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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
May 06, 2010

                 MR. MORRELL: Hi, guys. Good afternoon. Good to see you all. Just a brief update on some scheduling matters. Then we'll take questions.   

                 Later this afternoon, Secretary Gates goes to Capitol Hill to brief the full Senate on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that President Obama and President Medvedev signed last month.   

                 He will be joined by the secretary of State, the secretary of Energy and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As demonstrated by that briefing team, this treaty has broad interagency support.   

                 And the goal of this afternoon's engagement, which unfortunately is closed press, is to provide senators with an overview of the treaty and to answer any questions they may have about it. The secretary looks forward to working with the Senate throughout the ratification process.   

                 As I mentioned last week, the secretary travels to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, tomorrow to speak with students at the Army's Command and General Staff College. His remarks will focus on leadership, service, the changing nature of the Army and its need to adapt to the ever-changing global security environment.   

                 On Saturday, the secretary travels on to Abilene, Kansas, to speak at the Eisenhower Library's commemoration of V-E Day [Victory in Europe Day]. He will reflect on General Eisenhower's national security policies and his approach to defense spending as president, to deliver a hard-hitting message on the need for greater fiscal discipline today.   

                 I hope to provide you all with an embargoed copy of that speech as early as possible tomorrow, so that you all can consider it and start preparing your stories. So stay tuned to us on that.   

                 From the Eisenhower Library, the secretary heads to Fort Riley, Kansas. This is a late addition. That as you know is home to the 1st Infantry Division. And he will while he's there meet with the division's -- with some of the division's military spouses.   

                 As you know, the secretary often visits with troopers and their families. But this one is special because it happens to coincide with national Military Spouse Appreciation Day.   

                 So the secretary, of course, recognizes that our current operations place significant strain not just on our forces, but on their families, as well. Fort Riley, like many installations, has units currently deployed or recently returned from combat, and the secretary wants to pay tribute to their families and the support they have provided our warfighters.   

                 So we'll do that on the way back from Abilene on Saturday afternoon. He returns home Sunday -- pardon me, Saturday evening. No public events scheduled the rest of the weekend.   

                 He will spend much of next week involved in the Afghan strategic partnership dialogue. As you all know by now, President Karzai and many of his cabinet members are traveling to Washington for meetings with President Obama and his team. These conversations will, of course, cover a wide range of bilateral issues, including many defense issues, but they will also provide an opportunity to -- opportunity, pardon me, to chart our long-term relationship with the government and people of Afghanistan beyond just security assistance. We are, after all, committed to building an enduring partnership with Pakistan that lasts well beyond the current war we are waging together, and these high-level talks will hopefully take us closer to achieving that shared goal. 

                 So that is a preview of what he's doing early next week, as well. 

                 Anne. 

                 Q     Does the secretary -- has the secretary formed an opinion as to whether the Times Square bombing suspect was affiliated with the Pakistan Taliban? And does he or do you think there will be additional pressure applied on Pakistan to go after training camps and the like in North Waziristan as a result? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I have not spoken to him specifically about the incident or what opinions or determinations he may have -- he may have arrived at by now.  

                 I can tell you that, as you -- as you know, this is -- the investigation is being led by the FBI and the Department of Justice, and we are not involved.   

                 That said, to your broader question, as to the relationship and our degree of satisfaction with how aggressive they -- the Pakistani military is, the Pakistani government is, in terms of going after terrorist safe havens, let me say this: First of all, the U.S. and Pakistan are exchanging information. And we've received a pledge of cooperation from the Pakistanis regarding this issue -- the investigation, that is. We're encouraged by this response.   

                 Pakistan, as you know, has faced a terrorist threat from within its borders far more profound than those that we have faced here. They have lost thousands and thousands of their military men and women, as well as their civilians, due to terrorist attacks. And clearly, over the last year or two, they have confronted that threat much more aggressively than they had in the past. We are fully supportive of their efforts.   

                 Clearly, we have -- there are safe havens that have yet to be fully targeted -- as aggressively targeted as can be -- as need to be. But the pace and the timing and the schedule to undertake those operations is of the Pakistani's choosing. The secretary has said time and time again that we are their partner here. We are in the passenger seat; they are behind the wheel; they are the ones who are going to determine the direction, the pace, the speed of their operations.   

