years.   

 

                And so we are hopeful that our combined efforts on both sides of the border will undermine the confidence and the capability of the Afghan Taliban and of the Pakistan Taliban and that more of their members, low-level fighters, will look to -- will turn to us, lay down their weapons, respect the democratically elected governments in both countries and want to reintegrate into society.  And then ultimately at the upper levels, there will be an effort for reconciliation between some of the Taliban leaders.   

 

                But the key as you know -- you've heard us say it time and time again -- is changing the dynamic on the ground, reversing the downward slide that was apparent in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, so that the momentum is with the governments of both countries and that -- so that the enemy feels enough pressure that they want to become a part of society.   

 

                Q     Sir, yeah, I would like to ask you about Secretary Gates' meeting with Minister Barak -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let's just -- I'm here for you, but just finish on -- let's just -- were you still on the Af-Pak region, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Thom?   

 

                Q     When we were in Istanbul for the NATO ministerial with the secretary, we were trying to figure out, you know, getting a sense of how they were doing on troop contributions.  We were told repeatedly, the ministerial isn't where it happens; wait for the NATO Force Generation Conference.  That force-gen conference was held this week.  Not surprisingly, the contributions were very disappointing.   

 

                And you're still not nearly at, I think, half the trainers you need.  Is the secretary disappointed in the result of the force-gen conference?  And what is the next step now for this building and the U.S. government to try to get the trainers that everyone says are the real key to success? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Tom, I have not heard the secretary express any disappointment about that specific effort that was under way this week with regards to the force-generation conference.  I mean, I can look to my NATO counterpart who tells us that there were commitments of another 600 trainers on top of the thousand previously committed.  I think that's getting us closer to where we need to be with regards to making up for the deficit, the gap, the shortfall, the -- in trainers.  

 

                I think what we try to do -- and you were with us, so you saw this effort firsthand -- what we've tried to do is work with some of our allies who have committed additional forces to Afghanistan in the wake of President Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. forces and work with them on whether or not they may want to reconsider the mix of forces they are sending so that it -- more -- so that they can perhaps get more trainers over there rather than trigger-pullers.  And I think you saw the Italians do it, and I spoke to it last week.   

 

                I think you have seen other countries who are looking at that right now, trying to figure out, hey, if the demand really is the trainers, if that is the long pole in the tent, if that is indeed the key to our ultimate exit from Afghanistan, then, yes, let's figure out if we can provide more of them.  And I -- and I think we're heartened to see that a number of countries are right now figuring out if they can send more. 

 

                Yeah, Al. 

 

                Q     With this change of attitude, policy and now action in Pakistan, how satisfied are department officials about the role of the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] in all of this? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, I mean, I don't know that I'm the best person to speak to the ISI.  I mean, I'd direct you to the -- to the CIA or to the DNI.  I -- I'm just not familiar enough with them to speak to it. 

 

                I mean, I think overall, obviously -- I've spoken to it several times, that this is -- I've noted, you know, the government's efforts, the military's efforts, the intelligence efforts, because I think they all need to work together in order to bring about results.  And I think we've been -- I mean, what's been done over the past several months could not have been done without the support of the ISI.  But much beyond that, I'm just not -- not capable of going into. 

 

                Q     Can you say whether there is a sense that they're still sort of playing both sides of the issue? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm just not the best person to ask that. 

 

                Yeah, Donna. 

 

                Q     Regarding these events in Marja, with the stand-up of the government, how do you see this as supporting the military operations that are there, and what's the significance of the ceremony today? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think this is -- you're speaking of the turning over of the governance -- government center.  Yeah, it's -- listen, I think what we've seen over the last several days are things trending in a very positive direction. 

 

                I would note to you that there have -- yesterday, at least -- and this is just anecdotal, but I think it's -- it does speak to how things are progressing.  Yesterday, there were more shuras taking place in Marja than there were troops in contact.  And I think there were -- there were five shuras, in all, that took place yesterday. 

