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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
April 05, 2011

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon.  Great to see you all.  

                It has been a while, to say the least.  Between our nearly non-stop travel and your operational briefings, there's not been much of an opportunity over the past few weeks for me to brief you as much as I would have liked.  That's why I'm especially pleased to be out here with you all today.  

                Before taking your questions, I'd like to make a broader point, if I could, about this department's commitments across the globe, especially given the budget debate unfolding this week.    

                In the past month, we have witnessed an extraordinary confluence of crises, from North Africa to the Middle East to the Pacific.  We've also seen a vivid demonstration of the global reach, effectiveness and necessity of American military strength.  

                Let's start with the department's response to the crisis in Japan.  From the moment the earthquake and tsunami struck on March the 11th, American military forces were ready to respond with whatever assistance was needed by Japan, our close friend and stalwart ally. To date, approximately 20,000 personnel, approximately 140 aircraft and more than 20 ships from the U.S. military have supported both the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and consequence management efforts.    

                As you know, just about one week after the earthquake hit Japan, the United States military joined an international coalition to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Libya that could have destabilized nascent democratic movements in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.  This effort, initially -- intentionally and initially limited in scope and scale, began with an American-led strike on Colonel Gadhafi's military, designed to prevent him from killing large numbers of Libyan civilians and sparking a refugee crisis.  It also set the stage for further action by the coalition, with the United States now in a supporting role.  

                All told, since operations began on March the 19th, the U.S. has flown approximately 1,600 sorties, which includes more than 600 strike missions.  The U.S. strike mission ended yesterday evening, as you all know, but we will continue flying support missions under NATO leadership, and we will remain on alert for emergency strike missions, if requested by NATO.  

                Throughout these efforts, we have not lost sight of the fact that the U.S. military is decisively committed in Afghanistan and still has a substantial, though declining, presence in Iraq.  That we have been able to respond to these crises without missing a beat in either of those efforts is a testament to the strength and versatility of our forces and, most of all, to the men and women in uniform who are prepared to take on any mission assigned to them.  

                At the same time that we have been managing these responsibilities, the leadership of the department has been closely watching the debate over the fiscal 2011 budget.  While the administration believes that a government shutdown will be averted, the department, including the service leadership, is engaged in prudent planning so that we will be ready if one were to occur.  While a shutdown would be extremely disruptive to the department and those who work here, I want to underscore that we would still have the authority and the ability to continue key national security activities, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, operations in Libya, and humanitarian assistance in Japan, to name a few.  

                With that, I'll be happy to take your questions.  Yes, Lita.  

                Q:  Geoff, on that topic, can you give us a budget amount as of today, if possible, or yesterday on the cost of the operations in Libya?  And then, looking forward, since it obviously having been dramatically reduced, what do you see as sort of the daily amount?  

                And then sort of secondarily, do you --  

                MR. MORRELL:  Let’s do one at a time.  

                Q:  OK.  Sure.  

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't have updated numbers for you.  I mean, we've spoken, over the last week, about what the -- what the tallies are that we have.  I think it was roughly through the first eight days of operations, the cost -- and the secretary relayed this to Congress last week -- that came to about $550 million.  That does not include the F-15 which crashed.    

                And what we project, now that we're in sort of this exclusively support phase, is that we should -- it will cost us roughly about $40 million a month to sustain operations at this level.  We'd have to do a little number crunching -- and I'm sure we can probably do that, maybe not today, but in the coming days -- to try to figure out how much we had spent until the inflection point last night when we went exclusively to a support mission.  But I don't have that offhand.  

                Your second question?  

                Q:  And then secondarily, also on Libya, there's been some chatter about obviously some intelligence forces being used there, but also some special operations forces.  I'm wondering if the department is looking at all into some assistance, training or any other kind of limited activities for special operations forces, even considering those that often sometimes are then looped under the CIA.  

                MR. MORRELL:  This is one of those -- well, there's a couple things there.  Let me address what I think is the fundamental question first, which is this notion of boots on the ground.  And I see this oftentimes, frankly, in the -- among the talking heads and among the columnists who somehow seem to wish that the president would reconsider his decision on boots on the ground.  The president from the very outset of this operation had made clear that we were going to conduct this without putting American military boots on the ground.    

                That has been the starting point.  It remains the guiding principle here.  

                So there -- despite stories you may hear, things you may wish up, it -- the fact of the matter is, American military boots on the ground are prohibited by the president of the United States in Libya.  And that is just the way it is, and I don't foresee that changing.  Obviously the commander-in-chief is within his right to adjust to situations, but as the secretary told the Congress last week, he does not anticipate that changing.  

