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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
March 30, 2010

                MR. MORRELL:  Hi, guys, sorry to keep you waiting.  Good to see you all.  Let me just give you a quick rundown of the secretary's travel schedule.  Then I'll take your questions.   

 

                Thursday morning, the secretary will travel to Scott Air Force Base in Downstate Illinois.  There he will present United States Transportation Command with the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, for their outstanding support of our men and women in uniform.   

 

                Secretary Gates believes the members of TRANSCOM are among the unsung heroes of our military efforts around the world.  And this award allows him to personally thank this dedicated and unheralded team of professionals.   

 

                They provide for virtually all of our warfighter needs.  And without their tireless work, our missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and indeed around the world would eventually grind to a halt.   

 

                To give you some background on TRANSCOM, the command has over the last three years moved over 5 billion gallons of fuel, 8.5 million short tons of cargo and 5 million passengers.  But these numbers only tell part of the story.    

 

                One of the secretary's top priorities, as you all well know, is fielding lifesaving MRAPs and M-ATVs as quickly as possible to our combat forces.  TRANSCOM has responded superbly to this urgent requirement and, since late-2007, has delivered roughly 450 vehicles per month.   

 

                Their invaluable support extends beyond the battlefield.  In responding to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, TRANSCOM has provided over 2 million meals, more than 5 million liters of water to the island, in ongoing humanitarian and disaster-relief operations.   

 

                General Petraeus will join Secretary Gates for the award presentation, which by the way is open to the press.  Afterwards the secretary will head out to Colorado Springs where, on Friday, he will spend the day with cadets at the Air Force Academy.   

 

                This is something he has done in the past and enjoys tremendously.  So the secretary has carved some time out, in his schedule, to do it again.   

 

                He will teach a couple of political-science classes in the morning, and then address the entire cadet wing, after having lunch with a few future airmen.  The secretary, first and foremost, wants to thank them for volunteering to serve during a time of war.  He will also take the opportunity to offer some advice based upon his personal experience in serving eight presidents, as well as historical examples on leadership. 

 

                Over the course of the next month, Secretary Gates will also visit the Naval Academy and West Point, where he will engage with students in a similar way.  All of these events are closed-press, save for the remarks he will deliver in Annapolis on April the 7th as part of the Forrestal Lecture Series. 

 

                So with that out of the way, Ann, what have you got today? 

 

                Q     We -- in the past, we've heard Kandahar described as a series of operations that would shape the political environment, try to squeeze out the Taliban.  But recently, we've heard of this June date where we'll see an uptick of operations.  Can you provide us any more clarity on what will change come June in Kandahar? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I am always a little reticent to -- to forecast our operational intent from the podium, especially at this distance.  But let me provide some context, if I could.  And that is, essentially, I see where this is coming from:  all the stories with bated breath about when will the operations, the much-anticipated operations, in Kandahar begin.  Well, the truth is, they have begun.  They have been months in the making.  They began really when the Stryker Brigade arrived down south and began their work on trying to secure the routes in and out of Kandahar.  So clearly, a lot of the preparatory work, the shaping operations that will be essential to ultimate success in Kandahar, are under way, and have been under way, frankly, for months now. 

 

                You're seeing additional shaping operations -- or you aren't seeing them -- but they are under way in Kandahar proper by some of our Special Operations Forces who are right now engaging with tribal elements there, who are facilitating some of the shuras that are taking place -- which are also a critical component to the shaping that's necessary for success in Kandahar -- and who are also, of course, going after mid-level and high-level Taliban fighters who are held up within Kandahar proper. 

 

                And then you're also, I think, seeing, as I mentioned, the shuras and the visits by political leaders, particularly from Kabul, as part of the advanced work before we can change the dynamic in Kandahar.   

 

                So it is under way and has been.  There clearly will be more to it in the weeks ahead.  I don't want to put a specific timetable on it, but clearly there are more forces that will be dedicated to this operation.  There will be more civilian support that will follow on behind this operation not just from the United States and the coalition but also obviously from the Afghan government.  That I would look to in the coming weeks, and -- because, ultimately, we need a more sizable force to be successful there than we currently have in place. 

