MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. Good to see you all. Let me give you a very quick rundown of Secretary Gates' schedule for the rest of the week, and then we'll get to the questions.
Right now, he is in the middle of what we call the large group-plus. This is a meeting of military and civilian leadership upstairs here in the Pentagon. It includes the service chiefs, the combatant commanders and senior DoD civilians. Today's session, more than six hours in length, is the latest in a series of these gatherings, focused on the department-wide budget efficiencies initiative and developing the 2012 budget request.
This is, as always, an inclusive process, in keeping with the secretary's commitment to ensure that those responsible for executing changes and reforms are involved in developing both options and recommendations. I would also note the key role played by the leaders of our operational military, reflecting the secretary's desire that they be able to weigh in and shape all aspects of these initiatives.
All of the department's leadership has been working hard to implement the specific measures we have announced and to develop -- further develop our plans to reduce overhead and transfer savings into real military capabilities.
With respect to the budget-efficiencies initiative, a number of the reviews the secretary announced in August are near completion, and the secretary and other senior leaders will face a number of important decisions in the weeks and months ahead.
Tomorrow morning, the secretary leaves on a four-day trip to South America, his second to the continent this year. He will first fly to Santiago, Chile, for bilateral meetings with the Chilean minister of defense, Ravinet, who the secretary hosted at the Pentagon in September.
Chile is among our closest partners in the hemisphere, and we have, among other shared interests, a mutual desire to develop regional mechanisms to support disaster relief. The capabilities that Chile has developed in this area -- pardon me, in this arena -- were on full display to the world this year from its remarkable response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck in February to the extraordinary rescues of the 33 miners trapped underground for 70 days.
The need for a hemisphere-wide mechanism to more effectively channel disaster relief will be a key agenda item for the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, which the secretary will attend this weekend in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This will be the secretary's second CDMA, and he believes this forum can and should play a vital role in fostering cooperation with other governments and militaries in the Western Hemisphere.
Finally, on the sidelines of this ministerial, the secretary will meet with his counterparts from Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil and El Salvador.
Q What is the secretary doing about the two potential legislative agenda items here in the lame duck, START -- new START treaty and Senator Reid's consideration of bringing up the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation? Is he making any direct lobbying or arm-twisting calls to senators?
What is he doing besides supporting the president's agenda on START?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think we talked last week -- or earlier this week about the fact that the secretary had placed a call to Senator Kyl. I believe it was Friday morning last week. And they had a lengthy conversation, and shortly thereafter Senator Kyl met with a high-level briefing team that was sent out from the Pentagon and the Department of Energy. I think they had a three-hour meeting that involved Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller, who's spearheading the department's efforts on New START, as well as General Chilton, the outgoing STRATCOM commander, and I think a high-level representative from the Department of Energy. So that was a three-hour meeting that took place.
And then you obviously saw the joint op-ed penned by Secretary -- Secretaries Gates and Clinton that appeared in Monday's Washington Post. So he is a part of the administrative -- administration's team that is making it clear to the Senate that we need to see action on this matter this year. It is of vital importance to our nation's national security, and we can't -- we can't afford a delay into the next Congress. So I think, you know, his position on this has been well known for some time. It's been underscored in the op-ed; it's been underscored in the conversation with Senator Kyl. I don't think anybody is at a loss for how strongly we feel about this.
Q But his only direct call was to Kyl Friday? He hasn't called him back since Kyl said on Tuesday he doesn't -- he doesn't want it to come up?
MR. MORRELL: They have not spoken since their call last week.
Q And on Senator Reid saying he would consider taking up the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation?
MR. MORRELL: I mean, our -- you know, historically, this department has not been one to tell the Senate how to do its business. That said, you know, we -- it is -- we are a member of this administration, and this president has made a call, as I understand it, to Senator Levin this week and Senator Reid, I believe, as well, making it clear that he wants to see the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. And that's what we as an administration are pushing for. And we certainly see the merit in using that as the legislative vehicle to ultimately get to repeal.
But we are usually reluctant, especially from this podium, to be telling the Senate how to do its business. There are many people here who bristle when they tell us how to do ours, so we try to -- we try to respect each other's responsibilities.
Q My question is about --
MR. MORRELL: Did you have -- Anne, do you have anything else?
Q Well, I mean, just on that last point, I mean, it -- this has gone around a couple of times. I mean, this wasn't your original preferred strategy, to have this done legislatively now, and then now you back it.