                With regards to whether or not other assistance is being contemplated for the rebels in Libya -- I think that was another one that was addressed extensively in the hearings last week, that no decision has been made yet on arming the rebels.  I think the secretary made it clear what his preference is with regards to that, that it be -- that if that is the course of action that the alliance chooses, the coalition chooses to pursue, that it be done by others, given all that is currently on our plate.  

                I would tell you that right now, the focus, I believe, primarily in terms of the interagency discussions on this matter, is what kinds of support we could provide in a nonlethal respect for the -- for the rebels in Libya.  But that's a complicated discussion.  It's an ongoing discussion.  And -- but I think that's where the focus is, not on reconsidering the boots-on-the-ground decision.  

                Q:  Right.  I just wanted to make -- clarify, make sure I understand.  In a number of places, obviously, Special Operations Forces are being used in training and assistance roles.  I mean, even -- take Pakistan.  Does the ‘no boots on the ground’ preclude that from happening?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I think the no boots on the ground -- the no military boots on the ground is very clear, and I don't think it needs elaborating.  

                Yeah, Barbara.  

                Q:  You talked about the secretary and the president saying no boots on the ground is a guiding principle of the president's, you said, and that the secretary does not see that changing.  But of course, the secretary went so much further than that on Capitol Hill, saying not as long as he is in the job.  

                Why did the secretary lay down such an extraordinarily public marker?  And is this him basically saying he's done and he's ready to go?  

                MR. MORRELL:  No and no.  I think -- was the first question -- no, it was not a yes or -- the first one was not a yes-or-no question. The second one is a clear no.    

                The first one, I think people just way over-read this.  I mean, keep in mind the secretary was on the Hill last week for, I think, 10-plus hours.  I mean, he had about four hours of briefings, closed-door briefings with the full House and full Senate on Wednesday.  He had a good six hours of testimony, open hearings before the HASC and the SASC on Thursday.  So, over the course of 10 hours spanning two days, he got this question a number of times.  And if you go back and look at the transcript, at least from the hearings, you will see that time and time again he noted that this was the president's decision from the outset, that this was a policy issue that had been debated and decided and was no longer open to discussion.  

                Q:  Why did he -- ?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I think -- he got the question a number of times, and I think in this one case he underscored that point by making it clear that he does not anticipate the president reconsidering that decision, at least not in the timeframe that he knows he's going to still be on that job.  He just does not anticipate that being something that is reconsidered.  

                I think some people have misinterpreted it as some sort of ultimatum.  But Barbara, you, of all people, who have covered him now for four-plus years, knows that it is completely out of character for Bob Gates to give the president of the United States an ultimatum.    

                That's just -- and certainly not a public one.  That's just not the way he plays ball.  So I think people have had a field day with this. Really, some people, some in certain -- some in certain political circles have had fun with this.  But I just think they've gotten carried away, and it does not accurately reflect what he was trying to communicate.  

                Q:  If I could just very quickly follow up?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Sure.  

                Q:  You said the timeframe that he knows he'll be on the job -- what is that timeframe?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I think, as far as you all are concerned, that has not changed.  He has made it clear he was going to leave this post sometime this year.  But that's as specific as we're going to want to get at this point.  


                Q:  Sort of along those same lines, is there any planning going on in the building for a sort of a phase three in Libya?  Admiral Stavridis acknowledged on the Hill that some sort of stabilization force would probably be required in Libya if and when Gadhafi falls. So are they working on that?  Could that be an inflection point where the president's view on military boots on the ground might change?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I mean, that's a hypothetical in terms of if it could or would.  I don't know.  The truth of the matter is, Al, as you know from -- as an old hand here, we plan for lots of things, but I wouldn't get -- if we are in the process of planning for that, and I don't know that we are -- I can only assume that we are, given how diligent we are usually -- I wouldn't read too much into that.  Our focus right now over the past couple of weeks has been on the opening phase of this engagement, which has relied heavily on American air power, and naval power for that matter.  

                And now we're transitioning into more of a support role that has requirements all its own.  We've got a heavy commitment of jamming -- of jamming aircraft; of ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] of all sorts, manned and unmanned; of tankers.  So there's a lot that we are contributing to this mission beyond strike sorties -- and of course, command and control, as well.  