 

                And fewer than a handful of our troops came in contact with the enemy yesterday.  That's the kind of progress that we -- that we've been looking for and that we are heartened to see. 

 

                I think the transfer of the government center is symbolic of where we are in this operation.  We are transitioning from the clearing phase into the holding phase.  And I think that in talking to my colleagues in Afghanistan, it looks as though much of Marja is now under Afghan and coalition control, and that the locals are -- have been very welcoming of us.   

 

                Many of them are returning to their homes.  The number of internally displaced people who are signing up for assistance from the government is diminishing each day as more and more people return to their homes.  Bazaars are open again, and they are full, I'm told, of goods, which speaks of the fact that there is clearly a freedom of movement that allows commerce to reemerge. 

 

                Now, that said, although signs point to progress, it is still clearly a very dangerous situation.  I mean, we are still losing troops.  I noticed an announcement that went out today, although it wasn't connected to Marja, I don't believe.  But we're still losing troops, and the biggest threat to them remains IEDs.   

 

                So we have to be very careful about how we progress into those areas that are not under Afghan and coalition control, and so we're doing so in a very thorough, methodical way so as to alleviate any potential for civilian or coalition force casualties. 

 

                Yeah, Adam. 

 

                Q     Can we switch to Iran, or is this -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me -- let me just finish on one thought on this, if we're going to leave -- if we're going to leave Afghanistan. 

 

                I noticed some of the reporting, I guess it was, over the weekend. Some of -- one piece in particular was taking issue with the performance of the Afghan national security forces.   

 

                And I was a little bit taken aback by it, because historically, and I think most of the reporting reflects this, no one has ever had any beef with how the Afghan security forces fight or their willingness to fight, their willingness to engage in combat.   

 

                And I've gone back to people downrange, people in this building, trying to get to the ground truth on this.  And what I'm hearing back is that our units do not have issues with their willingness to fight.   

 

                In fact, these guys are every bit in the midst of this operation. They match us one for one on the ground.  And they are -- they are in the fight.  The issue has always been, with the Afghan national security forces, all the other things: the ability to sustain themselves, intelligence, logistics, those kinds of things.   

 

                We've known that.  We're building an infantry-centric force.  We are trying to build a force to get as many people into the fight as possible, so that the Afghans can take ownership of security operations in their country.   

 

                We've always realized that we're going to have to support them for quite some time, on all those other support components to the fight.  And, but no one has ever questioned their willingness or their ability to fight.  And what I'm hearing from our guys is that they are -- they are every bit as in it as we could hope them to be.   

 

                Okay.  Joe.   

 

                Let me just -- one last thing, because Mik said -- I think Mik asked last week “But how is that reflected in the casualties,” I think, Courtney, he asked.   

 

                I mean, if we're taking -- if U.S. forces are taking casualties and the Afghans aren't, that would seem to be an indicator that they're not in a fight.   

 

                I guess the answer to that is that the enemy has a say in this as well, and that we are clearly a more prized target than an Afghan security force member would be. 

 

                And so I don't think it -- the fact that they have taken fewer casualties is a reflection on their willingness or ability to fight. And what's more, I think it also reflects the fact that, in terms of the route-clearance operations that are being done, our units are obviously out there forward.  They're the ones who are making sure that the roads are clear and therefore coming into more immediate contact with IEDs. 

 

                Q     I think the argument that my colleague would make if he were here is that -- well, you just said that -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  He's welcome to attend. 

 

                Q     Well, he's out today.  But you just said the IEDs are still the main target -- or the main killer of forces down there.  And IEDs seem to be pretty indiscriminate.  They don't seem to choose a nationality.  So -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  And that's why what I just said to you is, our route-clearance units are obviously comprised of people with technical expertise, engineering expertise.  They're comprised of U.S. forces. So when they move forward to clear the routes, those are mostly U.S. forces that are going forward.  When people come in contact with the enemy, I think it's a misreading of the situation to suggest that there's an unwillingness, a lack of willingness on the part of the Afghan forces to engage in that situation. 

 

                Okay? 

 

                Joe. 