 

                Q     Should we expect any clearing operations that will look like the kind of major combat that we saw in Marja? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I know -- listen, there are people who are far more expert at this than I am, who can do a better job, I think, at describing the similarities and differences between what we have seen take place in Marja and Nad Ali versus what we expect to take place in Kandahar.   

 

                And I -- you know, I -- you notice that the chairman right now has been -- is in Afghanistan, has been down in Marja and is today speaking to some of those differences. 

 

                I think that -- I think the hope is that because there is some semblance of government control in Kandahar, unlike Marja which was almost entirely in the hands of the Taliban, that there may be some foundation on which to build.   

 

                And therefore we would be more in the role of facilitating additional government assets and support and security elements coming in, and that they could be more the providers of security and better government services and so forth.   

 

                But I don't think that would obviate the need, and it clearly doesn't based upon what I said to you earlier.  We're trying to get additional U.S. forces down there, so that we have a stronger element to assist in this matter.   

 

                I don't think therefore that it would obviate the need for U.S. forces to do some of the things we do best, in terms of securing that area, and will likely require kinetic operations by our forces.  I don't think there's any way around that.   

 

                Again this is probably something that should best be addressed by those guys downrange or by people in uniform.  But that's my lay approach to what I think is about to take place.   

 

                Q     Follow quick?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes.   

 

                Q     Is this going to lead to victory?  And also, if Marja is now free of Taliban?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think those were two questions.  Is this going to lead to victory, was the first question, is that right?   

 

                Q     Yes, sir.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  And the second question, is Marja now free of Taliban?  Let me take the second first.   

 

                I think Marja is largely free of Taliban.  Clearly it is not entirely free of Taliban.  We are still seeing stories -- you see them in the press; we see them anecdotally -- where there is still fear and intimidation brought by Taliban elements, who have perhaps laid down their arms and blended back into the community but emerge and, either at night or during the day even, let their presence be known and felt -- perhaps not with arms but just because people know who they are -- and still are able to strike fear into the hearts of the residents there.   

 

                That is why our forces remain there in the same kind of numbers that they were when this operation began.  That is why, although we are now in the holding and the building phase of this operation, there is still clearing work that is -- that remains to be done.  And we are still trying to root out Taliban who are dug in or in hiding or blending in. 

 

                Ultimately, though, I think, as the -- as the security environment improves there and as the government services are more plentiful, and as life begins to return to normal there -- and, frankly, there are encouraging signs in terms of business and schooling getting back to some semblance of normalcy -- but as that happens, I think there is the hope that people will be more forthcoming in pointing out the Taliban who have remained and attempted to blend in.  And that will, of course, assist us in ultimately getting rid of that threat and making Marja not only more secure than it is right now -- which is more secure than it was, clearly, a few weeks ago. 

 

                Q     (Inaudible)? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Are -- is Kandahar itself enough to produce victory in Afghanistan?  I have never heard it described as an operation that will be, in and of itself, a game-changer.  It is the next -- it is likely the next stop on a 12- to 18-month-long campaign.  And clearly it's a very important stop, given its historical significance to the Taliban and being the spiritual heartland of the Taliban movement and the second-largest city in Afghanistan. 

 

                So it will -- it will clearly be a very important operation.  We certainly hope it will be one that will break the back, to a large extent, of the Taliban, who have called it home and who have used it as a sanctuary for some time.  But I don't think that anybody is of the belief that that operation, in and of itself, will spell victory in Afghanistan. 

 

                Kevin. 

 

                Q     A report this morning talks about when Karzai invited Ahmadinejad to Afghanistan, and characterized it as it was a purposeful spite to the U.S., and that Karzai is now going around telling business leaders that America's reason for being there is a power grab, it is not one of the other reasons that you guys say it is.  What is the -- has the secretary seen this?  Does he have a reaction to these characterizations, given that this was -- the fact that his visit at the time, I believe, was when Ahmadinejad was there? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I would take issue with the notion that it -- that it in any way affected his visit.  I mean, we had a -- had a -- 

 

                Q     (Inaudible) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We had an excellent visit to Kabul and Kandahar and Helmand, and I think our -- we briefly overlapped in terms of our time in Kabul with the Iranian president.  But frankly, were it not for a couple of questions he got from reporters, we wouldn't have noticed it. 

