MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. Sorry to keep you waiting. Good to see you all.
Let me begin with a brief announcement about the secretary’s upcoming trip, and then I’m happy to get to your questions.
As some of you may have heard, Secretary Gates travels to Seoul, South Korea, this weekend, where he will be met by Secretary of State Clinton. On July the 21st the two secretaries will participate in talks with the counterparts in the Republic of Korea. This will be the first such meeting of the so-called "two plus two," and the talks are expected to address the full range of security and alliance issues, including development of the new OPCON transfer implementation plan agreed to by Presidents Obama and Lee earlier this month in Ottawa [sic - Toronto], as well as other enhancements to the military -- to military readiness and deterrence.
In the wake of North Korea’s unprovoked attack on the Cheonan in March, President Obama directed this department to further strengthen its cooperation with the Republic of Korea. Ever since, we have been engaged in high-level close consultations in an effort to devise additional ways to bolster alliance capabilities and improve regional stability.
To that end, next week Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton, together with Minister of Defense Kim and Foreign Minister Yu, will discuss and likely approve a proposed series of U.S.-ROK combined military exercises, including new naval and air exercises in both the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. We are not yet ready to announce the precise details of those exercises, but they will involve a wide range of assets and are expected to be initiated in the near future. They will augment already planned bilateral exercises, such as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise that takes place annually.
All of these exercises are defensive in nature, but will send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea and demonstrate our steadfast commitment to the defense of South Korea. This trip, the talks that will take place in Seoul and the exercises to follow are just the latest manifestations of the fact that, as Presidents Obama and Lee noted in Ottawa earlier this month, the alliance between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea has never been stronger.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions. Al Pessin.
Q On the subject you were just talking about, what is the role of concerns about the relationship with China? As the planning proceeds for these exercises with Korea, Chinese officials have criticized the plan. Xinhua News Agency said there’s growing public anger about the prospect of exercises, particularly in the Yellow Sea. So how does China’s position play into the plans?
MR. MORRELL: I’m, frankly, not sure that it does, other than the fact that, obviously, they are a regional power and someone who -- and a country that -- obviously, whose opinion we respect and consider. But this is a matter of our ability to exercise in the open seas, in international waters. Those determinations are made by us, and us alone.
Where we exercise, when we exercise, with whom and how, using what assets and so forth, are determinations that are made by the United States Navy, by this -- by the Department of Defense, by the United States government. And I -- and I can assure you that that is going to be the framework by which we make decisions such as joint exercises with the Republic of Korea forthcoming in the -- in the Yellow Sea, or in the Sea of Japan.
Q Why was it that these exercises that were announced, I think, about seven weeks ago and expected --
MR. MORRELL: We have -- we have never announced exercises.
Q Well, it was said on the record in the Pentagon gaggles that there would be these two naval exercises and that the expectation was that they would be in late June or early July. So my question is why it took so long to get them on track and why they now need to be discussed and approved at the ministerial level.
MR. MORRELL: I take issue, I think, Al, with the notion that they took so long to get on track or that they’re delayed in any way. Obviously, there’s been a lot of action on the part of the U.S. and ROK governments in the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking. We’ve seen a series of high-level engagements, meetings between the presidents of our respective countries, meetings between the secretaries of Defense from our respective countries, the foreign minister, the Secretary of State, and obviously at lower levels much more frequent engagement on how to proceed in the wake of that unprovoked attack. There has been a lot of substantial action that has been taken since, including the action in the United Nations condemning the attack on the Cheonan and pointing blame towards -- towards the DPRK.
As for these exercises, we’ve talked about them, I think, as far back -- at least the secretary has -- as far back as his trip to Shangri-La in early June, when he met with his Korean counterpart, and they talked then about how to proceed on a joint basis in terms of exercises in the region.
It’s something that’s been moving forward ever since. There have been very constructive conversations between our two militaries about how best to do so in a way that not only enhances our ability to work together so that they actually have real benefit to our respective militaries and their interoperability, but also, obviously, to also send a message to the DPRK and to the region, a message of deterrence to the DPRK, a message to the region in terms our commitment to stability.
Those things are complicated. It’s taken some time to work out. But I don’t think it’s been -- it’s been an unduly lengthy period of time. And we are going to have a -- what will likely be a final consultation on this matter when the two secretaries meet with their counterparts in Seoul. And I expect that shortly thereafter we will proceed with what we believe to be very smart, very productive and very helpful exercises shortly thereafter.
Q/STAFF (?): (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Yes, this young lady.