 

                Q     Yeah, okay.  Let me go back to your opening statement.  You mentioned the peace process.  What this building do you think can offer to help Senator Mitchell’s mission in the Middle East?  And second, given what you know about the Israeli position regarding Iraq, do you think the United States is on the same page regarding how to deal with Iran?  Because we see that there are sort of contradictions between the U.S. policy of pushing the sanctions and the Israeli policy of thinking about the military actions.  So if you could answer these? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  So the first question was about what can this building do to support the peace process?  More than it's doing now?   

 

                I mean, right how our primary focus has been through Lieutenant General Dayton's efforts in terms of building a Palestinian security force that is able to -- that is able to bring a measure of confidence on the Israeli part that indeed -- that the Palestinian Authority will be able to maintain a level of security within their boundaries, that there will not be attacks from either the West Bank or Gaza that would endanger innocent Israelis. 

 

                With regards -- and that's where the focus of our efforts is.  I mean, I know of nothing beyond supporting General Dayton and his efforts. 

 

                With regards to whether or not we are on the same page with Israel, I think that's fundamentally a question for the State Department.  I -- you know, listen, I've heard -- I think the Israelis have been understanding, if not outright supportive, of President Obama's policy of trying engagement with the Israelis -- or with the -- sorry -- with the Iranians.  And obviously we have come to a point where those efforts, that outstretched hand, has not been reciprocated -- in fact, it's been largely spurned -- and that we are now simultaneously not closing the door on engagement but simultaneously pursuing the path of pressure.  I think that is clearly welcomed by the Israelis. 

 

                But I would note, as I just did, that even as we go down the pressure track, even as we go around the world trying to solicit support from our allies to bring sanctions against Iran, to make them compliant with the international strictures on their nuclear program, we keep that door open to engagement.  So just because we're going down the pressure track doesn't mean the engagement track is closed off.   

 

                But we -- you know, time is clearly of the essence, and we need to pursue pressure, even as we keep an outstretched hand. 

 

                Q     But, Geoff, Minister Barak yesterday said in New York that Israel considers Iran as an imminent -- or their nuclear program as an imminent threat.  Do you share the same point of view with him? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, let's let the conversation take place, and you and I can talk afterwards to see if there were any points of disagreement. 

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let's let the conversation take place. 

 

                David? 

 

                Q     Has General Odierno requested a combat brigade remain in Iraq after the August deadline? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  General Odierno has made no such -- no such proposal; nor has one been approved by this department.  It is still very much our plan here in this building to meet the president's policy guidelines to have our U.S. forces in Iraq down to 50,000 by the end of August. 

 

                Q     It's all combat troops out, right? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Combat units -- combat units, BCT's out, replaced by advisory-and-assistance brigades.  But regardless of what the units are, the total number, as the president has mandated, is no more than 50,000.  That is what we are planning for, that's what we are on target for, and that's where we are headed. 

 

                Q     So it would be different if you had a full-up combat brigade remaining in Iraq till August, correct?  That's different from the -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, there are two things.  There's two things. One is, no more than 50,000.  The other is, combat brigades out.  I can tell you that, come September 1st, there will be no combat brigades in Iraq. 

 

                Q     Can I follow on that?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.   

 

                Q     If in fact General Odierno does come back and say he thinks the situation in the north is not stable enough, to let all combat brigades go out, is this -- is the secretary prepared to accept his recommendations and to go to the president and say, you know, I endorse General Odierno's recommendation; we do need to keep more troops in there.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again we're conflating things.  But there's an issue about combat troops and troops.  Regardless there has been no request made.  There has been no request approved.  We are going to be at 50,000 forces come the end of August, as we can now foresee it.   

 

                Q     But will the secretary support General Odierno, if he does come back and say that?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Will he support --  

 

                Q     (Off mike.)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  There has -- as I said a couple times previously, there has been no such request.  So let's see if there is such a request, then what the response would be.   

 

                How can I respond to something that has not happened and that is a hypothetical at this point?   

