MR. MORRELL: Hey, guys, good afternoon. Thanks for joining us much later than usual. As you know, we were up on the Hill with the secretary this morning. And then there was another event going on in here. So this was the only time we could get together. But I wanted to do so, because it's been a while. I have nothing to start with, so let's get to it.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the Bradley Manning case? Can you confirm that he's been given a military lawyer out of Iraq and that there are --
MR. MORRELL: The Bradley -- you're going to have to give me more information than that.
Q This is the WikiLeaks guy, the Army specialist who may or may not be charged with leaking classified material.
MR. MORRELL: I know a lot of guys in uniform, but I don't know them all by name.
No, I can't, Anne. What I know about that situation is that there is an ongoing criminal investigation involving the Army Criminal Investigation Division, as well as I believe some other law enforcement agencies. And I am confident that they will pursue all leads, all evidence to get to the bottom of this.
It appears, though, that someone -- if not multiple people -- violated the trust and confidence bestowed on them by their country, and leaked classified information; which not only is against the law, but potentially endangers the well-being of our forces and potentially jeopardizes our operations. And that, we take very, very seriously. But I don't have anything beyond that.
Phil. I don't have anything beyond that. Phil.
Q The secretary appeared a bit defensive in his testimony about negative -- the negative perceptions of the war --
MR. MORRELL: Imagine that.
Q Would you -- would you --
MR. MORRELL: I'm usually the defensive on that.
Q (Laughs.) Could you -- could you talk a bit about --
MR. MORRELL: (Off mike.)
Q -- his perceptions -- could you talk a bit about his perceptions of -- regard to --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think, you know, over --
Q And are his concerns about the Congress, or about the media?
MR. MORRELL: I think he did a pretty good job yesterday speaking for himself. But I think that you are correct in the sense that he is concerned, as he said yesterday, about what he views as an overly pessimistic narrative emanating from Afghanistan. I don't know that he's laying the blame with anyone in particular. It just seems as though there is a great deal of not just skepticism, but cynicism about what is going -- about our operations there, and an effort to prematurely judge the outcome of the strategy.
Now, remember, a year ago, the Taliban and their terrorist allies were expanding their domain of control, influence and intimidation. In the year since, that growth has been halted, and we are taking back territory from the Taliban.
Their momentum has been thwarted, but it is still far too soon for us to say it has swung completely in our favor.
That said, as you heard from the secretary yesterday, we are regaining the initiative, and we are making headway. But I would remind you that this new strategy has really only been under way in earnest for a few months now, and the full complement of surge forces are not in theater yet. And not all of those that are in theater are yet in the fight.
So we need to give, I think, the strategy a chance to work. We can't, as he said yesterday, you know, pull it up by its roots every few weeks or months to determine whether or not it's growing.
That said, for those who traveled with us around the world last week, you heard him make very clear that he believes the clock is ticking and that the American people and those of our coalition partners are growing tired of war. After all, we've been at this for nearly nine years. So he has said we need to prove this strategy is working, prove to the people of our -- to prove -- the American people and that -- those of our coalition partners that it is working, as we believe it to be, by year's end.
That's still six months away -- and more than 10,000 coalition forces to come, I would add.
One of the reasons he is able to say that is because he and General McChrystal are very confident, or are confident, that with this additional time, with the -- with the six months to go in this year and with the additional resources that are still flowing into theater, he can indeed show that this -- that this strategy is working.
I would note, not only are we six months away from that milestone, that self-imposed milestone, we are a year away from the July 2011 transition date.
A lot can happen in a year. We have a lot of work to do, no doubt, between now and then. But there is still a lot of time left on the clock for us to show -- for us to change the conditions on the ground. And the conditions on the ground, I would remind you, are what are going to determine the pace and the breadth of the drawdowns to come on July 2011.
Q Can I follow-up on that?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q It took some of us, I think, by surprise, both your comments and his comments, because, I mean, obviously, given his history coming in saying the press is not the enemy, his repeated --
MR. MORRELL: I don't think he's blaming the press, Peter.