Q But Chinese have already a military exercise near the Japanese ocean recently. Why not at -- (does ?) South Korea have, you know, their own territories anyway, east coast or the south coast? Why they so -- criticize, the Chinese, and --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, well, you would have to ask those who are critical within the Chinese government or the Chinese population as to why they’d be critical of exercises in the -- in the West Sea.
Listen, there are obviously territorial waters that we are always respectful of no matter where we operate throughout the world. But beyond that jurisdiction, beyond that -- that 12-mile limit, we get into the high seas, international waters that we or anybody else is free to operate in, and we do regularly. I mean, I think the last time, for example, the George Washington was operating in the -- in the -- in the Yellow Sea was in October.
It -- you know, it happens with regularity and frequency.
So it’s not unusual at all for us to be operating in the Yellow Sea. And I suspect that the decision will be made at the two-plus-two or thereabouts that a component to our exercises going forward will be exercising in the Yellow Sea, just as it will be to exercise in the Sea of Japan.
But in terms of the timing and which assets are used, those I don’t care to share at this time. I think those are things we’re still working through. But those are determinations we make in consultation in this case with the Republic of Korea.
Q Does this mean the U.S. is turning the page now on the sinking incident, if we’re moving towards these talks, these agreements? Or is the U.S. still seeking any type of penalty for North Korea, sanctions? Is it a new day now?
MR. MORRELL: I don’t know that we’re turning the page. I mean, obviously there was an attempt this week for the U.N. command in Korea -- in the Republic of Korea to meet with their -- to meet with the north at the meeting post at the DMZ.
That was canceled due to administrative reasons cited by the North Koreans. The aim there was to share information about the findings of the investigation with the north.
So obviously there are -- there is still work to be done. But these are steps. I don’t think we’ve arrived at any sort of point of finality. But we have made steps. We have made progress in the aftermath of this.
We have -- there have been real consequences in terms of the condemnation of the world, the presidential statement out of the U.N., the investigative findings, these exercises. So I think there is a process here that we’re still working through.
Q You said --
Q Can I?
MR. MORRELL: Anybody else on that? Viola.
Q Yes. Why is it that -- on the North Korean and South Korean issue right now, why do you feel that it’s productive to go forward with these and -- the main question -- I’m sorry -- is, what specifically do you feel the U.S. needs to work with north -- with South Korea on in -- during this delay in -- on transfer? What are some of the specific weaknesses that you see that they indicate they would not be ready at the original date?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I mean, obviously, we think, from an -- from a warfighting control perspective, that the ROK military would be capable of taking over operational control at the original date, in 2012. That’s in terms of their development as a -- as a military force.
That said, we agree that there is utility in pushing this to the right -- further by about three years. And by doing so, we would be able to sort of broaden the scope of the -- of the -- of what is transferred, and we would be able to better synchronize sort of those transformation efforts.
So, for example, while they would be capable in 2012 of assuming operational control of the war -- of warfighting, should that -- should that become necessary, we will now work on, in the additional three years we have, force management, defense reform, ground operations -- their -- the ground operations command. There’s some movement and consolidation of bases and so forth. All of these things can be worked on during that time, so that more than just operational control of the warfighting responsibilities is transferred come 2015.
This will allow us to make sure that we are all synced up and, as a result, ultimately be stronger as an alliance for having taken the time to do so.
Q So U.S. will renegotiate with South Korea 2 plus 2 meeting in wartime command and control?
MR. MORRELL: We will renegotiate, you said?
MR. MORRELL: I don’t think there’s a renegotiation. I mean, the president has made -- the two presidents have agreed to adjust the operational control transfer schedule from it commencing on 2012 to 2015. That’s been agreed to.
Obviously, when the two secretaries get together with their counterparts, they will talk about a range of alliance issues, beyond just this very limited who is actually running a war effort should one -- should war break out on the peninsula again, heaven forbid. So they’ll talk about a range of things. It will not be a negotiation about op-con transfer. That fundamentally has -- decided.
Obviously now this provides us with the opportunity to delve into a range of other things that can be transferred and moved along over the course of those additional three years. And those are things that will be brought up as well.
Q One more, Geoff.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Thank you. Despite --
MR. MORRELL: You’re asking about Korea?
Q Yes, sir.
MR. MORRELL: Ah. Okay. (Laughter.)
MR. MORRELL: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, sir. Despite global condemnation of the North as far as -- with the South’s concern, China was still supporting the North. And now, as far as this exercise is concerned, if you have not informed Chinese? Or -- are you going to inform China or other nations in the area in the near future before you go for these exercises?