 

                Q     In the past when you've talked about -- not just Iraq but in Afghanistan, when you've talked about the situation, the numbers of troops fluctuating, you've always said, and Secretary Gates has said as well, that it will depend on the situation on the ground and the commander's best advice.   

 

                So it seems like a relatively straightforward question.  If General Odierno does come back and say, I know that the president has laid out this plan, but here's my recommendation --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again the question is prefaced with an “if.” Therefore it's inherently hypothetical.  I don't -- I'm not in a position to give you an answer to something that has not been asked of us yet.   

 

                What I would tell you is, the commander in chief is the one who can ultimately make a decision as to whether he wants to deviate from the course he has set.  But thus far he has set a very clear course. Come September 1st, there will be no more than 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.  And there will no longer be combat units there.   

 

                Now, will there be men and women in uniform, in Kevlar, carrying M-4s and M-16s?   

 

                Yes.  Clearly.  Is self-protection critical, no matter how many forces you have on the ground?  Yes. 

 

                But the mission itself is going to transition, come September the 1st, even more than it already has.  And it really started to transition, obviously, back in June when we pulled our units out of cities.  And we've become much more of a support force.  But it will become entirely or nearly entirely a force dedicated to advising and assisting and supporting the Iraqi security forces as they go about providing security for their country. 

 

                Obviously, as the president laid out back in -- a year ago at this point; back in February, a year ago -- we will still be conducting counterterrorism missions along with the Iraqis.  There will still be a need to have the capacity to go after people who threaten innocent Iraqis and the government itself, and so that capability will reside with the units that remain after September the 1st.  But the function of that force will be to advise and assist the Iraqis.   

 

                Mike. 

 

                Q     Are the secretary, the chairman and the service branch chiefs not on the same page when it comes to "don't ask, don't tell?"   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Are they not?  No, I mean, listen, I -- you -- they've all now testified ad nauseam on this, so they're the ones who are best to speak to their -- to their positions on this.  What I saw was fundamental agreement that the process laid out by Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen is the right course; that before we do anything, before Congress takes any action on this, we need the rest of this year, or thereabouts, to review the potential impact on a change in this law on the force.   

 

                And so I saw, I think, universal agreement among the chiefs that this time is necessary. 

 

                And I think you saw a few of them caution some members that it -- that it would be, in their opinion, unadvisable to move before this survey, this review, has been complete. 

 

                This would mark a dramatic change in, obviously, how we do business, and it would -- it would come at a time when we are, obviously, under extraordinary stress.  And so I think everybody involved believes that we need the time that it will require to conduct a review of this matter, from soup to nuts, to make sure we understand all the potential implications of changing the law. 

 

                Q     But the commandant said today that he thinks the current policy works, and that his best military advice to the committee he was testifying in front of, the secretary, the commander in chief, was:  Don't change it. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  That's -- and listen, and that's the -- that is his obligation under the law, to provide them his best military advice. And he is fulfilling his statutory responsibility by doing so. 

 

                I think you've also heard from the commandant that he supports very much the review that is -- that is under way right now, and looks forward to, as we all do, being informed by what comes out of it.  And I don't think he is closed to the notion of learning something through this process. 

 

                And we don't know what's going to be at the end of this, what this review is going to tell us.  The whole point of all this stuff is that there are no dedicated, U.S.-military-specific analyses that have been done that can inform us yet about what the impact would be. We've had a lot of stuff done on similar organizations, foreign militaries. 

 

                This is going to be entirely focused on our particular culture, our particular needs. 

 

                And I think everybody is supportive of this process so that we can, perhaps, see what the -- what the -- what the challenges, what the opportunities may be associated with the change in the law. 

 

                Q     Yes, but the secretary wants Congress to hold off on acting on legislation until the end of the review? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think the secretary made clear to you all when he testified that he -- that we need the time to review this.  He's pledged that this will be done before the end of this calendar year. I think he also said in testimony that it would then require some time for implementation.  So I'd urge you to go back and take a look at that. 

 

                But clearly we need at least the time to do a thorough review of the impact of a change in this, you know, now-15-year-old policy. 