Is this sort of the -- is this the last chance? I mean, so you see the merit in this strategy, this legislative strategy, but if you get to the next Congress, there would presumably be fewer votes and you'd have to start all over again. Is that sort of what you're --
MR. MORRELL: Well, listen, I'm not going to be a political prognosticator and try to sort of evaluate -- you know, chances in this Congress versus chances in the next Congress.
You referred in your opening part of your question there to how we've historically been opposed to this.
I don't think that's true. I think what we've always been -- you know, the secretary came out in February with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs very strongly in support of the president's desire to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." He has held to that position ever since. He has not wavered. That is his view.
That said, he was very clear then as well that there is a preferred order in doing things. And the preferred order then was, and now is, let's get the study done. The study is very, very near completion. We are, you know, days away from December the 1st, at which time it will be provided to the Congress, it will be provided to you, so everyone can see the nine-month effort that's been under way to try to figure out the implications of a repeal and what needs to be done internally to prepare for that change. We're almost there.
So I -- that's what our focus is on internally. We are right now in the midst -- now, keep in mind -- I know there have been these calls to move this all up and release the report sooner than December the 1st. I would just remind you that the original plan here was for us to work towards December the 1st as the date by which the report would be due, and then the internal work would begin in terms of working with the services, getting feedback from the service secretaries, from the service chiefs, having the chiefs meet among themselves, having the secretary consider their input, and ultimately charting a course forward for the department.
We have compressed that timeline such that we are now operating on parallel tracks. Not only is the draft report still being finalized, but we are also doing the internal work that would have taken place after December 1st simultaneously so that we can, on December the 1st, not just release the report, but the secretary can state where he wants to take us with regards to this measure.
So that's what we're focused on right now, frankly. And there is -- there is a lot of work to do between now and then, because we have compressed this, sensitive to the fact that there is -- there is a real desire for direction on this.
Q Well, I understand the time thing. What I was trying to get at, not very well, is, does the secretary really, really want this to happen, you know, in the Senate -- yes, after the study comes out -- sometime between December 2 and the end of the session? And is he actively working to ask the Senate to do that?
MR. MORRELL: With regards to the second part of your question, Anne, he is actively working to get this done on an expedited timeline, because December 1st is expedited for us, because we are doing all the work that was to supposed to follow on simultaneously. So that is the focus of his efforts, in addition to the fact we're building a 2012 budget. Oh, and by the way, we've -- you know, we're preparing for an Af-Pak [Afghanistan and Pakistan] strategy evaluation. So -- and also, we're -- are advocating, you know, passage and ratification of New START. So there are a number of balls that we are juggling simultaneously. Just because we are doing multiple things at once does not believe -- he doesn't believe any less strongly in any of these things.
I would just take you through the history again, Anne. He has stated emphatically for months now that he's a supporter of repeal. You have also heard him very, very strongly lately on his real concerns with regards to court action being the mechanism that ultimately leads to a change in this law and policy. The fear there is that it would result -- it would be a very precipitous change and force us to sort of change on a dime with -- you know, with the flick of a light switch, if you will.
So we are right now finishing the report, working with the chiefs, working with the service secretaries, getting their input, finalizing this report, and at the same time, you know, formulating the way ahead for this department to proceed come December the 1st. All that work -- all that hard work is being done simultaneously.
Q Geoff, yeah, I believe in a statement you issued on Friday and again today you mentioned that the report is going to be released in full, the 370 pages or however long it is? And when did that determination come about? Because up until last week, it sounded like there was no indication that any of it was going to be made public, other than potentially, at best, an executive summary.
MR. MORRELL: I don't know where you were getting that indication from. I mean, I think it's always been the secretary's intention to -- I think he views this as a very important work product. I think what he's seen of it thus far -- and he has had a draft report; he's reviewed and read the draft report -- is -- he is impressed by its thoroughness, by its professionalism. And I think it has always been his intention for this to be -- become a public document.
I mean, Luis, you know, we're also not naive here. Even if we wanted to keep this a private document -- which we do not -- it would not remain a private document, sadly. And that's why you also saw in my statement on Friday the fact that he was very disappointed and concerned about a -- you know, about a leak about the draft report. And I can just update you with regards to that. He has tasked the department's inspector general to conduct an investigation that hopefully will identify the source behind the Washington Post report, and hopefully then we'll take appropriate action. But I think it was always our intention to, at the appropriate time, make this public.
Q So it won't be simultaneous --
MR. MORRELL: And not -- not -- not before December 1st to anyone.
Q Will it be simultaneous with delivery to Congress? Or does Congress get it --?