                 They are incentivized, themselves, to confront this problem, because it is a more immediate threat to them than it is to us.  However, the incident in Times Square clearly points to the need for us all to continue our aggressive operations in going after terrorists, wherever they reside. And I think that is -- that incident, although unsuccessful, certainly reminds us of that and, hopefully, reinvigorates us to confront these threats wherever they are. 

                 Q     Does the incident also make it more difficult for the secretary to stick to that line of: the Pakistanis will make their own choices, and do so on their own timetable? Doesn't this increase in -- political pressure and other kinds of pressure within the United States to lean harder on the Pakistanis to do things on our timetable? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I don't think so. I mean, we have to always remind ourselves that we are dealing with sovereign nations. We deal with a sovereign government, democratically-elected government in Afghanistan, just as we do in Pakistan. We are operating in -- with them, and in close cooperation with them, in support of them, in this war on terror. But it is -- it has to be a cooperative effort. It cannot be one in which we are pushing them. They have to wish to do it themselves. They have to see the validity and the value in doing it themselves. And clearly, over the past year or two, it has become crystal clear to the government of Pakistan that they have to, themselves, with our assistance, confront these threats within their midst. 

                 The secretary's very comfortable with the degree of seriousness with which they are approaching this problem. Remember, I mean, they've lost, I think, upwards of 2,000 soldiers in the -- in their -- in their operations in Pakistan. 

                 And they are clearly paying a dear price in blood and treasure. And we respect that. And we will work with them at the pace and in the -- and in the manner at which they are most comfortable.   

                 But it's not as if -- I guess what I'd come back to is it's not just, Anne, as though the Pakistanis -- the only manifestation of the Pakistani effort in this fight is the fact that they've lost 2,000 -- upwards of 2,000 soldiers in this effort. They've also had great success in going after the terrorist networks that emanate from Pakistan. I mean, there has been through -- you know, through repeated operations, an attrition of the leadership. There has been clearly a disruption of operations that were in the works there.   

                 And so there is -- they are clearly making real and dramatic progress against this shared enemy. But as evidenced by what we've -- you know, some of the attacks we've seen or the attempted attacks we've seen, there is still more work to be done. 

                 Q     But not so much in North Waziristan. I mean, that was the original question, is the pressure to do what they've been doing, as you outlined -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: I think -- I think there is a recognition on everybody's part that all the terrorist safe havens in Pakistan must be dealt with. President Obama made that clear when he -- when he launched this new strategy in December that we will not tolerate safe havens, the Pakistanis will not tolerate safe havens. That is something we both agree on. But we also have to deal with the reality of capacity and the need -- the need to go through all the phases of clear, hold, build and transfer.   

                 They have, the Pakistanis, clearly embraced COIN [counter-insurgency] as the key to their long-term success against this enemy in Pakistan. 

                 And they have been, as you know from our travels there, reluctant to shortchange any of those steps, to overstretch their forces, to go places that they haven't been, necessarily, and in the process sacrifice gains that they've -- that they've hard won elsewhere. 

                 So I think there is -- there's a strategy here. It is -- it is evolving. But it is evolving on their terms, because they know their country best and how to confront this problem best. 

                 Yeah, Barbara. 

                 Q     Well, the exception, of course, to some of what you're describing are the U.S. government drone attacks in Pakistan, where it's the U.S. government both literally and absolutely in the driver's seat, not the passenger's seat. So what concerns do you have that these U.S. government drone strikes in Pakistan may be backfiring now and simply creating more enemies of the United States? 

                 MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'd refer your questions to other people. That's not something we speak to or are involved in. 

                 Yeah, go ahead, Justin. 

                 Q     Well, who would you refer them to, Geoff? What -- where should I go with my -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: Do you not want a question, Justin? 

                 Q     I do. I do have a question, but Barbara's still talking -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: Barbara, if you have a follow -- do you have a follow? 

                 Q     Yeah; would you tell me where you would refer that to? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I -- you'd have to talk to somebody other than the Pentagon. It doesn't involve us. We don't talk to those operational matters, because they don't involve us. 

                 Yes. 

                 Q     (Off mike) -- exchange or sharing information. Can you be a little bit more specific about what types of information-sharing? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I can't. I mean, those -- again, this involves a law-enforcement investigation. They'd be the ones to talk to in terms of what they're providing us. 

                 Q     Are you aware of any U.S. officials in a country now who have access to witnesses and are interrogating any -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: I'm not, but -- I'm not, but I wouldn't be, because again, it's a law-enforcement matter, it's being handled by the FBI and the Department of Justice. 