 

                Yeah, Yochi. 

 

                Q     On -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This law, pardon me -- not policy. 

 

                Q     Has the secretary received or been briefed on General Ham's accountability review into Fort Hood?  And do you know if that will be made public? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Anything else on this?  Are we all done with this? Mike, you had your hand up. 

 

                Q     Yeah, it was sort of related, but on a social issue. General Casey earlier this week told the Hill that he supported women in combat.  Where's the secretary on this?  Is he -- is he maybe going to follow suit and maybe start pushing for putting women in more combat positions -- (inaudible) women are kind of positioned now in combat?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think what General Casey said was that he thinks it's time to look at it.  I don't know that he expressed outright support for it.  But I'd urge you to go back and look at his words. 

 

                Your fundamental question, though, is this something that the secretary has thought about or supports -- 

 

                Q     Yeah, where is he? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Frankly, I don't think it's been something that he's discussed with General Casey or any of the other chiefs, for that matter. 

 

                And I think, you know, they're the ones who are closest to it and should probably be the ones who you should address your questions to.   

 

                I think he, like all of us, recognizes the enormous contribution that women in uniform are providing to our war efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere, and that even though the law prohibits them from deploying in combat units that are below the brigade level, clearly, effectively, many women in uniform are in combat situations every day.  Be they helicopter pilots, be they medics, be they logistical support personnel or resupply missions, whatever it may be, women find themselves in dangerous combat situations every day.  And I think we've lost over the course of these two wars, you know, more than a hundred -- I think 125 women in uniform.  So whether or not they are designed to be in combat, whether or not that is the -- what the law and what our policy is driven towards, they clearly are finding themselves in those situations. 

 

                I know of no -- having said all that, I know of no move afoot internally to try to adjust the law, as it's currently constituted, that would create more latitude for women to find themselves in these dangerous situations. 

 

                Q     The secretary hasn't asked for input from the -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  He has -- he has not.  He has not. 

 

                Sorry, Yochi.   

 

                Q     Yeah.  Again, going back to Fort Hood, has the secretary received either in a written form or been briefed on General Ham's accountability review into the -- (inaudible) -- Major Hasan? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I -- not to my knowledge.  I think this -- again, this resides with the Army as well.  I think it's something that will be handled by Secretary McHugh, and I think at some point, once he renders a decision on how we wants to handle the accountability portion of this, obviously it will be shared with the secretary.  But I don't think we're at that point yet. 

 

                Q     Will it be made public?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know.  I don't know.   

 

                Okay, most things in this building, even if they aren't designed to be made public, are made public.   

 

                Q     Hopefully.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, hopefully from your perspective.   

 

                Yes, yes, yes.  Let me go to Chris.  And then we'll go back that way.   

 

                All right, yeah, Chris.   

 

                Q     The Armed Services Committee investigation found a number of problems with contractors in Afghanistan.  I mean, in light of some of the problems that they detailed and the lack of oversight, does the Pentagon need to take another look at continuing to award contracts, to companies like Xe/Blackwater, and another look at whether it does exercise enough oversight?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, we've learned a lot of lessons over the past eight or nine years.  And clearly contracting oversight is one of them.   

 

                We've made a lot of mistakes in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  And we've tried to address those mistakes in a number of ways, one of which was in the 2010 fiscal year budget, the secretary has added, and I'd have to get you the precise number.   

 

                I think we nearly doubled our contracting oversight force, professionals in house to monitor the awarding and execution of contracts, to guard against fraud, abuse, waste.  And I think this, the FY '11 budget, reflects that same commitment.   

 

                So I think that while we had some problems initially, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan was never as bad as it was in Iraq. I think in fact when our inspector general, when things were not going well in Iraq, went over and took a look at things, I think he came back with the belief that things -- that they had learned lessons in Afghanistan, without being told, based upon the mistakes that were made in Iraq.   

 

                That said, clearly there is room for improvement across the board.   