 

                As for the rationale behind President Karzai inviting President Ahmadinejad to come visit Kabul, and do it when he did, I would have no insight into that.  I'd refer you to President Karzai's spokesman. 

 

                I would say this, though, more broadly speaking:  I mean, Afghanistan has to live in the neighborhood it is in.  It has to have positive relations with its neighbors for there ultimately to be the kind of peace and security that we all hope will come to that region. They have long, historical, cultural trade ties with their neighbors to the west, and I don't think anybody in this building or anybody in this government would hope that that relationship would be a dysfunctional one so that it -- so that it would undermine our efforts in Afghanistan. 

 

                That said, we also don't want to see that relationship in any way undermine our efforts to bring peace and security and prosperity to Afghanistan.  And thus far, as you've heard the secretary say time and time again, in his estimation, Iran continues to play a double game. On one hand, they cozy up to the government in Kabul, they come visit President Karzai in Kabul, they reciprocate by inviting him to Tehran; and at the same time, they provide what thus far has been low levels of support -- but consistent levels of support -- for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, who are clearly trying to harm our efforts and harm our forces as they go about their work. 

 

                So that's not productive, and we clearly hope that there is a reevaluation of the kind of relationship that the Iranians want to have with Afghanistan going forward. 

 

                Q     It goes a little beyond that -- that Karzai has to have relations with his neighbor, understandably -- but turning it towards the United States, saying the United States' opposition towards Iran is making it harder for a compromise or a peace to happen with the Taliban. 

 

                Is that -- is that characterization causing consternation here? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, I have -- I have seen nothing to that effect. I don't think we've heard anything to that effect.  I mean, obviously, Iran's pursuit of a nuclear-weapons program is separate and aside from what -- you know, our concerns about their actions in Afghanistan. We're not tying those two things together, other than that overall these contribute to this notion of them being a destabilizing influence in the region.  And it doesn't help in their efforts to try to convince the international community that they do indeed want to be a contributing -- to contribute to the worldwide community in a positive way and that they should be trusted in what they say is their true intent.  So both -- that sort of undermines their credibility, to an extent. 

 

                I don't feel like you're -- you feel satisfied.  Perhaps it's a question better addressed to the State Department.  Maybe I should have answered -- maybe that should have been my first answer. 

 

                Justin. 

 

                Q     To follow up on the Iran nuclear, there's a report out from the CIA on the status of the -- Iran's nuclear program.  It says here, Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons if the decision is made to do so. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Is that a classified report? 

 

                Q     It's unclassified.  So let's talk openly about it. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, it's not -- I haven't seen it. 

 

                Q     Okay -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I haven't seen it.  It's a CIA report, so I'd urge you to talk to the agency about their report. 

 

                Q     Well, okay -- (Inaudible) -- my question is, is this a characterization that the Defense Department shared? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  How would I know, if I haven't read it?  I'm not in a position to tell you whether or not we share it, if I haven't read it. 

 

                Q     Well, I just read a bit of it to you -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You gave me one -- look, you gave me one phrase out of what is likely a lengthy report -- 

 

                Q     I sent it to you. 

 

                I sent it to you. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You sent me a Bill Gertz story, not a CIA -- (laughter) -- not a CIA report.  I'm going to differentiate between those two, if you don't mind.  (Laughter.) 

 

                Q     I thought that email was to the unclassified report. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  I've had nothing on the agency's report. I'm sorry. 

 

                Q     Well, it -- I mean, is it a cause for alarm that -- is this something new in your estimation?  Is this a cause for alarm, or not? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, I haven't seen the report.  From just what you're telling me, it doesn't sound like there's a whole lot new there. 

 

                I mean, obviously, we remain, as I just spoke to a moment ago, concerned about Iran's nuclear program.  And I think they still need to provide the international community with a greater degree of confidence about what the intention of that program is.  Is it indeed for peaceful purposes?  And thus far, clearly, they have not done enough to convince any of us that indeed their aims are purely peaceful. 