MR. MORRELL: The Congress will see this report on December the 1st, not before December the 1st.
Q Yes, on missile defense, are you --
MR. MORRELL: So don't go camped out up on the Hill, Luis. It's not going to be worth your while.
Q I had a line-saver ready.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Is there an agreement now with Turkey on their support and participation in a missile-defense shield system for Europe, and Turkey then hosts, possibly, radars for that system?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I -- Dan, I don't -- I can't tell you anything definitively. Obviously we've been working with the Turks for some time. It was in -- you know, the secretary met with his counterpart from Turkey when we were in Brussels a month or so ago. This was a subject then. I know it's been the subject of follow-on conversations with other members of the administration, certainly our ambassador to NATO.
From what I've seen, frankly, in the press, it looks as though we've been making progress towards that end. I've seen that Prime Minister Erdoğan has, I think, expressed willingness to host this. I don't know if they've come to a -- some ultimate resolution. But I would -- I imagine that, you know, obviously the goal here is that, come the NATO summit in Lisbon, Friday, Saturday -- I don't know which day this is being taken up -- that the alliance will embrace missile defense for NATO and that Turkey will obviously be a part of our unanimous support of that new initiative.
Q You don't have -- you're -- so you're optimistic that Turkey will -- and you're --
MR. MORRELL: Everything I've seen, everything I've heard suggests there is cause for optimism. I just don't have a sense of whether there has been any conclusive agreement reached on this. There may have been, in which case I'd really -- who'd be most up to date on sort of where we stand in our conversations with the Turks would probably be the -- my friends at the State Department.
Q I just have one unrelated separate question. On private security companies in Afghanistan, what -- is there some movement there? Are you having -- is there a dialogue now with the Afghan government that shows that you --
MR. MORRELL: I think we've come to a -- that one, I think, we have come to a resolution on. I think, you know, there -- we've been working closely with the Afghan government, with President Karzai and his team, for several weeks now, and I think we have, you know, through this collaborative process arrived at what -- at a resolution I think we all think is very responsible and reasonable. And so I'd either point you to ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] or to the Afghan government in terms of articulating the specifics of it. But I would say that I think it is also one that probably the NGOs, who are so vital to the development side of our efforts in Afghanistan, that they can be comfortable with; that it provides for security of major development projects, so that they don't have to fear any more than they already do for their well-being or that of the project as we move forward. But I think we have, you know, arrived at a good conclusion there.
Q You mentioned that at the department Mr. Gates has got a number of important decisions in the weeks and months ahead. The Defense Acquisition Board is meeting Monday, or scheduled to, on the Joint Strike Fighter. Can you give some insight into what they will be reviewing and will that include this technical baseline review from Admiral Venlet?
MR. MORRELL: The DAB is indeed -- I love these terms -- the DAB is meeting Monday, as you said. But I would just underscore to you, Tony, that this was a meeting that was scheduled back in June, so there's nothing sort of -- there's no development that has necessitated this meeting.
It was put on the books in June. It's scheduled to take place on Monday. It will focus, yes, on the JSF, and specifically on the work that Admiral Venlet has been doing with his Technical Baseline Review, which is near completion -- not final, but considerable work has been done there.
They will review that. They will discuss some JSF management issues for the coming year. But I would emphasize, Tony, that you should not expect any decisions to come out of this meeting on Monday. Any decisions with regard to this program, as important as it is, would likely be made -- or at least the major decisions, of course, will be made by the secretary himself, and likely as a part of the 2012 budget review.
But as you know, Admiral Venlet has -- you know, was brought in as a three-star to -- and with a lot of, lot of experience, to really dive deep into this program, deeper than we've ever gone before, and find out as much as we can about any remaining challenges that we face with regards to it. He has done this -- I mean, this is soup-to-nuts. This is 120 people; not taking anybody's word for anything but saying to them, "Show me the money, show me the proof, show me the data, don't give me your version of the world, I want to see your version of the world." And I think, as a result, we feel as though we have a much better understanding, including some new issues, of where we stand with this program and what might need to be done as a result of that.
Q Is it fair to say that it, roughly, is going to recommend additional cost, or additional dollars and additional schedule slip to the development program?
MR. MORRELL: I'm not -- I'm not going to say what it's fair to say at this point. This -- as I said, it's not done yet, and it will be -- any recommendations that come out of it will be dealt with as a part of the budget review, which is something, you know, the particulars of which, that we don't discuss publicly.
So you just hold your horses in that front.
Q Can I ask you -- I mean, a layperson watching this program would say to him or herself --
MR. MORRELL: This program or the JSF program?