Q There seem to be some comments -- maybe they weren't his comments; maybe they were your comments -- about the embeds in southern Afghanistan --
MR. MORRELL: I could be, but --
Q -- (laughs) -- the embeds in southern Afghanistan --
MR. MORRELL: That's a -- that's a -- that's a separate -- that's a separate issue. I mean, I think you've heard him say this -- it's -- before in a different context, but he is a big proponent of the embedding process, in large part because he thinks it's provided invaluable exposure for the media to the military, and vice versa, for the military to gain a better understanding and appreciation for what you all do.
That said, he thinks it provides a very narrow perspective on the war. As he says, it provides a soda straw's view on the war. And so -- and perhaps this is an overly simplified reduction of what's going on -- but that -- if you're -- the unit you're with -- embedded with is having a good day, the war is going well; if the unit you're with is having a bad day, the war is going badly.
So I don't -- he doesn't want to necessarily change anything. I have not heard him say we need to change any of this.
I have mused aloud about how can we find ways at expose people to the broader picture in Afghanistan so that we're able to put Helmand and Kandahar in a broader perspective. As important as they are, they do not represent all of what is going on in Afghanistan.
And I will tell you this: I think we are beginning to -- beginning to see a proof of concept in some areas. The areas where our strategy has been employed the longest have improved the most. So let's go back a year ago next month, when the Marines first went to RC South. So whether it be in Garmsir or Nawa, and later in Now Zad and Nad Ali, and finally in Marja, where they have been the longest, we've made the most progress.
And so what they've effectively -- what they are effectively doing is creating a contiguous zone of security where people can -- farmers can move, people doing commerce can move freely and business can be done, people can go to school.
Now, we're far from perfect. We got a long way to go in each of those places. But this notion that there has not been progress made, I think is an erroneous one. Six months ago, Marja was the stronghold -- the Taliban stronghold in the Helmand River Valley. They owned it. They no longer own it. Schools are open. People are going to school. Markets are open. Governance capacity is increasing. The provincial council is being manned.
We're not there yet. There's still too much intimidation going on there. The Taliban, though largely driven out, is still rearing its ugly head at times.
So we recognize there's much more work to be done, but we also don't think it's appropriate to overlook the progress that has taken place.
And it's not just there. I mean, we can go across -- this is my lament, my personal lament. It's -- in RC East you can go to Wardak or Lowgar or Nangarhar and Jalalabad, and even Khost.
In the west, we can go to Herat and Farah. In the north, we can go to Kunduz. Even in RC Capital, we've seen, despite the attack on the peace jirga, the rocketing of the peace jirga -- and there have been some recent high-profile attacks in the capital city -- there have been countless others that have been thwarted, due to the increased capacity of the ANSF and the increased intelligence cooperation between our intel professionals and theirs.
So what I'm trying to convey -- and, again, this is me more than him -- is that there is a wider picture here that at least recently has been overtaken -- overshadowed -- by the intense focus on Helmand and Kandahar.
Q Maybe this is a conversation for another place. It just -- the secretary said at the hearing that he's having a bit of deja vu back to 2007. Those of us who covered your predecessor and his predecessor remember the, "Oh, it's only 14 of -- four of 14 provinces of Iraq. Why do you in the media only concentrate on the bad provinces? Look at all these other provinces where things are going fine." And it just -- it got a little bit -- sounded like the same narrative of that.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, but I think you guys know that he -- and I would hope I, to some degree -- have credibility -- have a little bit -- have some credibility on this subject. He has not berated you about your coverage, ever. And I don't think he's doing that now. Nor have I, in the over-arching sense -- maybe in particular issues.
But -- so, you know, I wouldn't be -- I wouldn't get too sensitive about it. It's not about you; it's not about the people in this room. It's about let's make sure -- and part of this, it's incumbent upon us to do a better job explaining the strategy, and where it's working and how it's working and how the war is broader than Kandahar and Helmand.
I'm not suggesting anybody should shy away from covering those two places. That's where the concentration of our efforts are. That's where most of our forces are flowing into.
And they are vitally important to the outcome of this conflict, I -- just looking for, you know, a wider context sometimes.
Q If he wasn't talking about negative -- when he said negative narrative, he wasn't talking about coverage, what exactly was he talking about?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, there's lots of people who are weighing in on the situation in Afghanistan beyond, just those who are embedded there and reporting on it. I mean, there are -- I don't even need to enumerate for you.