 

                That is why this government, after extending an outstretched hand to Iran now for the better part of a year, has now pivoted, and though we haven't shut the door to engagement, we are clearly pursuing the pressure track and trying to work with our allies around the world to bring about meaningful sanctions at the United Nations against Iran, to try to convince them that this is ultimately not in -- to their benefit, not to their long-term security interests, to pursue a nuclear-weapons program; and that a far better course for them to take, in terms of living in peace and security and ultimately -- and prosperity within the international community, is to be much more forthright about their intentions, abandon this pursuit and abandon some of the destabilizing activities that they have engaged in -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and so forth -- and become a much more productive member of the international community. 

 

                Tony.   

 

                Q     He’s got a follow-up question.

 

                Q     Just on a separate issue, the incident in the Yellow Sea last week, the South Korean naval vessel that sunk.  Yesterday, the South Korean defense minister said perhaps this was a floating mine from the North Koreans.  Are you able to offer any clarity there?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No.  I think that's another good one for someone other than me.  I mean, perhaps the Republic of Korea could assist you.  I mean, I think right now they have -- I mean, I'm just reading the press accounts, as you are.   

 

                I mean, unfortunately they've had this sinking of their ship. It's unclear as to what the cause, as best I can tell from the press accounts.  And I think they have some more work to do to determine that.   

 

                I think their focus right now, and we're trying to help them, is about -- is trying to rescue those who are still missing.  And I think to that end, you know, obviously we can give you the litany if you want of naval assets that we've provided, some of which were in the region, to participate in an exercise with the ROK navy.   

 

                Others from the Seventh Fleet have come to assist as well.  So we're trying to do all we can to assist them in rescuing, if need be recover, those who are still missing.   

 

                I would note also that the chairman from -- although he's traveling in Afghanistan now placed a call to his counterpart -- the chief of defense in Seoul, General Lee -- and expressed our deepest sorrows and sympathies for the wounded and missing sailors, their families and the friends of the PCC-772 Cheonan, if that's how you pronounce it.    

 

                And then, so we are trying to work with the ROK Navy to make the best of what is obviously a very difficult situation for them right now. 

 

                Q     And so you don't know if they've determined if it's -- if it was from North Korea, if it was an attack?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think there's a way to determine that at this point, given that the boat in question, I think, is submerged. 

 

                Yeah, Tony. 

 

                Q     Couple of -- (Inaudible) -- questions:  What's the status of the Nuclear Posture Review, and why the delay in -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think the Nuclear Posture Review is -- should be forthcoming shortly.  I don't -- I don't know that I have a whole lot more for you other than that.  We hope it will be out shortly.  I don't know that we've established a date yet. 

 

                Q     Shortly? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Shortly:  That's the -- that's the date we've established. 

 

                Q     A different question -- (Inaudible).  Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, is having dinner with President Obama tonight. And the issue of tankers is probably going to come up, since he complained about U.S. protectionism. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  (Laughs.) 

 

                Q     What factors are you reviewing in an EADS -- E-A-D-S request for an extension that you need to see some -- you need to have some satisfactory answers on before you extend a, grant an extension -- I mean, some of the answers -- some of the question you would like answered? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I don't -- I don't think it's appropriate for me to share any specifics from our conversations from up here.  As I said to you before -- I think I said it from this podium last week -- we are engaged in conversations with EADS -- E-A-D-S, pardon me -- to gain a better understanding of why they would like an extension.  That is the extent of our conversations at this point, and I think that's where I want to -- want to leave it. 

 

                I mean, obviously, why a company would want a -- would request the -- an extension to an RFP period are unique to each company, and so disclosing the specifics of why a particular company might request time is not appropriate. 

 

                But suffice it to say that we must be reasonable and fair in reviewing a particular request for an extension of an RFP proposal due date.  And so our discussions right now are centered, to the extent that they -- that you could -- are centered on trying to figure out exactly why they would like an extension. 