Q The F-35 program.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q There was a JET [Joint Estimate Team] estimate last November that resulted in a lot of change to the program. There was a Nunn-McCurdy breach, in Washington parlance, in June. Now is -- there's another review of this program -- three in, you know, one-year. Is this a troubled program that needs all these reviews? I mean, what's going on here, a prudent person would ask.
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, you sort of answered the question yourself with how you stipulated things. I mean, clearly, if it's a Nunn-McCurdy breach, it's having trouble, right?
Q That was June, though, we’re in November now.
MR. MORRELL: Okay, but by definition, if we've hit Nunn-McCurdy, there have been issues with this program, there have been troubles with this program. We've acknowledged that for -- frankly, for the last couple of years. And the secretary in February undertook a major restructuring of this program.
And I can go -- we can talk at length about the measures he took, about the money he withheld, about the people he let go, about the people he hired and promoted, and then -- but one of the key components of this was tasking the new program manager to take a deeper dive than we have ever taken in this before so as to avoid future surprises about this program.
That's what Admiral Venlet has been doing; that's what he has nearly completed. And as I said last time I saw you and just a few moments ago, he has discovered additional issues that are of concern. We are -- it is -- those issues may be discussed in the DAB, but there will be no actions taken at the DAB as a result of those.
That -- those kinds of actions would be reserved for the 2012 budget process.
Q But you can't give a sense of some of these issues, whether they're cost or technical related?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, Tony, it's -- I mean, just to give you one example, we had a belief at one point that we had x number of lines of code left to be written.
MR. MORRELL: Yes. And what we found is we have more software code to be written than we had originally thought. So that's just an example of having, you know, gone under the hood yourself and taken a look at the engine firsthand, that we have discovered additional things that need to be done to get ultimately to where we want to be.
Q You're 10 years into this program now, and you're telling me this year is when you're taking the deepest dive ever. You wonder why this wasn't done before -- the deepest dive.
MR. MORRELL: Well, Tony, obviously there have been reviews of this program previously. I think at the time -- and frankly, I would -- I think it's fair to say the secretary is frustrated by the fact that they have not been as -- they have not fully illuminated the issues of this program. And he made it clear when he undertook the restructuring in February, when he hired Admiral Venlet, that he did not want future surprises. So let's get to a baseline now. Let's figure out where bottom is. And then come to me, so we can make decisions fully informed by all the problems that we face.
But let me just also make clear -- and I know this bores some in our -- some in our audience, but I know it's of great interest to you, Tony -- let me also --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: You're absolutely right, and that's why I want to underscore this point. Don't mistake any of this as any sort of wavering on this program.
This program is -- this will be the backbone of our TACAIR [tactical air] for decades to come. So it is of vital importance to this department. The secretary has believed that for some time. He continues to believe that.
And, you know, we fully expected that there would be development issues in a program as sophisticated as this one. Frankly, every time we've met them, we've overcome them. But we want to have a full -- as full an appreciation as possible up front for what more still needs to be done so that we can plan accordingly, and that's what we're in the midst of right now.
Q Geoff, what does the date -- the year 2014 mean for the war in Afghanistan? Is this -- is this an aspirational goal for the withdrawal of most combat forces, or is this a deadline for withdrawal?
MR. MORRELL: I think you have it right, Justin. You've heard our -- you've heard the lines clearly before. I mean, yes. I mean, it's the end of 2014, which is a goal that frankly was first set out by President Karzai during his inauguration, what, more than a year ago -- or a year ago, and was further reiterated when he went to London for a donors' conference, then again at the Kabul conference. And I think you will see it formally embraced by NATO this weekend.
So, 2014 has been out there for quite some time as an aspirational goal for us to meet in terms of ultimately putting the Afghan security forces in the lead having primary responsibility for the security of their country.
I would emphasize two things here.
Number one, it is the end of 2014, so effectively it's by 2015; and that although the hope is -- the goal is to have Afghan security forces in the lead over the preponderance of the country by then, it does not necessarily mean, A) that everywhere in the country they will necessarily be in the lead -- although clearly that would be the goal, that would be the hope, that's what we would shoot for -- and number -- and B), that it does not mean that all U.S. or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date. There may very well be the need for forces to remain in-country, albeit, hopefully, at smaller numbers, to assist the Afghans as they assume lead responsibility for the security of their country.