I mean, there are people -- there are people -- talking heads on television. There are members of Congress who have expressed concern. There are all sorts of people who have -- who have -- who have expressed concern.
And there has been as a result a narrative that has developed, that he just thinks is not representative of the progress that has been and is being made there.
But ultimately Steve, it's up to us to prove it conclusively. And we're perfectly prepared to do that. We just want to make sure that the time is provided to do it.
And we have in his estimation at least until the end of the year to make that point conclusively, not definitively. There won't be a victory by the end of the year. But there certainly we believe will be, you know, proof, evidence that this -- that this strategy is working.
And we have till a year from now to set the conditions which will determine the rate of drawdown. Let's not do that now. Let's give [General] Stan McChrystal and his troops the time to do their thing.
That's all that's being asked.
Q Speaking of the generals, Petraeus said yesterday, in a perfect world, he has problems with timelines. What was he referring to there?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think he said it yesterday. I think he said it the day before, just before he became ill.
Well, I think -- you know, I think people have always -- in this building have always cautioned setting timelines to govern military operations. People have always been more comfortable historically with letting the conditions on the ground govern what we do and when we do it.
That said, General Petraeus, General McChrystal, Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates have all strongly supported the president's policy, which is, yes, we need to show commitment, but we also need to show a sense of urgency to the Afghan people, to the Afghan government, to the American people, to our coalition partners; that time is of the essence. We've been at this a long time. We've got to make progress now.
So -- Jeff.
Q Can I ask on a different subject?
MR. MORRELL: Well, let's finish this up.
Dave, we've exhausted this. Everybody's finished being lectured? Okay. I don't blame you.
All right. Jeff, let's go.
Q A couple weeks ago the secretary said that MyCAA [Military Spouses Career Advancement Account] might start taking new applications soon. Do you have any update on that?
MR. MORRELL: I think that there is something before him, a package before him that -- or coming to him that will deal with this going forward. As you know, the program been, I think several weeks ago, if not months ago now, was restarted for those who were already enrolled in it. I think for the -- about the 135,000 who are currently enrolled in it are still benefitting from it. But it had been closed to wider participation as we tried to figure out how to deal with the fact that it has exceeded our expectations in terms of the interest in it.
I think one of the things -- and we're not -- obviously he's got to make some decisions, but one of the things we're wrestling with is what the core principles of this program were. And I think what he intended in this program was for spouses to acquire skills that were easily portable, so that when they were transferred from one post to another post and forced to uproot and make a new life elsewhere, they would have the means of -- an easier time of gaining employment where they moved to.
So I think this was designed to sort of allow people to -- the funds to go get a real-estate license, for example, or some sort of an -- you know, a home health-care provider accreditation, things of that nature. I do not think it was designed for what it has become for some, which is a way for people to gain the money to go get a four- year degree.
The additional benefits that have been given -- added on to the GI bill through the amendment sponsored by Senator Webb that's now law, those are the -- that's the means through which people should be pursuing higher education and longer-term, more expensive educational opportunities. That's not what MyCAA was designed for. So I think that's one of the things he's wrestling with, is trying to figure out, how do we, given the sudden groundswell of interest in this program, how do we manage that interest, how do we focus it on what it was meant for, how do we handle it from a budgetary perspective? And hopefully we'll have something for you in the not-too-distant future.
Q So it may -- if it does accept new applicants, maybe it won't be something for a four-year degree; it might be something for, as you said, a real-estate license or --
MR. MORRELL: It will -- I think these are the things that are being discussed as -- to determine precisely, do we -- do we -- do we refine this back to what it was originally intended to be, which was an opportunity for people to gain -- to relatively quickly gain a very portable skill that would make them employable wherever they lived, or what it has morphed into, which is an opportunity for people to pursue a range of educational opportunities?
Q Geoff, what's the status of the drawdown in Iraq?
MR. MORRELL: I think we are on pace.
Q And they're going to make the goal by the end of August.
MR. MORRELL: Well, you're going to -- at this point, we are on pace to make the policy directive of being down to 50,000 forces by September the 1st of this year. So obviously the commander has at his discretion the ability to adjust it if circumstances dictate. But at this point, there's nothing that would indicate the need to do so.