                 Are we done with this? Mike? 

                 Q     Geoff, the other night there was some breathless reporting out of South Korea suggesting that the North Koreans had moved up to 50,000 troops along the border. Is -- has the U.S. seen evidence of any troop movement of that nature, and any sense of when this investigation into the ship sinking may be complete? 

                 MR. MORRELL: No, I have not seen reports of any unusual troop movements. That's not to say they haven't happened. I just haven't seen them, and I can't speak to them if they have.   

                 But with regards to the investigation into the -- into the sinking of that South Korean ship, I think, as far as I can tell, it's still ongoing. We are still providing assistance to the South Koreans, mostly through a Navy forensics team that we have on-site there. But I don't think they've come to any conclusion yet. 

                 Q     Franklin Graham -- any reaction to him coming here to pray today? And any response to criticism that the Army pulling the plug on him may be political correctness run amok? 

                 MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I understand he did arrive here this morning. I guess you guys would know this better than I because you were out there. I -- it's been described to me as pretty uneventful. He came, he prayed, he left.   

                 I guess he talked to you all, too, and -- but I think it was a largely uneventful occurrence. And I think it went smoothly, and I don't think it caused any disruption to any of the operations on the reservation. And I -- but I -- you guys would know better than I. I guess he spent a little bit more time talking with you all than he did praying. But overall, I think it went well. 

                 With regards to the overall situation, I don't have anything to add. The -- I mean, the Army chose -- you know, made -- extended an invite, then rescinded the invite. They've expressed their rationale for doing so.   

                 Our event went on today as planned. I think it was over at the Pentagon auditorium. It was a multi-faith event. There were representatives of the Muslim faith, of the Jewish faith, of the Christian faith, and by all accounts, it was a nice event.   

                 Yeah.   

                 Q     On the Karzai visit, do you have any clarity? Will the secretary be doing a separate with his counterpart? And more broadly speaking, I know that DOD is not in the lead for that. It's a presidential visit. But are there issues that the secretary or this building would like to see emerge from the meeting?   

                 MR. MORRELL: The secretary will -- you know, President Karzai is coming with a large contingent from Kabul, including many cabinet members, including Minister Wardak, the secretary's direct counterpart.   

                 He will certainly be meeting with Minister Wardak. But the secretary will be involved I think in several engagements over the course of the three or four days that President Karzai is conducting business in Washington.   

                 I think there's a dinner that he'll be a part of. There's an opening ceremony I believe Tuesday at the State Department. Then there are smaller meetings that follow that opening, including one the secretary will host here with Minister Wardak.   

                 There clearly are White House-focused meetings, I think those are on Wednesday, that the president will be hosting. But in terms of our goals, I mean, clearly we have some near-term, sorry, security matters that will probably dominate much of our conversation.   

                 But there are, as I said in my opening, clearly much broader objectives out of these three or four days worth of meetings. That -- we want to make it clear I think, as we did with the Pakistanis when they were in town a month or so ago, that we wish this relationship to be based on far more than our mutual security concerns.   

                 And so I think much of the conversation that will take place will be about, how do we grow the rest of the relationship over the long term? Because we wish this to be an enduring partnership that outlasts the war that we are currently fighting together.   

                 So whether it be in terms of educational and cultural exchanges, economic development, security assistance beyond, perhaps, a large military presence, those are the kinds of things that we'll get into, in an effort to try to foster this long-term relationship and, hopefully, convince, in the process, the Afghans and the Afghan people that we are in this for the long run. We are not going to turn our backs on Afghanistan as we did after the defeat of the Soviets. We are not going to abandon this cause. We are very much there for the long run. 

                 And that, hopefully, will create -- will give the government the kind of confidence it needs to take on some of the hard issues that it needs to in the years to come; knowing that we are going to be there to back them up, we are going to be there in support of them in the long run. 

                 Yeah. 

                 Q     Last week, the Pentagon released a report on Afghanistan to Congress, and briefed us about it, but talking about some very difficult issues, including corruption; and said that, you know, the Afghan dedication to tackling corruption remains doubtful and that real change has been elusive. They also questioned Karzai's popular support in the districts that the Pentagon feels are most important for the battle in Afghanistan to be successful. 

                 What kind of message does that send? And are those issues going to be something that the secretary will raise with President Karzai while he's here? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I don't know if the secretary will raise those with President Karzai. I am virtually certain they will be raised by some member of the United States government in the course of this meeting, if not the president himself. 