MR. MORRELL: I don’t know that we inform anybody when we’re operating in international waters. I suppose they’re -- you know, I can’t tell you specifically. I’ll try to get you the information.
This is obviously a very high-profile exercise. Given the interest here, I don’t think it’s lost on anybody or will be lost on anybody when and where we choose to proceed with this exercise. So there will be ample opportunity for people to be aware of what we are doing and when we’re doing it and where we’re doing it.
But I think, as a rule, operating in international waters, I don’t think there’s necessarily a responsibility to inform anybody, but I think perhaps, out of an abundance of caution, we may do so. Frankly, I don’t think anybody will be at a loss for knowing what we’re doing when we come -- when it comes time for us to be doing it.
Q One more on this area. Last fall Secretary Gates said that he was pleased with the progress of the plan so far in terms of the transfer of OPCON. So what changed between then and -- (off mike) -- these other elements for consideration?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think he’s still fundamentally pleased with the development of the Korean military, particularly when it comes not just to their fighting ability but to their warfighting management capabilities as well. And that’s evidenced by the fact that he believes fundamentally that they are in a position or will be in a position to assume those responsibilities on the original time schedule, the 2012 time schedule.
That said, the two presidents have come to an agreement that they’re -- that it is worth adjusting that timeline, pushing it three years to the right, to 2015, so that we can work on other issues as well, just beyond the day-to-day management of a conflict on the peninsula. And that’s what I referenced in my answer to Viola, that there are other areas that we are now going to focus on -- and those are just a few, and we can get you more, and more specificity -- in the additional time that we now have afforded to us.
Q (Off mike) -- added since then.
MR. MORRELL: Sorry?
Q (Off mike) -- since then.
MR. MORRELL: I’m not sure they’ve been added since then.
I think they are things that we are now going to take advantage of the additional time we have to deal with, rather than do OPCON transfer with regards to this narrow, limited function in terms of managing the day-to-day warfighting. And we’re going to do a broader transfer that involves a host of other areas, as well, is my understanding of it.
But we will -- listen, we’re going to do a -- we’ll do a pre- brief for those who are traveling tomorrow, in terms of the expectations of the trip. And let’s see if we can also provide you guys with some additional information on what exactly is in store vis- a-vis the exercises and perhaps also with OPCON transfer.
Let me just -- this is on this subject, so let me -- right? Okay. Yeah.
Q So in which (key area?) so will George Washington participate in the exercise; I mean, in the Yellow Sea one or in the Sea of Japan one?
MR. MORRELL: The question is, where will the George Washington go? I’m not going to announce where specific ships are going to go at this point. As I said before, the George Washington has operated throughout the region, including in the Yellow Sea. I’m sure the George Washington will operate again in the Yellow Sea. But we’re not in a position yet to announce which assets are going where and when. Suffice it to say we are going to operate in both the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea as a part of these exercises. The timing, the assets and so forth have yet to be finalized, and so I’ve got nothing specific to offer there.
Q On Afghanistan, I would like to ask you about General Petraeus’ plan to create village forces. As you know, President Karzai has expressed some concerns vis-a-vis this plan. Could you give us more details what about this plan? Do you think this plan will help President Obama’s strategy to start drawing down in July 2011, a responsible drawing down in July 2011?
MR. MORRELL: Thanks for the question, Joe. I would say this. General Petraeus has been on the job for, what, 10-11 days? I think he has met with President Karzai every single day of his new command, and I think even before that.
So they’ve been meeting daily. And clearly one of the issues that they’ve been discussing at great length over the course of those conversations has been this issue of local community policing.
And I would say contrary to some of the reporting I’ve seen, which has suggested at least in some of the stories that this discussion has caused some sort of tension or rift between them, that is not the case. I think these have been very fruitful and productive and valuable conversations for all involved.
It is clearly a sensitive issue for President Karzai and the Afghan government and the Afghan people, given their history with militias and warlords. And we are certainly understanding and sensitive to that.
But that is not what General Petraeus is proposing here. And I think the Afghan leadership, thanks to this extensive engagement over the last week or so, now understands that. These would be local community policing units. They would not be militias.
These would be government-formed, government-paid, government- uniformed local police units who would keep any eye out for bad guys -- in their neighborhoods, in their communities -- and who would in turn work with the Afghan police forces and the Afghan army, to keep them out of their towns.