We -- there is under way a very rapid and aggressive drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and frankly has been for some time. Over the past 19 months, 85,000 troops have left Iraq.
Just to give you some other perspective, in terms of -- I mean, we are closing bases at an incredible pace. We had two more bases close last week. We now occupy 132 bases. Sixty five of those are partnered, and we remain on track to get down to much lower than that by September the first.
Q The aviation brigade of the 10th Mountain Division is going -- redeploying again after about a 10-month dwell. You mentioned that the American people were tired of war.
Is there discussion within the building of how tired troops are of war?
MR. MORRELL: Sure.
Q I don't mean sick and tired, I mean --
MR. MORRELL: Physically tired, sure, absolutely.
I mean, that's -- I mean, the chiefs are constantly wrestling with that, and it's not lost on the secretary either. I mean, he's the guy who signs the deployment orders every week.
He's the guy who sits there and grills the people around the table, about the need and the justification for each of these forces and whether or not they've had the appropriate amount of dwell time and enough time to, you know, catch their breath, reacquaint themselves with their families, return to a somewhat normal life before they're asked to deploy again.
So he is keenly aware of it, as are the chiefs. And we are working towards getting them more dwell time, trying to get the ratio of deployment time to dwell time in a -- in a better position than it has been over the last several years. It has been improving. We have moved away from a one-to-one. And we're slowly spending more time at home than we are down range. But, you know, until we are drawn down further in Iraq, yeah, we're still going to be asking a lot of our -- a lot of our troops.
Q Was that a factor in the July 2011 date in Afghanistan?
MR. MORRELL: I -- no, I think the July 2011 date was -- is a strategic decision more than it is a manning issue. I have not heard that as part of a discussion. Obviously the overall welfare of the force is a factor in all these decisions. But I have not heard that as part of the specific discussions with regards to the July 2011.
Q Got a couple acquisition, acquisition questions.
MR. MORRELL: Really?
MR. MORRELL: That's out of character.
Q Like you lecturing. (Laughter.)
MR. MORRELL: That's good. Okay. Touche.
Q All right. The first question out of the understated Senator Inouye's mouth yesterday was not about Afghanistan or Iraq or START treaties: It was about the second engine on the Joint Strike Fighter program. Is the secretary starting to rethink his position in light of -- it seems like an unanimous choir of members disagreeing with his decision.
MR. MORRELL: Well, I would take issue with the premise of the question, that there is a unanimous choir of lawmakers disagreeing with him. I didn't hear a unanimous choir. I was up there.
I heard certain people voicing certain concerns, absolutely. That's nothing new and shouldn't come as a surprise to any of us.
But to your more fundamental question, which is is he second- guessing his adamant opposition to spending any additional dollars on the extra engine, absolutely not. And I think he is backed up in a very full-throated manner by the president of the United States, who you saw in a statement he issued a couple weeks ago has made it clear that no matter what is in an authorization bill or an appropriations bill that he may like, if it contains any additional money for the F- 35 extra engine or additional funding for the C-17s, he is prepared to send that bill back, to veto it and have the Congress strip out that which is not acceptable to him.
Q My second question. Today Bob Stevens, the head of the Lockheed --
MR. MORRELL: I'm surprised you even ask that. I mean, you really think that he -- but I guess, back to a more fundamental question, do you think that he is bluffing?
Q Well, we'll know in September.
Q The Hill --
MR. MORRELL: What do you think?
Q The Hill must.
Q Yeah, I do think he's bluffing.
MR. MORRELL: I don't think the Hill thinks that.
Q Anyway, I think he might be bluffing, since you asked, yeah.
MR. MORRELL: Okay. Well, let's see. Was he -- he wasn't bluffing on the F-22, and I don't think he's going to be bluffing on the F-35.
Q Well, you asked my opinion.
MR. MORRELL: Okay.
Q On the second: Today, Robert Stevens, the head of Lockheed Martin, said that the company was accelerating by two years the contract vehicle under which it would go fix priced on the Joint Strike Fighter, assuming more risks for overruns. What's your reaction to that? Is that a --
MR. MORRELL: Well, we are in the midst, as you know, Tony, of negotiations with Lockheed on the next -- on the next round of aircraft. So I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on those, other than to probably reinforce what the secretary alluded to yesterday, which is that his contracting team, led by Undersecretary Carter, have very sharp pencils in hand.