 

                We're continuing to look for ways to tighten our controls, so that there can't be any waste, fraud or abuse.  And we're constantly working towards that end. 

 

                Q     And just to follow up, though, I mean, it's one thing to say, well, we learned from mistakes early on.  But these were things -- you know, guns being taken in 2007, 2008, that they weren't authorized to use; a fatal shooting where two contractors are now charged with murder, what, 10 months ago.  I mean, these aren't in the very distant past.  This is seven, eight years after the war started in Afghanistan. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.  What I would say is, clearly, there have been individual cases where there have been problems with individuals, groups -- small groups of people.  And I think that those have been -- those people have been held to account, whether it be by whatever oversight we can -- we have over them; by the host nation in which they are operating as well, because these people are not immune from prosecution there.  And I think it would be misrepresenting the situation, Chris, to suggest that there has been a spate of occurrences that have taken place, a spate of violations of the law that have not been addressed. 

 

                Clearly, there have been things that have happened.  There have been unfortunate incidents.  Not to dismiss them by any means, but we have a lot of people doing a lot of work over a long period of time, and we have had problems over the course of that time.  But they have been addressed to the best of our ability, and when they haven't -- and we've had to learn hard lessons.  We've learned them and we've, hopefully, tightened matters so that, going forward, we'll be better when things happen.  But as far as I know, people are being held to account for the mistakes, the violations that they have made. 

 

                Okay, Tony. 

 

                Q     Yeah , domestic question on the --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  On the tanker -- let me guess.   

 

                Q     You're wrong. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Really!  Tanker, one-day story.  You're done, huh?   

 

                Q     Well, I should have bet you.  I could have made some money off it -- 

 

                Q     (Off mike.)  (Laughter.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I -- here we are, one day after the release of the much-anticipated RFP and no question from Tony Capaccio.   

 

                Q     Kiss her goodbye.  This is on the second engine, another one of your crosses to bear.  Ike Skelton, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, today issued a statement --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I heard.  Yes. 

 

                Q     -- saying your business case that you sent up -- you, the Pentagon -- was shortsighted.  Basically, you were looking at the short-term benefits rather than the long-term benefits.  Can you address his concerns? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I haven't seen -- I actually don't know what particularly was sent up to him.  So I'd have to take a look at it.   

 

                I mean, I think the bottom line is, the secretary has made it clear to you all, and he's made it clear to the Congress time and time again, that the pursuit of a second engine, in his estimation, is a colossal waste of money, and that it will not result in any competition between companies, because what will likely happen is that the different services will purchase their own engines.   

 

                The -- probably the -- our foreign partners will likely purchase a -- you know, a Rolls Royce engine.  I think the Navy and the Marine Corps will obviously purchase one engine.  So the only question with regards to competition becomes the Air Force.   

 

                So I don't think that he believes that there -- that this would result in a true competition between engines akin to the -- to the so-called great engine wars of the '80s, which, you know, despite how -- you know, revisionist history would suggest that it resulted in some great savings to the taxpayer.  I think the actual analysis shows that, if there was a benefit, it was negligible. 

 

                But bottom line is, you know, we've now added -- between the 1.3 billion [dollars] that Congress provided -- this is since 2007 -- Congress has provided an additional 1.3 billion [dollars] in RDT&E [Research, Development, Test & Evaluation] funding for the alternate engine, despite our recommendation that it be terminated.  There is -- to complete that engine would cost us another $2.9 billion.  So we're looking at $4.2 billion being spent on an engine that we believe is not necessary and that likely will have the same problems in development that the Pratt & Whitney engine has already had, and that this money can clearly be better spent buying capabilities that our warfighters do need.  This is a luxury we cannot afford. 

 

                Q     Don't -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  And it is such a redline with the secretary that he announced to you up front when he rolled out this budget that it is no longer a conditional veto recommendation on his part, regardless of whether it impacts the overall program or not.  In his estimation, if it is indeed included in the markup that's done on the Hill, he will recommend to the president that the -- that the bill be vetoed. 