I've seen some of these stories that have sort of suggested that there is an inherent contradiction between July 2011 and the -- and the end of 2014. And I think we have always seen these as very much linked and consistent that you would, as the president articulated nearly a year ago, begin the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces come July 2011, based upon conditions on the ground, and then, hopefully, move the Afghans into increasing responsibility for their security.
We're already seeing it, frankly. You know, we talked last week, or two weeks ago, about how at the time I think there were six out of 10 security forces in the -- in the Hamkari operations in Kandahar were Afghans. I think that number has since risen to seven out of 10. So Afghan forces, which have grown by roughly a hundred thousand over the past year, are increasingly taking responsibility for the safety and security of their people.
And we envision that by the end of 2014 they will be able to do that over the preponderance of their country.
Q And so if that worked according to plan and they had security of most of the country, how many U.S. and NATO forces would you see in country at the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, roughly, could you say?
MR. MORRELL: I think it's entirely unknowable at this point. I don't think anybody could tell you with any credence what the force posture will be four years from now. It's just impossible to know. It just depends. Like, we don't know, for example -- here we are nine months out -- less than that; eight months, seven months out from the July 2011 date, and the conditions on the ground are not known to us now about -- you know, for July 2011. So we can't even tell you, for example, how many forces we estimate will be coming out or reinvested come July 2011, let alone, you know, four years from now.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q Okay. After what we have seen this week, President Karzai's comments, how do you describe the relation with --
MR. MORRELL: Let me just -- hold on one second. I just want to underscore, as I talked about the growth of the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces], it was brought to my attention today also, because I think it's overlooked, and although it doesn't deal with us specifically, I think it's an interesting statistic that you may want to pursue: So if the ANSF has grown by a hundred thousand over the past year, similarly, Afghan civil servants. We have trained 11,000 Afghan civil servants since February.
So, much focus has been placed on the growth of the ANSF. And it's important. It is clearly the long pole in our tent in terms of -- you know, the surge was meant for two things. It was meant to reverse the momentum of the Taliban and it was meant to buy time to develop the size and the capability of the ANSF. We've had great success on that front, but we're also simultaneously clearly trying to develop the civilian capacity of the Afghan government. And I think that's a telling figure, that 11,000 Afghans have been trained this year as well.
Q Yeah. After what you have seen this week, President Karzai's comments, how do you describe the relation with Kabul right now? Do you thing the Pentagon and President Karzai are on the same page regarding the special operations of the military, the air strikes in the south?
MR. MORRELL: I do. And I think, you know, it was useful for all of us to have the secretary of defense get this question himself on Tuesday morning at a Wall Street Journal event he attended. I would direct you to those comments, which essentially said that, you know, President Karzai is our partner; we certainly understand what he was trying to express in that Washington Post article.
And I think, you know, what Secretary Gates said is that he thinks that what you saw there was the leader of a country whose people have been at war for the last 30 years is frustrated by that reality. And that's perfectly reasonable and understandable. And he longs for the days, and hopefully the days to come -- the days in the past and the days to come when our role in Afghanistan will be one primarily in the development phase, when we are back to building roads and aqueducts and reservoirs and canals and things of that nature, as we did in the '50s and so on.
But we can't get there from here quickly. It's going to take some time ‘til we are solely in that role in Afghanistan. There is still much more work to be done on the security front. And I think Secretary Gates is confident -- and I think you heard it from Secretary Clinton, as well -- that we can get there with President Karzai as our -- as our partner. He is the elected leader of that country. He will be the leader of that country for the next four years. And I think we both share an understanding of where we are and where we need to get to.
I would also note, as you saw, I think, in one -- in an AP story today, that President Karzai met with General Petraeus yesterday. They had a lengthy meeting. It wasn't entirely one-on-one; I think people joined it later. But as I understand it, they had a very good discussion about the issues that President Karzai raised concerns about in The Washington Post. And I think General Petraeus went through each of those issues -- whether it be night operations, private-security contractors, force levels, things of that nature -- and explained our mutual understanding of these things. And I think at the end of it there was a solid understanding between those two gentlemen about the campaign and, as it's been described to me, there was absolutely no daylight between them on this front. And I think you'll likely see that from President Karzai himself when he speaks in Lisbon at the NATO summit later this week.
But, I mean, I'm sure you've talked, Joe, to our -- to my colleagues in Kabul, who have gone to great lengths to explain to you all, as we have done so with the Afghan leadership, precisely how night operations work.