Q I got a couple of random ones for you. Kyrgyzstan, is the U.S. military planning any humanitarian aid to the area in Osh where there's humanitarian --
MR. MORRELL: I think there has been some -- I think the U.S. government certainly is.
MR. MORRELL: I think there has been some, to a -- to a smaller degree, from the United States military. And I can -- I could go through the specifics, if you'd like. I think the commander at Manas authorized $9,000 in humanitarian assistance. He is capped in what he can independently do, and he is -- and I think there has been a military aircraft that was making a -- making a trip to Osh anyway, and delivered some of those -- of that humanitarian assistance.
I think there is a wider USG effort: Over $600,000 of immediate humanitarian assistance is being provided from -- through USAID. I think another $200,000 in medical and emergency supplies, that comes from the Department of State's humanitarian pre-stage disaster assistance program. So it looks like, you know, upwards of 800,000 (dollars), a million dollars, is being allocated thus far.
But I think, you know, right now -- right now, operations -- from a military perspective, operations continue, as they have been, through the Manas Transit Center. All our personnel are safe there, and doing their jobs. And we obviously hope that the situation, writ large, in the country is able to be resolved without further violence.
Q And one more, random? There's -- a Colorado man has been arrested in Pakistan, Gary Faulkner. He was there to single-handedly apprehend Osama bin Laden, or kill him. His brother said that this was his fourth or fifth trip over.
Is there any indication that the U.S. military ever knew that this guy was over there operating in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, looking for Osama bin Laden?
MR. MORRELL: Not to my knowledge.
Q Could I ask a --
MR. MORRELL: Let me just -- let me just share the wealth.
Q Two things. Mr. Gates this morning -- he was quite feisty, I thought, at the START hearing this morning.
MR. MORRELL: Michael was there, I think the only one in this room who was covering the hearing this morning. And he's European. (Laughs.)
Q First of all, he said that --
MR. MORRELL: You're soon to be European.
Q (off mike)
Q He said that F-35s will be dual-capable and that some of them would be sold to allies. Do you happen to know how many of the planned F-35s will be dual-capable and how many will be sold to allies?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know the numbers of dual-capable. And we can certainly get you the numbers of sort of at this -- you know, we have a number of partner nations in the development of the aircraft, I think eight or nine in total. I think -- I think we're planning on building and buying roughly 2,500 [2,443] of the aircraft, and I think there may be another thousand [700 plus] destined for our partners -- roughly. Those are sort of the ballpark numbers. We can try to get you more precise numbers, but I think that's roughly what it is.
Q And also, he painted a rather --
MR. MORRELL: And then there are countries beyond those who are partnering with us in the development phase. I think Singapore and Israel are also people that are also, further down the line, looking to get involved.
Q Rightly or wrongly, the impression I've always had is that the concept of the present missile-defense system is that we're dealing with -- we need to cater for rogue states, the odd missile here or there. The secretary gave a very alarming picture this morning, saying that, in fact, by 2020 we could be faced with a country that could launch a salvo of tens if -- scores, if not hundreds, of missiles from Iran.
Is he confident that this new advanced SM-3 that he talked about is capable of coping with that number of missiles at any one time?
MR. MORRELL: Michael, that was precisely why, even though he was a strong proponent of the ground-based interceptors that were going to placed in Poland and the radar in Czech Republic under the missile -- European missile defense system that was advocated under the Bush administration, he was willing to change his point of view on this and so strongly support the adjustment to that plan proposed by the Obama administration, which is, as you now know, the phased adaptive approach, using largely Standard Missile 3, which would allow us to really build upon our capabilities over the coming decade and beyond. So as the threat developed, we would be able to adjust our defenses to meet the threat.
And that is precisely why he has become such a outspoken advocate for the phased adaptive approach.
We -- you know, the intelligence is an imperfect -- an imperfect science, and therefore, you know, we have been proven wrong before. We have had to make adjustments. And this will allow us the flexibility so that as intelligence changes, as the situation changes from -- in these rogue states, developing long-range and medium-range missile capabilities, we will have the wherewithal to adjust our defenses to protect our forces in the region, our allies and even the homeland from that potential threat.