 

                Q     The whole defense bill? With all defense spending he (inaudible) over an engine?  You got to be kidding. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  He said it -- he said it very clearly to you all last month, earlier this month. 

 

                Q     Skelton's point here was that you focused on the short-term cost, like you just did on the 4 billion [dollars], versus 20-year lifecycle cost that you could get from the competition.  What's your response to that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'd have to -- I'd have to look at it, Tony.  I mean, I'm not so sure that I'm armed with the lifecycle cost of this, but, I mean, at the very least, if we already know that it costs too much up -- the bottom line is, this is sort of like the tanker.   

 

                People say, oh, the solution to the tanker is to split the buy.   

 

                To split the buy and award it to two companies means that you've got to contract enough planes up front to make it economically feasible for both companies to want to produce these planes, which would then force us to buy more planes up front than we want or can afford.   

 

                So regardless of what the long-term impact of pursuing the alternate engine is, in the near term, it costs us too much.  It's $4 billion that we can't afford to spend, on things that we don't need or are duplicative.  We need that money to support our warfighters in the fights they are in now.  That's what our focus is on.   

 

                Yes, my Jayhawk friend.  Yoso.  What's up?   

 

                Q     Yes.  A former dean of SAIS [Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies], Dr. George Packard, recently wrote an article on U.S.-Japan relations in Foreign Affairs magazine, in which he states, in 1966, the U.S. military secretly transported nuclear weapons from Okinawa to Honshu, Japan's main island, in flagrant violation of the 1960 agreement.   

 

                He was a U.S. government official then.  He knew what was going on.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I wasn't here in 1966.   

 

                (Cross talk.)   

 

                I wasn't born.  Thank you.  I wasn't born in 1966.  (Laughter.) Just barely.   

 

                Listen, I can't speak to his specific allegation.  What I would do is repeat to you, you know, our policy on this matter.   

 

                You know, the government -- we understand the special sentiment that the Japanese people have with regards to nuclear weapons.  And we have faithfully honored our obligations under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.  And we will continue to do so.   

 

                Yes, in the far back. 

 

                Q     What is the current status of the efforts to eliminate the "don't ask, don't tell" policy? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think we've already spoken to this, but a thumbnail sketch is that there is a -- there is a review team that is being built right now, headed by a four-star general, Carter Ham, from U.S. Forces, U.S. Army Europe; and Jeh Johnson, who is the general counsel here for the department.  And they are building a team that over the next, you know, 10 months or so -- a little less than that -- will be reviewing every aspect of the potential change in law and, as I mentioned earlier, the potential complications or opportunities associated with such a change. 

 

                And we'll -- you know, this is going to be an ongoing process, and we're likely not going to be providing updates on where they stand in that review.  We want to let them do their work and focus on it. And at some point, probably in December, we'll get -- we'll get a sense of what they've found. 

 

                In the interim, as you know, there's a 45-day internal effort under way to figure out whether or not we can do some things within the confines of the current law to apply it more humanely, particularly to people who have been outed by third parties.  And that is something we'll probably be able to share with you in the coming -- in the coming days or weeks.  Okay?  I think it'll be before the 45 days.  Okay? 

 

                Yes, sir. 

 

                Q     Yes, Satoshi Ogawa, from the Yomiuri Shimbun. 

 

                My question is about Futenma relocation plan.  One of the Japanese ruling coalition parties, People's New Party, asked the Japanese government to negotiate with the U.S. government with a new FRF [Futenma Replacement Facility] plan, which is building smaller helipads in Camp Schwab, in Nago. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  In camp where?  I'm sorry? 

 

                Q     Camp Schwab. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     (Inaudible) Camp Schwab. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  What did you say?  A helipad? 

 

                Q     And I'm wondering if the Pentagon has heard any new proposal or new idea on -- including this new -- in Camp Schwab idea from Japanese government.  And what's your position on this new idea? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think what I would -- I'm not going to get into the business of responding to every slight development that comes out of -- that comes out of different parties associated with this issue. What I will do is repeat what I've told you now time and time again, that we are closely consulting with the Japanese government on the Futenma relocation issue.  We obviously respect the prime minister's desire to review this issue internally and report back in May on what their views are of this.   