What’s more, this is a temporary solution to a very real, near- term problem. This would just be a stopgap measure, or at least that’s how it’s envisioned at this point, because we clearly do not have enough police forces to provide security in -- as -- in enough of the populated areas. While we are growing the ANSF on target, and while we are getting the partnering rates up above even expectations, we are simply not in a position to provide as much security to as many of the areas as we would like to, and as much as the locals would like us to.
So this is -- this initiative was put forth by General Petraeus as a way to deal with that problem in the near term, which is to -- let’s get -- let’s get some locals who care for their communities, who know best who should be there and who shouldn’t. Let’s get them in a(n) established framework -- and this is still to be determined -- but within the government, uniformed, bedded, paid, accountable. And let’s put them to work in their communities.
This is by no means, by no means, a done deal. This is a suggestion, an idea, an initiative put forth by General Petraeus that is under consideration, under discussion between him and President Karzai and others who are -- who are involved in this. And I don’t have any update for you on where it’s going. But I do have the sense that it has not caused any problems in their relationship and that there is, as they go about these talks, I think, greater understanding and greater comfort about what this is that he’s proposing.
Q So this is going to be similar to the awakening councils in Anbar province in Iraq?
MR. MORRELL: Well, the difference -- the -- but, Joe, the difference between awakening councils, the awakening councils were militias. These were local tribal leaders who hired guns, you know, hired, you know, their guys to provide for their security and that of their families and their communities.
They were eventually, under General Petraeus’s leadership, transitioned into a -- into a government force. You remember, the hiring of the Sons of Iraq was such a big issue. This initiative is one where it starts off housed within a government function. It is working for the government; it is not working for any local tribal leader. So I think there’s a real distinction between what the Sons of Iraq started off as versus what he’s proposing in this situation.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q When we were with the secretary in RC East last autumn, we met with some special forces that were training local policemen in a program that looked exactly like this, sounds exactly like this, walked, talked and quacked exactly like this. Why is this a "new Petraeus plan?" What did we see then? What’s going on now?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q And why is there a tension?
MR. MORRELL: I think there have been many names given to this effort over the years. There have been many attempts at this over the years. There have been many incarnations, none of which, as you point out, has really taken root.
We now have a new commander who has his own focus, his own ideas, his own priorities. He clearly thinks, based upon his short tenure on the ground, but also based upon his exposure from his previous days at CENTCOM, that there is a need in this area; that even as we are growing the ANSF on schedule, in some cases ahead of schedule, we simply -- and even though we have significantly increased our forces and coalition forces, we simply do not have the manpower to provide as much security to as many areas as we would like and the people are demanding.
This is a way to bridge that gap so that while we are growing the ANSF, to the point where they’ll hopefully one day be able to manage these kinds of issues, and while we are simultaneously operating at a far higher tempo and degrading the Taliban, so they are less of a threat to these local communities, we can utilize a willing, local, armed population to do community policing essentially, to watch out for their own neighborhoods but do it in a way that doesn’t create militias, that doesn’t create people who are beholden to warlords, that puts them under a government umbrella where there is vetting, where there is you know a degree of professionalization.
Obviously if we’re going to go about fully training a police force, that’s going to take time. So that’s not what this is about. This is about putting locals to work, so that they can be on watch in their communities, for people who shouldn’t be there, and then work with the established security organizations -- the army, the police, the coalition -- to make sure they don’t menace their communities.
Q Geoff, on that?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Just to follow up on the training issue, who would train these folks then? Would they be trained by Afghan national police? Do they have that capacity? Or would you need to go and ask NATO for more trainers?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, no, I don’t think this is -- I mean, this is clearly not about asking for more trainers. We don’t have enough trainers to do the fundamental job here, which is to build the ANSF as rapidly as we would like.
So again, this is really about the fact that there are locals in their communities who resent the Taliban and don’t want them in their -- in their neighborhoods, who are already armed and who want to keep their neighborhoods as safe as they can. We would be able to, in the -- in the construct of this program as it’s proposed, have them bedded by the government, have them outfitted by the government, have them paid by the government, so that they could protect their communities.
I don’t know that it involves an extraordinary amount of training for one to -- in this culture at least, because there’s such prevalence of weapons -- for one to patrol their neighborhoods and keep an eye out for what’s going on.
Yeah, Chris (sp).
Q You know, unlike the Afghan National Army, which is drawn from the entire nation, the Afghan National Police are already drawn from those local communities in which they patrol. The military’s already --
MR. MORRELL: Some are. I mean -- the --
Q (Off mike) -- in the -- in the general area in which they’re working. I just don’t understand -- I mean, if you -- right now, you can’t find enough capable, strong, dedicated, local police officers. Is there some magical pool of applicants that hasn’t been tapped that will sign up for this program?