But he -- the salvo issue should not come as a surprise to you. He mentioned this -- when this was initially rolled out some months ago, it was -- it was that capability that he noted as one of the reasons that he was supportive of this -- the ability to deal with not just a single missile or two missiles but a handful or perhaps many more.
Q And perhaps to say not a handful?
MR. MORRELL: And perhaps many, many more.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I mean, we are clearly dealing with a country that has made no secret of its desire to develop a robust, plentiful, increasingly capable missile arsenal. They do very publicized tests. Although some of them end up being doctored, they still make no secret of their desire to develop such a program.
Q Geoff, I hope you would indulge me. I just want to ask about Afghanistan because I've been thinking about your answer. And I was hoping you could help me understand it better. You mentioned RC North and RC East as areas people aren't going in as much and as examples of where maybe things aren't as negative.
But in the last year, the Taliban's influence in RC North has expanded quite rapidly, in areas that people thought were once inconceivable. In RC East, it's more violent.
Putting aside the embeds, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Karzai government is as strained as we've ever seen it. Two of his top officials some considered the most capable resigned.
And I guess what I'm having a hard time understanding is, should we be concerned that the secretary of Defense doesn't see that overall picture as a negative? If that's not a --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think -- I mean, Nancy, I'd just have to go through it piece by piece with you.
I have not taken a map out and gone around the country with the secretary as I have attempted to do with you. But I'll go through -- we can go back and talk about the north and the east. I'm happy to do that. And they are a mixed -- they are -- there are mixed pictures.
But clearly for example in the north, Kunduz a year ago was definitely trending in the wrong direction, okay?
The once relatively peaceful north was trending in a bad direction. We saw some ugly attacks up there. It has settled down dramatically.
We've seen a dramatically larger and more capable ANSF presence in the north, who are now going outside the wire, on patrols. We've seen an increasingly capable German-led force in the north, who has learned a great deal on the job about counterinsurgency and by all measures are performing it much better. We are about to get 5,000 reinforcements in the north, U.S. forces going to the north for partnered operations; that will also contribute to the bettering of the situation in the north. So I take issue with that.
And the east: obviously, historically, the hardest area that we've dealt with in Afghanistan because of its mountainous border with Pakistan, and the fact that it abuts the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. And Khost was once, you know, the grounds on which Osama bin Laden walked. And yet, by all accounts, from the people I speak to downrange -- and to your credit, Nancy, you go down there a great deal; and I respect the heck out of you for it -- but my understanding is that they are confident that they are seeing progress in places like Khost and Jalalabad and Lowgar and Wardak -- not perfect, as I said before. We still have a lot of work to do. But I don't think anybody believes the situation there is deteriorating.
And so, now, with regards to the Karzai -- our relations with the Karzai government, I would definitely take issue with that. This is -- this road has twists and turns in it, but we are headed in the right direction with the Karzai government. Our relations between our military commanders, our -- and -- in Kabul and the Karzai government, if you ask them, they would tell you they are vastly improved from what they were a year ago.
And not just with the Karzai government. Look across the border in Pakistan. I think they would tell you that the tripartite cooperation between our military, the Afghan military and the Pakistani military in the -- in terms of the border area, in particular, has never been better. I think General McChrystal has developed an extraordinary relationship with General Kayani, in addition to President Karzai and Minister Wardak and Bismullah Kahn and others.
So, obviously there are going to be issues. This is a sovereign country. They've been fighting for three decades now. We have not always been the most credible of partners. We walked away. We turned our backs. We abandoned them. There is a trust deficit that we are still trying to overcome. And we're working our darnedest to do it. And it's going to take time.
That's the bottom line, is we need the time. And we've been allotted at least -- at least another year before the drawdown is due to begin, so at least another year with forces at these elevated capacities to try to make this strategy work and improve the situation in Afghanistan such that it does not become a launching pad for international terror again. That's what we're asking for.
Q That's very helpful. If you could just clarify: You said the situation is no longer deteriorating. From your perspective, when did it stop deteriorating? Is there a point where --
MR. MORRELL: I think -- well, I can tell you specifically. I think for those of you who traveled with us to Istanbul for a NATO defense ministerial in February, that was the first time that General McChrystal, a guy who chooses his words very carefully, and not exactly a cheerleader, said that in his assessment initially when he got to Afghanistan, the situation was serious and deteriorating. He upgraded the situation to be serious but no longer deteriorating.