 

                But our position on the Futenma replacement facility and the overall road map, the realignment road map, have not changed.  We believe that it's fundamentally the best route to ultimately reducing -- reducing some of the stress that's associated with -- all of our forces in Okinawa, and while at the same time providing the security that the Japanese clearly wish to have by having U.S. forces in and around them. 

 

                So let's just let this course take -- follow through over the next few months.  I think we'll -- it's only a couple months away to May, and we'll learn more then.

 

                Q     So you haven't received any new -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, as I said to you, I'm not going to get into what we have or haven't received or what this person says or that person says, this idea, that idea. 

 

                The prime minister of Japan is reviewing this within his government. In May he said he's going to report back.  We anxiously look forward to hearing what they have -- what conclusions they have reached.  What I can tell you in the interim is, we still believe the realignment roadmap is the best way for both of us to proceed, and the best way for the region, for that matter. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Geoff, just something quick, housekeeping question on -- back on the Odierno issue.  You'd said there was nothing being sent to the -- to the secretary, nothing was in the pipeline.  Is the secretary expecting anything from General Odierno?  (Laughter.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You're asking me to now look into his mind and foretell what he is expecting.   

 

                Q     I didn't know if something was telegraphed or anything. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, no.  What I will say is what I said to you when this was first raised by Mr. Martin.  No such proposal has been submitted, nor has any such proposal been approved.  We are determined to meet the president's goal, his policy that we will have no more than 50,000 forces in Iraq come September.  And that's where we are right now, and that's what our focus is on. 

 

                Q     Has Odierno discussed such a proposal with the secretary? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not comfortable getting into the commander's discussions with the Secretary of Defense at this point. 

 

                Q     Just to be clear, it's fair to say that at this point the plan is the priority, as opposed to the commander on the ground's recommendations?  The commander on the ground's recommendations will have no impact at this point? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The commander on the ground has made no recommendation, has made no request, has offered no proposal at this point.  Okay? 

 

                Q     But I’m saying going forward -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Going forward -- let's see what happens going forward.  What I can tell you -- all I can tell you is what the status is right now.  And the status is right now that no plan has been submitted, no plan has been approved and we are on target to meet the president's goal of having 50,000 U.S. forces in Iraq come September. 

 

                Luis Martinez. 

 

                Q     Just a clarifier on the 50,000 number, which, you know, you stated -- obviously the administration's goal.  The number six advisory and assist brigade is a number that's been associated as belonging under that 50,000 cap.  Is it feasible for Odierno to work in seven advisory assistance brigades without presidential permission, or is it just the number 50,000 --   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I -- listen, this is a significant transition in our -- in our seven-year effort in Iraq, and so the commander in chief is clearly involved in decision making about force levels, composition of forces and so forth in Iraq going forward. 

 

                As you noted, this is not something that's mandated by the security agreement with the Iraqis.  This is an -- a presidential policy, but it's one the secretary fully supports.  It's one, I believe, you know, the chairman, the CENTCOM commander and the commander of the field supports.   

 

                Obviously, you know, the commander -- the commander in chief reserves the right to make adjustments based upon the situation.  But he and everybody in this building are working towards what is his policy:  50,000, come the end of August.  And that's where we are on track for, and that's what we are working towards. 

 

                Q     We can reach that goal by readjusting the cap under 50,000 -- by readjusting from six AABs to seven? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, whatever the composition of that force is or will be, I can assure you will be a matter for discussion between the secretary and the chairman and the president of the United States. 

 

                Q     As it is right now, is it a firm six, or -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I actually don't -- I actually don't know what the composition -- I think it's actually five.  But let's see.  I mean, the number is what the policy -- the policy mandates the number. 

 

                The composition of those forces obviously the commander has, you know, latitude in dealing with obviously in consultation with the secretary, the CENTCOM commander, the chairman and, of course, the president of the United States.   

 

                Thank you all.

 

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