MR. MORRELL: No, I don’t think that’s, frankly, the issue. I think we are finding able-bodied people who are willing to join the Afghan national security forces. The issue has been, do we have the training personnel to process as many of them as we would like? And do we have the ability, then, to create some sort of operational tempo that’s sort of more manageable, particularly for the -- for the national civil order police, who are really being taxed?
But I think, if the idea is, hey, you can -- you can be paid to watch your own community, I think we believe -- General Petraeus believes, at least -- that there are, based upon his interactions on the ground thus far, there are more than enough people who are willing and able to step up and watch their own neighborhoods.
Q They wouldn’t necessarily be given training like a police officer.
MR. MORRELL: I think I answered that with -- again, I will let him speak to the particulars of his program. My understanding is that this is -- this is all about the fact that we don’t have the time, the luxury, the trainers to make everybody a New York City cop, so -- but what we do have, particularly in this culture, where there is such pervasive use of guns, we have a population that is familiar with weapons, with firearms, and we have a population which has an incentive to protect their neighborhoods, a desire to protect their neighborhoods.
And if we can somehow connect that able-bodied, willing, capable, you know, local with -- with the ANSF, so that when they’re in trouble, when they see something that’s out of the ordinary, when they need help, they’re able to call in support, that, we think, would be an effective bridging mechanism until we’re able to build the ANSF to the point where they can handle these kinds of issues.
Q Geoff, may I just follow, sir?
MR. MORRELL: No, I’m going to spread the wealth here. Go ahead, Jillian (sp).
Q The idea here, though, is, the reason this is getting some new momentum now is that this is a way, where there are sort of local uprisings against the Taliban --
MR. MORRELL: We’ve seen some of that, yes.
Q -- (inaudible) -- you know, and is that what’s --
MR. MORRELL: Is that what -- part of what gives us confidence that this is workable?
MR. MORRELL: I think certainly so. I mean, there clearly have been examples, albeit small and -- and isolated at this point.
I don’t think we could say it’s any sort of trend. I think it’s premature to make those kind of statements. We clearly have seen examples of local communities repelling attempts by the Taliban to infiltrate and intimidate their communities.
We have also, though, seen examples where there are communities that may not have stepped up in that demonstrable a way, but clearly want to and are looking for help in doing so.
But I think all these signs contribute to -- all these things, rather, Jillian (sp), contribute to General Petraeus’s belief that this can work and that it is -- it is a useful bridging mechanism until we can further degrade the Taliban and simultaneously build up the Afghan national security forces so that dedicated professionals can be responsible for security. But in the interim, there are communities that are crying out for help.
Q Geoff, you mentioned earlier that this is -- this idea had been tried before in fits and starts and that there had been problems. And one of the problems in the past has been that the Taliban would attack and kill groups like this because of their hold on communities. I’m curious, is there concern in the building that starting a program like this potentially jeopardizes the safety of Afghans who get involved in this program and further reinforces the idea among some in Afghanistan that the United States isn’t going to be there when they need them, particularly with this looming --
MR. MORRELL: Well -- (name inaudible) -- I would say that’s a risk that Afghans take every day; they -- whether or not to cooperate with the government, well or not -- whether or not to cooperate with coalition forces. That’s the fundamental battle that’s going on here from our perspective, which is, we are trying to win over the Afghan people. We are trying to win over -- particularly the fence-sitters, those who are not fond by the Taliban -- and, by the way, they are increasingly unpopular -- but who are fearful of what the consequences may be if they turn their backs on the Taliban.
I mean, they are very effective at intimidating populations. I mean, there are -- there are countless examples that I can provide, in which there have been just brutal attacks on civilians and civilians who have stepped up to help us. I think the wedding -- you know, the infamous wedding attack with 50-plus killed involved someone who was cooperating with the Afghan government.
I would point you also to the fact that just since June the 1st by our estimation, the Afghan -- pardon me, the Taliban has been responsible for the killing of more than 160 civilians. That accounts for 89 percent of the civilian casualties that have taken place in Afghanistan since June the 1st.
So it puts in context who is really at fault here for the deaths and the injuries that are taking place, that are happening to civilians in Afghanistan these days.
Our -- when we are responsible for them, and by our statistics it’s accounted for roughly 11 percent -- our forces, coalition forces, Afghan forces -- since June, since June the 1st, that is because it was -- it was inadvertent. It was in the course of our operations, and inadvertently Afghans have been killed. And that is tragic and is something that the tactical directives are designed to hopefully eliminate.