You know, we have made extraordinary adjustments in how we conduct these things, mindful of the fact that although they are militarily necessarily -- necessary -- and I think clearly all -- President Karzai and everybody else in his administration understands that -- they are politically sensitive. And we're -- we understand that. This does put the Afghan leadership in a -- in a difficult position with its people. They are a sovereign country, but they have real security needs that have to be attended to. And night operations are, you know, one of the most effective ways of doing so.
But nothing we undertake at night is done without full consultation with the Afghan government, with the Afghan military. They have officers in our operations center. They are involved in the planning from the very beginning. It goes up through their chain of command for approval.
And on each and every one of our operations at night -- 80 percent of which, I would remind you, result in no shots being fired as we are apprehending suspects -- in each of these operations, there is a minimum of seven specially trained Afghan special operations forces along, who are in the lead when it comes to announcing -- you know, taking to the bull horn and asking families to leave their homes peacefully so that we can conduct searches for suspected individuals, and who are in the lead in terms of dealing with sort of sensitive situations, particularly dealing with Afghan women and children. So they are vital partners in this from the beginning of the planning process to the execution of these missions.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, let's finish up.
Q Geoff. There's a lot of focus on the 900 trainers -- right? -- going into Lisbon.
And I'm just curious; I think Secretary General Rasmussen said that, you know, we could get the trainers sometime, even by the end of next year. How much -- how important are these trainers? And I know there's a game of poker here at some -- on some level, but how willing would the U.S. be to kick in some of those trainers, if need be, quicker?
MR. MORRELL: Well, the trainers are vitally important. I mean, we are -- as much success as we've had over the past year in growing and developing the Afghan National Security Forces, there is a lot more work to be done. And the way this system is developed, we are going to need more -- many more trainers, hundreds more trainers, very soon.
So I would really, in this respect, point you to Portugal and Lisbon this weekend, and let's hopefully see some developments there, but they are vitally necessary. There's no way around it.
And as for whether or not -- you know, we've stepped into the breach already with what was supposed to be a temporary assignment of -- I don't know. I think it ended up being 600 or so Army personnel who went over to perform a training function. And you know -- listen, for example, this week -- not directly related to training, but the secretary approved the deployment of a battalion, an Army infantry battalion, which will go over to augment the Special Forces village stability operations, which ultimately is what's developing the Afghan local police, which everybody has great faith will ultimately be a game-changer in Afghanistan.
So we clearly have, when necessary, ponied up.
But we also -- and the -- our allies have done -- have been very supportive as well over the past year especially, the past couple years especially. But we need more help from them with regards to trainers. If -- we are -- continue on the glide path that we've been enjoying with regards to the ANSF growth.
Q (Inaudible) -- the battalion like that, is that falling in that 10 percent?
MR. MORRELL: It does, yeah. This would -- this would -- I believe is coming out of the flex that the secretary has. This is -- this was -- I mean, this is why, you know, all these silly stories you see from time to time about, you know, there being a cap. I mean, our commanders still very much have the ability to raise their hand and say, "I need x." And I think every time General Petraeus has ever said "I need x," the secretary has given him x. So this is another case where he has said, this is -- we believe that the Afghan local police are very important, that we think they're having a big difference where they have been deployed so far.
I think right now we have 20 districts certified. We've got -- and we've got, I think -- the desire now is to grow that to perhaps -- we got 20 -- we got 10,000 Afghan Local Police approved. I think the desire ultimately among -- with the Afghans and our command in Afghanistan is to double that, so you potentially have 20,000 Afghan Local Police. That's going to require more of our forces to help the Special Forces that are so key to developing these local police forces, which are roughly -- each district, I think, would have about 300 of these guys.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Hold on, I'll come back to you.
Q Can I just clarify --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q -- the math on that? So you've used about 2,000 of the flex, if I remember correctly, and this would be how many more?
MR. MORRELL: We'd have to get you a precise number, but, you know, it could be a thousand more. We'll have to get -- we'll get you the precise number [note: it is approximately 700]. But remember, these are fluctuating numbers. I wouldn't get so caught up on: you've used 2,000, you've used two- thirds, you've used that. Our numbers are constantly fluctuating, based upon guys rotating in, guys rotating out, guys needed for a certain period of time and then not needed. But this was an identified need that had -- that will be met so that we can continue this -- the development of this Afghan local police program.
Q Geoff, can I just clarify another thing on Gordo's question? So you have 10,000 police, local police?
MR. MORRELL: Now, they have -- we don't have 10,000 now, but what we have -- the program has been approved to ultimately develop 10,000 Afghan local police. I think it is the desire of both the Afghans and General Petraeus to ultimately double that number. We're now looking at possibly a 20,000-person Afghan local police force.