 

                Q     Can I ask a question?  One wonders, is this a -- really a done deal, that you're going to grant an extension, but you need to be satisfied with some areas; that you're basically going to give them an extension at some point? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I would not characterize anything as a done deal. I think we have a process that's been under way.  It's been -- it's been our objective all along to have as fair and transparent a process as possible.  We had extended -- you know, we have a bidding time window, which is due to close on May the 10th.  We have a company that has reached out to us to explore the possibility of participating in this bidding process, and has raised the prospect of needing more time.  And we're trying to gain a better understanding of why they would need more time.  That's the extent of it. 

 

                There is no -- nothing is done.  Nothing ever has been done.  The only thing we're trying to do is get our warfighters this urgent operational requirement as quickly as possible, while at the same time trying to make sure our taxpayers get the best value for their dollar. 

 

                Jen? 

 

                Q     Well, why is, though, the why so important?  And what are acceptable reasons why, you know, that would lend themselves to extending the deadline? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, again, I'm not going to get into the reasons, because I think they're particular to each and every company.  And let's -- I'm -- we're going to try to keep those within the confines of these private conversations. 

 

                I think we need to understand why so we understand how much additional time might be needed and for what purpose.  We have what we thought to be a very fair and open and transparent process.  We thought it provided enough time.  We now have a company that's asking for more time.  So we're trying to gain a better understanding of why they would like more time so that we can make a good judgment about whether or not it makes sense to provide that additional time. 

 

                Okay? 

 

                Yes.  My Japanese friends have been very patient today.  Yes. Yoso.  What's going on, my friend? 

 

                Q     About the secretary's meeting with Japanese foreign minister-- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You want to ask about Bill Gertz’ article too, don't you.  (Laughter.)  All right, no, I thought not.  Okay. 

 

                Q     According to the readout, secretary said yesterday that the Marines in Okinawa are critical to the alliance and the U.S. expects the Japanese government to help ensure their presence remains operationally and politically sustainable.  By this comment, does he mean the Marine Expeditionary Forces in Okinawa should remain in Okinawa?  And also, when he talks about political sustainability, does he mean local support is inevitable for any alternative plans for Futenma replacement facility? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me take the first part first.  He means what we said he means, which is, yes, that the Marines on Okinawa are critically important to our ability to carry out our treaty commitments with Japan -- i.e., that we can provide for the defense of Japan as well as regional peace and security. 

 

                They are an essential component to that, their presence on Okinawa. And that is what he conveyed to the Japanese foreign minister during their meeting yesterday.  So I don't think there is any ambiguity in that, but if there was, that's -- I want to make that clear. 

 

                As for the political sustainability question, I think it -- my sense is that that is an issue that ultimately is for the Japanese government to determine, but that it needs -- it needs to be viable politically, both at a local level and at a national level. 

 

                But the political issues are for -- are really for the Japanese government to work out.  But obviously, whatever the path forward is, the secretary's belief is that it needs to be politically and operationally sustainable for the Marines to remain in Okinawa so that they can meet the treaty commitments that we have to the government of Japan, so that we can provide, by their presence, for the security of Japan as well as for regional peace and security. 

 

                Q     Also, did he clarify yesterday that United States government still thinks FRF is the best plan? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, I think that the talking point -- the readout that we provided to you yesterday I think characterizes how we wish to talk about this meeting.  I mean, and I'll -- just to make it clear to you, they discussed first and foremost the importance of the alliance to the defense of Japan and regional security in this 50th- anniversary year of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. 

 

                Secretary Gates reaffirmed the United States' commitments under the treaty, including the defense of Japan backed by our nuclear umbrella.  

 

                He said the Marines in Okinawa are critical to the alliance, and the U.S. expects the government of Japan to help ensure their presence remains operationally and politically sustainable.   

 

                The secretary and the foreign minister agreed on the importance of completing the review of the Futenma replacement facility alternatives quickly.  The meeting also touched on cooperation in Afghanistan, regional security issues, and the strategic role of host nation support in the alliance.   

 

                And then afterwards, as you know, the foreign minister went on to meet with the deputy undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Jim Miller. And I think he then went on and had some -- had a meeting, I believe with the secretary of State, last night.  

 

                But I think that's how we wish to characterize the extent of the conversation at this point.   