By contrast, we know that the Taliban is deliberately targeting civilians. And they are doing so at an increasingly high rate. So despite their rhetoric, which says they only utilize explosive devices -- remotely operated explosive devices to kill Americans or coalition forces, clearly the facts tell otherwise.
They are killing civilians at an alarming rate.
But under this construct -- under this strategy, outlined by General McChrystal, and now being employed by General Petraeus, it is our responsibility to protect the population. The onus is on us, even to protect them from the Taliban. So we have to work doubly hard not just to win their trust and confidence, but protect them.
And so there is a real risk to those who step up in Afghanistan, but that risk has been there. It will continue to be there. And all we can do is continue to assure them that we are going to work our darndest to degrade the Taliban, to hopefully -- and to build up the Afghan national security forces to the point that they can protect the population, and that it is worth siding with the government against this horrible influence in their country.
Q Geoff, I guess I’m having a hard time understanding. Is there anything, then, that the -- that the United States will try to do to reassure Afghans that step up and join these local security forces that they’ll be provided some kind of protection or backing in the face of the Taliban?
MR. MORRELL: Well, what do you -- what do you expect us to provide?
Q I don’t know. I’m asking -- (laughs) -- that’s the beauty of this. I get to stay on this side. I get to ask.
MR. MORRELL: I mean, Nancy -- Nancy, this is a -- this is -- this is a very dangerous country right now. This is a war zone. There are inherent risks for the people of Afghanistan. This is not an esoteric conversation for them. This is real-life, everyday choices that they have to make. We recognize that. We understand the risks that they are -- that they are exposed to. And that is why I think we are trying to take initiatives such as this -- a bit unconventional, albeit -- but because we know there is a need for security in these communities, and yet we do not have the resources to reach them. So we need to come up with creative ways of helping people like that, so that they are no longer terrorized by these terrorists, so that they are no longer intimidated by the -- by the Taliban, so that maybe collectively, if enough of them stand up and join units like this and protect their communities, they can push them away and provide a safe haven where they can no longer operate. That’s what this is all about.
Q Geoff, what -- just a quick one. What is the scale of what General Petraeus is proposing? Are some of the recent --
MR. MORRELL: I --
Q You don’t know?
MR. MORRELL: Yet. I mean, I’m not going to get --
Q Recent stories have suggested this is just a small expansion of an already existing pilot project. I mean, but you almost seem to be describing something larger.
MR. MORRELL: No, I think we’ve talked about it at length. I think we should move on, because I don’t want it to take on a proportion that it’s not. I think it is -- listen, this is no -- we are not there yet. This is an idea. I don’t know, if this idea is ultimately embraced, how it is embraced. Is it embraced on a smaller scale? Is it embraced on a wider scale? Those are things that have yet to be determined. I’m just here to explain the idea. I don’t know how it will be born ultimately.
But these are the discussions that are taking place in a very constructive manner. And I think everybody is sort of better understanding what is being put forth here by General Petraeus. But I’m not in a position to tell you ultimately what the scale of this will be.
I do, however, recognize Tom’s point that these have been -- these -- things similar to this have been tried before. I think you were there when things of this nature were tried before. And they ultimately may have had, you know, limited success in pilot areas, but were never able to sort of take off through the country. We’ll have to see what happens here -- if, indeed, this is ultimately blessed and proceeded with.
Yes. Mike (sp).
Q On another topic, did the secretary receive assurances yesterday from members on the Hill that the Pentagon would be getting the money it needs in short order?
MR. MORRELL: I -- let me just say two things on that. First of all that, despite what I’ve -- what I’ve read about this trip to the Hill, this was not in any way a lobbying effort on the supplemental, on START or anything else.
This was an invitation from the Republican caucus to get together and talk about -- talk about some things. Usually what the secretary does is sit down and -- he may have a couple of opening remarks. I don’t know if he hit on any of these issues in particular yesterday. And then he’ll just throw it open for members’ questions, because they’re the ones who wanted to see him, and he was happy to go on up.
That said, the supplemental did come up. And I think the secretary expressed to the Senate Republicans that he is disappointed that the Congress did not pass the defense supplemental before the July 4th break. He’s very concerned about the predicament that puts us in. And in order to assure that war operations are not interrupted, the services will now have to begin cash-flowing operating costs for war activities using their base budgets.
But because of where we are in the fiscal calendar, this option won’t last very long. So absent more drastic action, we project that certain Army and Marine Corps accounts will run dry in August. So we urgently need Congress to pass the supplemental before members leave town for the next break in August.