Q Is it concentrated in an area like RC East?
MR. MORRELL: No.
Q Or is it spread around?
MR. MORRELL: No, it's -- they have looked for -- it's all done very, very -- in a very calculated and strategic way, based upon, you know, if -- are there areas where we have a high concentration of troops but there are -- but we can't get them to -- and the -- for example, we've got a lot of focus, obviously, right now in the Kandahar area. There are, as we describe, "rat-lines," supply lines into Taliban in and around kalibar -- Kandahar -- that travel through areas that we don't have the resources to focus on now, but where we see a willingness among the local population to stand up and guard against them being used as a supply route to resupply the Taliban.
And so what we are doing is putting these Afghan local police in areas that we think could have an impact not just on those communities, but also ultimately on the supply and movement of the Taliban.
Okay. This -- as we go on, more hands are going up, which is problematic. It's supposed to work the other way. So let's -- we'll -- I'll go for four more minutes. We'll go to 50. And we'll see -- we'll go into the speed round.
You've already asked.
Let's go to Jayhawk here.
Q There's some report of -- about a possible nuclear test by North Korea. Can you comment on that?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I've seen these press reports you speak of. You know, I've actually mostly seen press reports, frankly, due to this sort of notion of sort of building a light-water reactor and other things where they're undertaking construction here or there. And obviously all I could really say to you there is, we watch the North very closely. We monitor developments there closely. We are trying, as we always do, to decipher real intent in this otherwise very secretive country.
You know, if it's true that they are pursuing any one of these things, it obviously is of concern to us, and we would call on the North, you know, not to take any additional provocative or destabilizing actions and rather to engage constructively with its neighbors, particularly the South, and ultimately in diplomacy so that we can get to what our -- what we hope our -- you know, the goal -- all of our goal is, which is a denuclearized peninsula that is lasting and verifiable and so forth. So, anyway.
Yes, go ahead.
Q (Off mike) -- China commission put out a report which showed some stark U.S. vulnerabilities in the Pacific. I think it was four out of five bases not -- excluding Hawaii only, but that they were vulnerable to Chinese attack. Are you -- are you aware of this?
MR. MORRELL: I have not read the entirety of the report, so let me -- you want to chat after? We can speak about specifics, or we certainly have experts on -- who deal with these matters day in and day out, who can also edify you about any specifics.
Q (Off mike) -- you know, given tensions in the Pacific region, just this -- (off mike).
MR. MORRELL: Say it again?
Q It's a pretty shocking report, given the tensions in the region. It seems that there's -- it seems to point out quite a vulnerability on the U.S. side.
MR. MORRELL: I don't know what the vulnerability is you speak to, so I can't refute it. I mean, I find it hard to believe that we feel as though we right now are vulnerable. If we felt like we were vulnerable and there was a real threat that was potentially -- that we were exposed to, I am sure we would be taking requisite action.
So I'm -- let me look at the report. I haven't seen it or talk to our experts who have seen the report. But I would -- my sense is, I want to take issue with your question, but I am not armed with the ability to do so at this moment.
So, anyway -- yes, young lady.
Q Any update on Secretary Gates' trip to China and --
MR. MORRELL: We're working -- we're working it; hopefully, for early next year. We're still working it. I don't have anything new to announce there.
Q And U.S.-China, military-to-military exchanges, any update on that?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that we've had any developments. I mean, obviously, we've -- I don't know if I have any developments there. Obviously, that is a -- that is a goal. That's something we're working for -- towards. You know, we want increased interaction, engagement, conversation across the board. I don't know that I have any to announce since the last time we spoke, though. Okay?
Yeah, let's go. We have one minute here. Luis, you're not getting one. Go ahead.
Q Yeah, just on Iraq for a minute. The secretary said a week or so ago that he was open to the idea of extending troop presence in Iraq. And since then, they've formed a government over there. Has the department had any kind of communications with the Iraqi government, or do you have any further insight as to --
MR. MORRELL: I think the Iraqi government right now is focused on trying to actually fill out their government. While they have come to an agreement about leadership, about the three key leadership posts, they have a lot of work to do over the next 30 days to form the rest of the -- you know, the key -- the rest of the key ministries.
So I do not believe we have any -- have had any communication along those -- on those grounds. And I wouldn't expect it in the near term, as they have considerable work to do in terms of finishing the formation of their government.
I think what the secretary said the -- probably the last time he -- I can't remember the last time he said this, but he's said it, frankly, for months and months, is that we will -- of course we are open to having such a conversation with the Iraqi government at the appropriate time. But I think they have other priorities at this very moment.