He was not comfortable in saying the momentum had turned in our favor, the pendulum had swung to us. But he is confident, and does believe, that it is no longer deteriorating, and we are, in this mixed picture, making progress in many areas.
Q Can I follow on that? The disconnect between that picture that General McChrystal presented both in Istanbul, and then more fulsomely last week at the NATO defense ministers, and the one that Secretary Gates and General Petraeus and others presented on the Hill this week, seems really stark in contrast to the questions that they were getting on the Hill. And that isn't a matter of our coverage and whether we're seeing the whole picture. I mean, members of Congress have access to all sorts of information beyond what they see in the newspapers. They were asking questions from the premise that they have not gotten to that juncture where -- that the war hasn't turned around, that it is still deteriorating --
MR. MORRELL: I think -- I think, Anne, you -- I think you underestimate the influence of your report -- not your particular reporting, but of the report -- what's that?
Q Very influential.
MR. MORRELL: Of her reporting or yours --
MR. MORRELL: I think that -- I think that some of the stories that have come out of Helmand and Kandahar have been very, very stark stories -- accurate, no doubt, but they have caused a lot of concern among people. And I -- that's justifiable. The situation down in both those places is still very difficult. It is not indicative of what is going on writ large, but it is very difficult, and there is much more work to be done.
Q Well, then, you have a larger problem. I mean, it's not that you haven't convinced us or --
MR. MORRELL: Haven't convinced you. We clearly haven't convinced the Congress totally yet, either. Absolutely not. It seems -- we have to convince the Congress, and the American people, absolutely. We have work to do in this respect. Okay?
Q Yesterday, Admiral Mullen on the Hill said that -- he talked about the Kandahar operation. He said it was critical to the success of the overall mission in Afghanistan. And I think he said something to the effect of, and I'm paraphrasing here --
MR. MORRELL: As Kandahar goes, the war goes.
We've heard Secretary Gates say -- maybe downplay the importance of Kandahar and Helmand in relation to the rest of the country saying, you know, that's not all of Afghanistan; we have to keep in mind the rest of the country.
Is there a difference in how the two of them see the importance of the situation in Kandahar?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know. I don't think -- I don't think a substantive one. Maybe a rhetorical one, but I really don't think a substantive one. I don't think that Secretary Gates diminishes the importance of Kandahar to the ultimate success of the Afghan operation.
I think what he's tried to do is just put it in the perspective of, it is not the capital city in this country, right, unlike the situation in Baghdad when we surged forces there, where the fate of Baghdad was really make or break for the ultimate outcome in Iraq.
I don't know that it holds that same linchpin significance. It is still clearly very important, as the second largest city in Afghanistan, 800,000 strong, the spiritual home of the Taliban. It must and will be dealt with. But it is not indicative of the entire story in Afghanistan.
Q Can we succeed in Afghanistan without succeeding in Kandahar?
MR. MORRELL: Oh, I think Kandahar is essential to the ultimate success of the operations in Afghanistan. I don't think anybody has ever taken issue with that. I think the only thing people have tried to point out too is that it is not -- it is not to be confused with everything that is going on in Afghanistan.
It is -- what is going on in Kandahar, as important as it is, is not necessarily representative of what is going on in Afghanistan writ large. That's the differentiation, I think.
Yes, this patient woman right here.
Q Thank you. On North Korea, Secretary Gates had mentioned at the security summit meeting in Singapore. He said the United States was considering additional options against North Korea.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don't have any update for you.
Q You don’t have one?
MR. MORRELL: Go ahead. Try again. I mean, yes, we --
Q I just want to ask about what is the contents of the additional military options are.
MR. MORRELL: Well, he said additional options. He didn't suggest -- he didn't say necessarily military options, but that we had additional options. I mean, this is a -- this is a difficult situation. It is essential that North Korea be held to account for their sinking of the South Korean ship.