 

                Did any of our Japanese friends have a follow -- yes, go ahead. 

 

                Q     Is Pentagon going to be flexible enough to study alternatives seriously and accept alternatives if they meet minimum requirements? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me -- I think at this point what I would say is -- we've talked about alternatives.  What I would say is that the Japanese government has shared with our government, in a conversation with our ambassador in Tokyo, their current thinking or their ideas about Futenma replacement -- the Futenma replacement facility.   

 

                That was not -- those ideas -- and I underscore that because I think they fall short of a proposal -- those ideas were not shared with Secretary Gates during his conversation with the foreign minister yesterday.  They were referenced.   

 

                The foreign minister talked about how they had been provided to our ambassador in Japan.  But they were not a focus of the conversation.   

 

                As for whether or not we are open to alternatives, I think we've said time and time in the past that we respect Japan's request to take some additional time, to explore alternatives to the Futenma replacement facility, and that we have made our clear commitment -- made clear our commitment to working constructively, with the government of Japan, to expeditiously realign our force posture, to ensure long-term sustainability and reduce the impact of our bases on host communities in Japan.   

 

                And part of this effort includes ensuring an enduring solution to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps air station in Futenma.  And we will continue to work together to try to find the best long-term solution, to the realignment that is needed for the ultimate, long-term sustainment of our treaty responsibilities.   

 

                Yeah.  

 

                Q     Has the United States proposed to South Korea to discuss about installations?  (Inaudible)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me just -- I just want to follow up, because I don't want to -- pardon me, I'll come right back to you.   

 

                I just -- the only thing I'd add to that is that our views, with respect to the Futenma replacement facility, have not changed.  But as noted -- as I noted to you earlier, we have just received these new ideas from the government of Japan on this matter.  And we will certainly consider them, to your question, carefully and respond via the appropriate diplomatic channels.   

 

                But again sometimes this becomes an issue which somehow supersedes all the positive aspects to this 50-year alliance.   

 

                And I think the meeting between the secretary and the foreign minister yesterday underscored that this relationship is about far more than just the Futenma replacement.  And so their conversation, although it clearly touched on it, dealt with far more of our strategic goals and objectives than just the realignment of our forces in the region.  And so I would just urge you all not to lose sight of that as we discuss this issue time and time again. 

 

                Yeah, Kevin. 

 

                Q     To follow -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, I'm sorry, I interrupted this woman.  I -- 

 

                Q     On South Korea, has the United States proposed South Korea to discuss about installations, missile defense system to be started? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I lost the end of that.  Has the United States proposed to South Korea -

 

                Q     Discussed about -- to discuss about the installations missile defense system? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, have we discussed installations for missile defense systems?  I am not -- I am not armed with anything on that today.  I'm sorry. 

 

                Yeah, Kevin.  Let's just -- actually, somebody who hasn't gone. Michael. 

 

                Q     On the recent high-level discussions in Afghanistan, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen -- indeed, the president himself -- has there been any suggestion that the military -- the U.S. military in particular -- should get more involved in countering the drug threat?  And since the NATO mandate was issued, I think towards the end of last year, that the military could chase, if you like, or hunt for narcotics traffickers if they were linked -- it could be proved they were linked to the Taliban or to insurgents?   

 

                What sort of success has there been? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, there's a couple things there.  Obviously, when it comes to the lords and the labs, we do, as you mentioned, have authorities under NATO to pursue them, because there's clearly an established intelligence link between these large drug lords and large drug labs in the financing of the Taliban.   

 

                As for specific evidence of success since we have been granted these new authorities, I'd have to take the question, Michael, or urge you to talk to our friends in Kabul and see what they would -- what they would say.   But we can take the question and look at it. 

 

                I think as for the overall anti -- counternarcotics efforts, I would take issue with the characterization that it is not a focus of our efforts, it is not a priority.  It clearly -- in Marja, in Nad Ali and elsewhere, there is an ongoing effort to try to provide alternative crops for farmers in those areas, who have, either out of intimidation or out of economic necessity, been growing -- been growing poppies.  And so we are trying to provide these farmers with an alternative livelihood.   