                 But, I mean, obviously, corruption is a problem that exists in Afghanistan, that everybody agrees, including the Afghan government, needs to be dealt with. And this is a -- this is a topic that comes up in conversations whenever we get together. 

                 But our conversations extend well beyond that topic. And what I'm trying to say to you here is that there is a breadth to this relationship beyond just the security and the corruption concerns that we share and the governance -- and the reach of the government and so forth. 

                 Q     The thing is that the report didn't -- I mean, that both sides agree is one thing, but the report actually said that political will is -- remains doubtful, political will to tackle it remains doubtful. 

                 MR. MORRELL: I think that is one of those cases where the secretary of Defense, in his relationship with President Karzai, would tell you that he believes that President Karzai recognizes this problem, understands that the key to his -- to the trust and faith that he needs to govern his people is to deal with this problem; and I think that he is working towards that end. He is taking steps towards that end. Are they at the pace that everybody might like? Perhaps not. But I think that we are headed in that direction, and we're heartened by that. 

                 Yeah, Jeff. 

                 Q     The economic news out of Europe is not good, and it raises the possibility that the world could go back into a recession. What kind of headaches does this raise for DOD? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I'm getting all sorts of questions today. I could deflect that to the Treasury. But no, I mean, listen, you're going to --what I'd say to you, Jeff, you heard the secretary speak on Monday at the Navy League and raise some very, very challenging questions of the Navy about hard budget choices that it is going to have to make in the coming years.   

                 You will hear on Saturday him pick up on that theme and carry it out and direct it more at the building, this building more widely, and discuss the need for fiscal discipline, fiscal restraint, in an era of clearly far less growth in military budgets than we have seen since 9/11. 

                 That's the economic reality we're confronted with. And we need to -- we need to take some measures. He's going to -- I'm going to let him speak to more specifically what he wants to do about it.   

                 But it's not lost on anyone here that we are living in challenging times economically, that we will not enjoy the boom times in terms of growth in defense spending that we have over the past eight or nine years, and that we're going to have to take some dramatic measures ourselves to sustain the force we have and the operational tempo we have. 

                 Q     Well, this goes beyond budgetary concerns. You have half of Europe bailing out the other half. Is there worries that the European countries that are contributing to the NATO mission in Afghanistan -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: I -- 

                 Q     -- might soon not have enough money for that? 

                 MR. MORRELL: I've seen no indication of that at this point. I mean, obviously, we're going to be in -- we're going to be in Brussels in June for our annual ministerial there with defense ministers from NATO. And we'll see where things stand then and if it becomes a topic of conversation. I don't know it to be on the -- on the agenda at this point. 

                 But obviously allied contributions to the war in Afghanistan are always something that we -- that we are concerned about, working on. And, while I would note, you know, we've got basically half of our 30,000 surge forces -- there's a little more than half on the ground in Afghanistan now. The allies, who have pledged a -- 9,000 additional combat forces as part of this effort, have about half of those on the ground.   

                 So we're at about 20,000 total surge forces already on the ground; still have, you know, the all -- when all is said and done, by the end of this summer, it will be at around 39(,000), 40,000 between the allies and ourselves. So they clearly, in the past, and up until very recently, have been very proactive and generous in their contributions.   

                 Hopefully this won't adversely impact that. 

                 Yeah. 

                 Q     Last week the Pentagon revealed the number of warheads in its stockpile, for the sake of transparency and hoping that others would follow. Since then, have, in fact, other countries revealed more information about their own arsenal or expressed a willingness to do so? 

                 MR. MORRELL: Not that I know of. Not that -- I -- they could very well have. I have not been updated if they have come forth and said, "Here are our numbers." But clearly we have done so with the hopes that transparency will help in the overall effort to combat proliferation of nuclear weapons. And we're leading by example. We'll see if others follow suit. But hopefully it'll give us increased credibility as we go and tackle these issues internationally in the years to come. 

                 Yes, Yoso. 

                 Q     Hi. Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama went to Okinawa, and he said it is impossible to -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: Can I tell them what you wrote me today? 

                 Q     Yup. 

                 MR. MORRELL: (Chuckles.) He wrote me the funniest -- he told me he was going to ask a question on this, and that if I didn't give him an answer he'd be looking for a new job. So I'm under enormous pressure here. 

                 Q     I -- see -- (inaudible) -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: Sorry. Go ahead. 