Let's do these two, and then we're done.
Q Geoff, can you tell us why it is that the secretary's going to South America and not to the NATO summit? Doesn't the summit deal with matters that take up much more of his time?
MR. MORRELL: I think the summit will be well represented -- you know, the United States will be well and adequately represented at the summit. I mean, you have the -- this is a head-of-state gathering. The president of the United States will be there. The secretary of defense will be there -- pardon, the secretary of state will be there. So I think we are in more than good hands, at -- particularly for defense-related issues, to be represented by those two. We will have -- Assistant Secretary of Defense Sandy Vershbow will be there. He has a small team with him.
But no, I think there is -- there are more than enough high-level U.S. representatives in Lisbon to do the job. And -- but I think this speaks to the fact, frankly, that there -- we can do multiple things at once, you know -- even though you're right, the preponderance of our efforts militarily have been in the Middle East and have been partnered mostly with Europeans in that effort. As you saw from our trip to Australia and Malaysia last week and by our trip tomorrow to South America, we remain actively engaged elsewhere in the world as well.
We have -- you know, we clearly have increased our engagement, at least with regards to high-level visits and so forth and conversations in Asia over the last couple of years. And we continue outreach in South America as well and elsewhere -- Africa, elsewhere. But we can do multiple things at once. We can deploy high-level officials simultaneously multiple places around the world and still get the job done.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Two quick questions -- (inaudible). One, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, so much going on, and Taliban leaders are saying now officially that as long as one U.S. troop remains there, that terrorism or terror activities will continue. My question is, what role do you think the neighboring countries like India, Pakistan or even Russia will play after 2011 or '14, when all --
MR. MORRELL: Who's -- who's saying this, so long as one remains there?
Q Taliban leaders there.
MR. MORRELL: Is this the Mullah Omar Eid statement?
Q Yeah, one of them, yes, you're right.
MR. MORRELL: If you do want to decipher the Mullah Omar Eid statement, it is interesting reading from the respect that it clearly shows that they are having enormous issues with -- vis-a-vis our operations in Afghanistan. There is a clarion call to sympathetic supporters around the world for additional funding, clearly suggesting they're having trouble financing their operations. There is a call also for fighters not to come back to the safe havens, but to remain in-country duking it out as best they can, even though they're not adequately supplied.
So I think -- and there's also complaints, frankly, about you all, about the media. They feel as though you've been co-opted by us, which I think you guys would obviously take exception to.
But -- so to me, there's a suggestion that they have issues; that the operational tempo, that the additional forces, that the sustained, consistent, aggressive engagements that we have undertaken militarily are -- they are having an impact and they are feeling the effects of it right now.
With regard to the region, yes, India, Pakistan, Iran, all of Afghanistan's neighbors are ultimately very important to the stabilization of that region. They all need to be playing a positive, productive, constructive influence on Afghanistan.
Q And finally --
MR. MORRELL: Justin.
Q Finally, if I may --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, you've -- I think you've had two or three.
Q How important are the plans and agreements that Russia plans to sign in Lisbon about opening up trade routes and possibly supplying more helicopters --
MR. MORRELL: All -- Russia has played a very constructive role with regards to our operations in Afghanistan. We have, as you know, developed a whole alternate supply line network to keep our forces supplied, and they were instrumental in us being able to bring in routes from the north so that we were not solely reliant on what are also very important routes through Pakistan. So they played a very constructive role there. They played a constructive role in terms of counternarcotics. They played a constructive role in terms of supplying Soviet -- or Russian-built helicopters to the Afghan Air Force, who are used to and most comfortable dealing with those aircraft.
So I would, yes, point you to Lisbon next -- later this week. I think we will -- you know, we're going to have our first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council since the Georgia invasion, and hopefully we'll get more -- more movement out of that.
Q My question was, are any of these plans threatened by a potential failure of the START agreement?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, yes, in the sense that we have been working over the past couple of years to restart or reset our relationship with Russia.
We have made real progress in a number of areas, particularly, as I just mentioned, cooperation in Afghanistan, cooperation also in sanctions against Iran, the latter of which could not have been done without Russian support. And in addition to all the reasons why it's important for verification reasons and important for our credibility on nonproliferation issues worldwide, it's also fundamentally important in terms of our credibility as a partner with the Russians on this issue that we be able to get this ratified this year.
And that's why we are pushing so hard to get this done in the remaining weeks that we have with this Congress.
All right, Luis, come see me later.