 

                But Secretary Gates believes emphatically that we cannot eradicate a man's crop, and not provide an alternative, and expect that farmer not to turn against us and join up with the Taliban.  You can't take someone's livelihood away from them and not provide them with an alternative means of supporting their family. 

 

                So our focus is not on eradication. 

 

                Our focus is on our -- by our, I mean the United States government -- our focus in on trying to provide alternative means of sustaining oneself, alternative crops, alternative businesses.   

 

                There has been some success on that front.  I think -- I believe that last year was a year in which, you know, the wheat harvest proved more valuable and outpaced the poppy harvest.  I -- I'm speaking off the top of my head, but I believe that to be the case last year.   

 

                Obviously, that's the kind of direction we hope this -- the whole counternarcotics effort is trending.  I think we are seeing fewer and fewer provinces growing poppies.  However, those that still do remain clearly a problem.   

 

                We also have the issue of the fact that although the crop yields have been down -- there's probably fewer poppies being harvested, as best I can remember -- that there is still an awful lot of opium that's been stored up, and so that the -- that those that depend on that for their livelihood, the terrorists who depend on it to finance their operations, are not without means at this point. 

 

                Q     A quick one on -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Excuse me.  Let me just -- anybody over here who hasn't gone, and then I'm going to take -- okay, this gentleman and one -- and one last one. 

 

                Yeah, go ahead. 

 

                Q     What are the Pentagon's concerns about the Iraqi elections? Does the new administration pose difficulties for the drawdown issues that they're going through right now? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, we don't have a new administration yet. We're in the -- in the phase -- the vote has just been tallied, as you know, as of last Friday.  We're in the -- I think it's a couple weeks -- the couple-week window that's open for the certification of the vote, and I think you're starting to see and will see a lot of political jockeying taking place among those who fared well in the election to try to build a coalition government and ultimately run the country.   

 

                I think we think that the -- that the election itself was a success by any and every measure -- 62 percent turnout of the  electorate, 12 million Iraqis went to the polls, they were -- I think of 8,000 polling sites, I think, you know, a handful of them may have had to have been closed for temporary security sweeps.  The security climate was very good.  There were a few attempts by the -- by al Qaeda and others to try to dissuade Iraqis from going to the polls, but they were rather pathetic.  They were noise bombs, largely, and it did not -- did not dissuade any -- it clearly did not dissuade large numbers of Iraqis from going to the polls.  So I think it was a success from an elections standpoint, from a security standpoint. 

 

                The counting period took a little while, but I think that the international observers have said that it went very well.  The Arab League has weighed in with a similar view of things, the United Nations, the international high electoral commission in Iraq -- or the Iraqi -- the Iraqi High Electoral Commission. 

 

                But now, of course, comes the tough part:  they got to form a coalition government.  That proved to be a very difficult task five years ago.  We hope it does not degenerate into the kind of violence that we saw then.  We have no reason to believe that it will.  I mean, we don't -- it clearly could be a very tense time, a very anxious time.  But based upon everything we've seen over the last year or so, Iraqis are not settling scores the way they once did, and political differences are being solved through political dialogue and wheeling and dealing and discussions and so forth, and not through the end of a gun. 

 

                And that's how we hope it will continue. 

 

                All right, last one. 

 

                Q     Thank you.  A quick one.  Now that the civil nuclear deal with -- between India and the United States is now a done deal, and what role do you think the Pentagon is playing, or what are the future of -- between India and U.S. as far as this deal is concerned, military-to-military? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  How the India civ-nuke deal impacts our mil-to-mil relations?  I, frankly, don't know that it does.  I mean, obviously, we have very strong mil-to-mil relations with the Indian government, with the Indian military; have had them for some time.  The secretary just visited India recently and reaffirmed our -- our strong working relationship with the Indian military, exploring new ways in which we can partner and exercise and do disaster-relief work, and sell weapons and other military hardware to the Indians, but -- 

 

                Q     And he supports -- and he supports this deal, also?  The secretary -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is not -- this is a United States government initiative.  It's not a Department of Defense initiative. 

 

                Q     Thank you.

 

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