But at the same time, figuring out precisely how to gain leverage on a country like the DPRK is very difficult. This is a country, as the secretary has said, that clearly doesn't care what the world thinks of it, doesn't care how it treats its people. And so trying to gain a footing, some leverage, purchase on the north is difficult, especially when no one particularly wants to go to war. No one wants instability in the peninsula, least of all the Chinese. So this is one of the dilemmas we face.
And so there are people much smarter than I hard at work trying to figure out precisely how do you, within those confines, hold the north to account in a meaningful way and try to change their behavior in the long run.
Q I have another one. U.S. and South Korea conduct a joint military exercise. Has it be postponed, or --
MR. MORRELL: There are still discussions under way about how to proceed in that respect.
Yes, sir. Do you have anything?
Yesterday Senator Feinstein said she was in contact with Chinese officials about an offer to redeploy men in the Taiwan Strait --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. It's the first I heard of it.
Q Have you guys had any contact?
MR. MORRELL: I have -- not that I know of.
Q Follow on that?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Al.
Q Is that a potentially fruitful line of discussion, that China would potentially redeploy some of its forces off the coast of the strait?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'm not in a -- I'm not in a position to offer an opinion on that. Sorry.
Let's take these last three hands: Steve, Jeff and Peter.
Q Can I talk about Arlington Cemetery? Since the IG report came out, have they identified any irregularities with further graves above the 211 identified then? And what about the report today about some tombstones or headstones found lining the banks of a small stream?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I read the story in the Post. It was certainly alarming and concerning, although if you read the piece, you know, it's not quite clear what we're dealing with, because I guess historically there were tombstones that were damaged or incorrect that were disposed of. So I don't know if this was a marker on a grave that was wrongly -- wrongly ended up in this creek, or whether it was improperly disposed of.
What I would tell you, just large -- from a -- the larger perspective is that this is an issue which obviously was alarming to all of us, and particularly the secretary. I think he is very pleased with the manner in which Secretary McHugh, the civilian head of the Army, has handled it, in a very aggressive and forthright and transparent fashion. And he certainly trusts him to, working in conjunction with the new leadership at Arlington, to correct the errors that have been unfortunately allowed to take place over the last several years, if not longer.
Q Do you know if any others have turned -- come to light?
MR. MORRELL: I -- no idea.
Q With dwell time, if the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade is only getting 10 months, I believe the secretary has to personally sign off.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don't know that they're only getting 10 months. We'll have to check on that for you.
Q We are informed by Gordon Lubold that the Marine Corps commandant maybe imminent, the new one. Putting the names aside, and the timing --
MR. MORRELL: You sound -- you make it sound like Gordon Lubold is a Defense official.
Q Well, he briefs us more often.
Q (Laughs.) Putting aside the name and the timing of it, obviously first service chief picked by this administration, the current commandant has been, I guess we could say, one of the more suspicious of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Do you know if the opinions of "don't ask, don't tell" from the candidates for Marine Corps commandant -- that weighed at all in Secretary Gates's decision who to recommend for that position?
MR. MORRELL: Let me say two things. Number one, I'm not going to comment whether or not there has been a recommendation made by the secretary to the president with regards to a successor to General Conway. The secretary has, as you know, signaled to you all what the issues were that he was going to speak to candidates about. At the top of his list was getting their opinions on their strategic vision for the Marine Corps. How does this unique fighting force retain its uniqueness, if you will? How does it continue to be a different -- a different entity within the larger military, given the fact that it's spent much of the last nearly nine years on land, in much more armored formations, than it historically has, and given the fact that the Army has become more expeditionary, more self-reliant, than it traditionally has? So that was sort of the strategic question that was put to candidates.
He also was very interested in how they would care for Marine families. The Marine Corps, as you know, is generally a younger force, and perhaps because of that, there may not -- has been -- there may not have been quite the attention given to families that the other services had.
I think that is something that General Conway and General Amos have been addressing in their tenures. But I think he wanted to hear how the successor to General Conway was going to focus on the families.
I don't -- I don't know how you could have a conversation with any possible future service chief in this environment in which you did not discuss the issue of "don't ask, don't tell." But I will try to find out if that was something, and get back to you. But I would imagine -- I don't think it was a criteria; I don't think it would ever be a criteria. But I find it hard to believe that it wouldn't be at least a discussion point.
Okay? Thanks so much, guys. Appreciate it.
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