While we hope and expect the Congress will get this done, we also are obligated now to begin seriously planning for the possibility that they don’t. The budget team and others are now developing an emergency plan should this happen, but it’s not appropriate for me to discuss the details of that before the secretary has a -- has had a chance to consider the options they’ve put forth.
Needless to say, all of this is extraordinarily disruptive to the department.
But we’ve had some practice at this over the last few years. We’re sadly getting used to this fire drill. And, while we have faced this circumstance in years past, the situation we find ourselves in this year is much more difficult because it comes so late in the fiscal year. So most of the department’s accounts are on their last legs already, so we are left with far fewer options in terms of cash flowing.
Let me make one final point, if I may. The department has a supreme obligation to protect this nation and support the hundreds of thousands of personnel that are deployed in harm’s way. We will take every step possible to fulfill these obligations in the months of -- months ahead until this matter is settled in Washington. It may involve asking a lot of hard-working people in this department to report to duty without an ability to pay them, or other extreme measures we would rather avoid, but we will get the job done, including in Iraq and Afghanistan and where else we operate around the world.
But we hope and expect that it won’t come to that and that Congress will act to resolve this matter in the matter of the next -- in the next few weeks.
Q Another question. Yesterday, the nation --
MR. MORRELL: On this?
Q No; the nation’s largest --
MR. MORRELL: Jeff Schogol.
Q It wasn’t on this.
MR. MORRELL: Gordon Lubold.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Have I exhausted this?
Q I have a different question.
MR. MORRELL: Okay.
Q Yesterday --
MR. MORRELL: Act three.
Q Yesterday, the nation’s largest shipbuilder, Northrop, announced it was consolidating operations in Mississippi for certain classes of ships and looking at diversify -- getting rid of the -- getting out of the ship-building business altogether.
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q What was the department -- among the officials who care about this, what was the -- some of the reaction? Was there trepidation and concern, or was this welcomed as an efficiency moved -- as an efficiency move?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I -- listen, I mean, this is fundamentally a decision for Northrop Grumman.
They’re -- they have a business to run. And they’re making decisions in light of -- in light of their business. And we understand that and we respect that.
I mean, what -- this department is seeking affordable, capable ships as well as a healthy and sustainable shipbuilding industrial base. We are going to work with Northrop Grumman and other parties, to ensure that these objectives are met, as Northrop carries out its business decisions.
I would say this. You know, the affordability of shipbuilding is a real issue for us. The secretary spoke to it at length when he addressed the Navy League in May, I believe it was.
And if this decision ultimately leads, pardon me, to more affordable ships for the department without harming the industrial base, then it’s a good thing. And we’re clearly supportive of it.
As they describe it, and I’ve only based it upon what’s been communicated thus far from the company, the Avondale facility was redundant to their -- to their facility in Pascagoula and underutilized.
And they believe that they can cut overhead and operate more efficiency -- more efficiently rather out of Pascagoula. So we’re all for more efficiency and more affordable shipbuilding.
In the near term, I think closing a facility like this may have a cost impact in terms of the remaining ships that have to be built, the remaining LPD-17s. In the long-term, if indeed they’re correct and it leads to more efficiencies in their operation, then it could be a very good thing in terms of affordability. We’re just going to have to see.
Q A follow-up.
The -- Avondale has produced some very poorly made ships. Its LPD class is seen as a disaster in some circles. Is the department -- was the department concerned about performance down there even before yesterday’s announcement, given that the first class ship, the LPD-17, hasn’t been -- it’s in dry dock still, basically, down in Newport News because of all the problems with it? But --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don’t think -- listen, this is a -- this is their decision. It’s a decision that has a dramatic impact on a community and on a state. I believe Avondale is the largest private employer in the state of Louisiana, some 5,000 jobs. So this is obviously devastating news to that community.
I don’t think there’s any utility or benefit to me speaking ill of any of their operations. This is a business decision that they’ve made. They’ve given us the -- you know, their rationale for it. You’ve heard it.
If it as -- if it is as they describe and it leads to greater efficiency and affordability, then it makes sense, but we also understand that it’s going to be a very hard decision for -- and outcome for that community.
Q Hi, Geoff. When I asked you last about MyCAA, you said that there were -- officials were looking at --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I don’t think -- yes. Let me just -- because I know I’ve gone long. I do not have an update for you on MyCAA.
Q That’s great. I just wanted to say, some people wrote in after you answered, saying --
MR. MORRELL: And you forwarded them to me. I saw them. Yes.