                 Q     Okay. He said it is impossible to move the entire Futenma function outside of Okinawa. This is the first time he said clearly that the Marines in Okinawa should stay in Okinawa. So do you see any development now? 

                 MR. MORRELL: You know, I -- we've been pretty clear that we're not going to get into sort of the day-to-day machinations of the Japanese government's internal efforts to come to some resolution to this. So all -- I would tell you this, Yoso, in the interest of you keeping your job.   

                 We are working closely with our -- with our ally Japan, on a way forward that maintains regional security and stability, in a manner that minimizes the impact on base-hosting communities.   

                 Q     Are you implying that they just -- try to go back to the original idea, so --  

                 MR. MORRELL: I'm not -- I'm not implying anything. I am stating what I just stated, that we continue to work closely with our ally Japan, on a way forward that maintains regional security and stability, in a manner that minimizes the impact on base-hosting communities.   

                 As you know, the Japanese government is still assessing this issue. They have signaled to us that they will need through the end of this month to do so. And we hope to learn more at the resolution of that internal evaluation that is under way.   

                 But short of that, I don't think we're going to talk about comments made back at home. We're dealing with direct communications with us. That's the best way to deal with it.   

                 Rather than trying to respond to statements that have been made publicly or to the press in Japan, let's -- we're going to try to keep it the way we have been.   

                 Okay, yeah, Kevin.   

                 I'm sorry, this is -- yeah, go ahead.   

                 Q     (Off mike.)   

                 The officials of U.S. and Japan have met in the same day prime minister went to Okinawa. So is it still an idea that Japan is providing? Or can you say that --  

                 MR. MORRELL: I'm sorry.   

                 Q     Alternative plan, about the alternative plan Japan is providing, you said it's still an idea a few weeks before. Is it the same status? Or is it moving on at least?   

                 MR. MORRELL: I think it is still not to the point where I am prepared to comment on it. So for those purposes, I think it remains more idea than a proposal, as far as I know.   

                 Kevin.   

                 Q     I just want to follow up. Can you say was the secretary encouraged or have any reaction to the developments this week? 

                 MR. MORRELL: Which developments? 

                 Q     Well, the prime -- or last week, the prime minister's comments that seems quite positive for -- 

                 (Cross talk.) 

                 MR. MORRELL: I -- (inaudible) -- deviate from the line -- the job-saving line I have given Yoso. That's as far as we're going to go.   

                 Yes? 

                 Q     Recently military ships from Mexico and U.S. have seized about two tons of coca in international waters, I think in front of Mexican shores. Is this the beginning of a new phase of cooperation under Merida Initiative? 

                 MR. MORRELL: You said the Mexican navy has seized? 

                 Q     Military ships from Mexican and U.S. Navy seized. 

                 MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I couldn't speak to that specific seizure. I can tell you that clearly, as I think we have recently expressed to you, clearly we wish to be as helpful as we can be to the Mexican government or the Mexican armed forces as they confront this terrible scourge of narco-trafficking and the associated crime that is ravaging that country.   

                 And we -- the secretary respects President Calderon's efforts enormously. They are nothing short of heroic. And he has pledged that we will do whatever we can and whatever they are comfortable with to try to support the Mexican armed forces as they go about combating this threat.   

                 We are, as I mentioned to you last time, trying to expedite the transfer of some platforms, I think helicopters, some other things that could be helpful. And we'll get an update for you on where that stands. But we're moving it along faster because there is a need now and that a few months from now, you know, is not good enough. We've got to get it to them sooner than later so they can deal with it. 

                 Q     What I want to know is, this is the first time that we heard of military ships from both countries -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: Yeah, and I -- as I said to you, I'm just not familiar with the operations. 

                 I'm just not in a position to comment on it. Okay. 

                 All right. Yes, Kevin.   

                 Q     One last thought. With -- next week, with Minister Wardak in town; General McChrystal's also in town, but also apparently on the schedule for a closed session in the Senate; General Petraeus is in town, are we going to see these guys come to this podium to talk about, you know, their military role with the military press, give us some sort of a -- 

                 MR. MORRELL: I don't know that there is anything planned with them here. But I think there are -- in the course of this week, there are some planned outreach events. But I don't think there is anything planned here with regards to that. 

                 Okay? All right. Slow week. Enjoy your weekend, for those of you who are not traveling to Kansas. For those of you who are, we'll have fun. See you.

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