Q And do you have any answers to their concerns?
MR. MORRELL: Well, there were a couple. What was the specific concern?
Q Those state licenses that -- for example, real estate, home health care -- are not recognized by other states. So if you have someone who’s constantly PCSing, getting a real estate license in one state may not be that helpful.
MR. MORRELL: Listen, Jeff (sp), I’m not going to get into, you know, the transferability of real estate accreditation. I just don’t know it. I’m not an authority to speak to it. I mean, obviously, that was one example offered as, you know, programs that could be taken advantage of with MyCAA funds, but obviously there’s a range of programs that you could benefit from and make yourself more attractive to employers through this program.
I don’t have an update for you. I think this is still with the secretary. I imagine we will have movement soon, but I’ve said that before. And I think we’re going to -- we’ll keep you informed. I think Personnel and Readiness should have something soon on this, and we will make sure that Stars and Stripes, of course, is aware of it.
I promised Gordon. Yeah, I think on -- Gordon.
Q Yes. Tell me if this building is looking at al-Shabab any differently in the wake of the bombings in Uganda and if there’s any current update as to what role you guys may be playing to provide an assessment or --
MR. MORRELL: I am not aware -- I mean, obviously -- listen, our building is always looking at potential threats anywhere and everywhere in the world, and this is an organization that obviously has been fixed on our radar for quite some time.
I’m not aware of anything new or different that’s being done as a result of the deplorable attacks in Uganda.
Q Geoff, recently, the new chief of the Northern Command have mentioned that Mexican authorities have requested DOD to create joint intelligence centers, similar to the ones that are operating in Asian countries and European countries. Do you have something about that?
MR. MORRELL: I don’t from here, but I think our experts on Mexico in the press shop, I’m sure, can help you out with that.
Q Geoff, I wanted to ask you about senior mentors briefly. There’s a departure in Deputy Secretary Lynn’s guidance to the military on disclosure. He’s saying now that the disclosures should be private. That departs from the secretary’s policy on April 1st, in which he said those disclosures should be made public. Can you tell me why that is?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I’m -- I -- I’m not -- I’m not as up to speed on it as you are, clearly, Tom. I’d have to take a look at it. I don’t recall precisely what the secretary said on April 1st in terms of disclosure, whether it needed just to be made internally or there have -- had to be some sort of public resource that people like yourself could go to to find out such information. Let us -- you know, let our team find out. We’ll -- happy to arm you with that.
Okay, Yoso. Last -- yeah, Yoso.
You’re gone, so you’re not getting one.
MR. MORRELL: Yoso and this guy. Yeah. Go.
Q (Off mike.)
Q On Marines’ relocation to Guam, it is reported that our -- Secretary Defense Gates sent a letter to Japanese counterpart --
MR. MORRELL: Yoso, didn’t I answer this over July 4th? Didn’t you e-mail me on, like, July 4th and ask me this, and I gave you an answer to this? You want it again?
Q (Off mike) -- this letter? I mean --
MR. MORRELL: Well, the letter was -- the letter, as I understand it, was spawned -- was basically a follow-up to their meeting in Singapore. They met in Singapore at the Shangri-La dialogue, had a bilateral discussion at the end of which or following which the secretary sent a letter explaining the importance of Japan’s contribution for Guam’s -- contribution for the Guam utility infrastructure improvements, to the movement of Marines from Okinawa. The letter addressed the implementation of Japan’s commitments to support the movement of Marines to Guam under the 2009 Guam international agreement.
There have been no discussions between the two governments on increasing Japan’s financial commitments under the Guam international agreement, which are approximately, as I think you know, $6 billion.
Q Is this kind of letter -- or you were expecting a reply from Japanese government?
MR. MORRELL: I haven’t seen the letter. Usually correspondence is met with a reply. I don’t know what the expectation was when this was sent. It sounds to me like this was, "Hey, we just had this meeting, here’s my understanding, does it jive with yours?"
But I -- we’ll have to find out if there was a response received or if there was an expectation of a response when it was sent.
Yes, go ahead.
Q On Futenma --
MR. MORRELL: Yup.
Q -- (expert level ?) meeting will be tomorrow here in Washington. So my question is, what’s the goal of the (expert level ?) consultation? Is it to decide a single specific plan by the end of August, or is it to provide several options to ministerial level two- plus-two?
MR. MORRELL: No, I think it’s -- I think this is all about working towards the August deadline. And it’s my -- it’s still our expectation that that is -- that that is feasible at this point.
Okay, thank you all. Appreciate it.
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