                Q:  But considering the phase three problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, wouldn't it be prudent to be on top of that both here and at NATO regarding Libya?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's a good question to ask of the rest of the coalition.  As I said before, I'm not aware of such planning going on, but that does not mean that it's not going on.  It could very well be going on and I'm just not aware of it.    

                But the focus right now -- and listen.  Al, I would say to you also, let's just remember all that is going on here.  I mean, I just went through in my opening statement just the full spectrum of operations that we are engaged in, let alone the -- sort of the political turmoil and upheaval that the United States government is responding to around the world.  I mean, there is -- there is limited bandwidth.  So we are working on all these things, and I'm sure someone is considering what happens next.  But we have more immediate issues to tackle in terms of these outstanding questions that you've already raised, Lita has:  To what extent do you aid the rebels? Who does?  Who are they?  Is it lethal?  Is it nonlethal?  These are questions that are still being discussed, and you want to skip ahead to the next phase.  I'm sure that somebody responsibly is considering such things, but there are more immediate questions that are being debated now.  


                Q:  Geoff, what kind of contact has the Pentagon, has the U.S. military had with rebel military leadership?  And --   

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think -- I don't think the Pentagon has -- our personnel have any contact with rebel leadership.  I don't think that --  

                Q:  They've had no contact with them?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's -- I think there have been diplomatic communications, as I understand it.  You'd have to talk to State about -- with certain rebel leaders, but I'm not aware of any communication between the military and rebel leaders.  

                Q:  And is there anything that the U.S. military or the coalition can do or is --  

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, there -- 

                Q:  -- or is prepared to do to help the opposition in its plans to export crude oil from Libya, from its own -- from the areas that it controls?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not aware of any plans of that nature, no.  

                Yeah, James.  Good to see you, my friend.  

                Q:  Likewise.  Thank you.  Following up on a couple of things here, you mentioned that discussions are under way about potentially providing nonlethal aid to the rebels.  Can you elaborate on what that might encompass?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think nonlethal aid was -- the types of things would be like medical supplies, maybe personnel protection, vehicles, things of that nature -- none of which would be sort of, obviously, lethal in terms of its capabilities.  

                Q:  Communications devices?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not -- I'm not so sure that's part of the discussion.  It could be.  I'm not sure.  

                Q:  Second, Secretary Gates made clear in his testimony last week, and Secretary Clinton has stated many times that we're still getting to know the rebels.  Secretary Gates stated a number of times that these were localized uprisings that showed very little coordination between them.  

                How will U.S. policymakers know when they -- when they will have the best possible knowledge of these people in order to make some of these decisions you're talking about?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- you know, I don't know what the threshold is for when there's a comfort level that you can -- now that you know this amount about them or about some of them or at least some of their leadership, that you feel more comfortable engaging in x, y or z manner.  I don't know what the threshold for that it is, James. That may be a question that's better directed to my friends at State or the White House.  But I'm not familiar with it if there has been one that's been established.  

                Q:  Because otherwise, the -- (inaudible) -- could go on indefinitely, correct, getting to know these people?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, obviously, you know, you need to do this enough so that you have an understanding of who you're engaging with, but you have to also do it in a manner that -- so that whatever you choose to do to support them can still be of use to them.  

                Q:  Two other last quick things.  In his remarks, Secretary Gates before the Congress stated many times that he felt that if training is to be provided to the rebels, it should come from some other country besides the United States.  There was one particular comment he made -- I don't have the transcript in front of me -- but wherein he suggested perhaps, I thought, that the rebels might not actually be trainable, regardless of who might endeavor to do it, precisely because they're so scattered, so diffuse, so leaderless.  Is it the secretary's view that the rebels could benefit from training, are trainable?   

                MR. MORRELL:  I have not heard him make any pronouncements, James, that they are untrainable.  I think he has a belief in the infinite possibility of mankind to be educated and trained and improved.  But I don't know that I've heard him expand on what the -- what the limits are of training this particular crew.   

                Obviously we are a department and he is a leader of a department that firmly believes in the value of training and equipping in developing relationships with foreign militaries.  But to Viola's question, taking that step with this group involves several considerations.  One is, just who are we engaging with?  Another would certainly be the caution that he raised last week, is, is this something that we need to be doing, meaning the United States military, vice some of our friends in Europe, who may be less burdened with other responsibilities and who may view this as a more vital interest to their national security, given their proximity to Libya.   

                Q:  Last question.  The secretary in his testimony also said many times that he cannot envision any kind of positive future for Libya that would involve Gadhafi remaining there.  

                He is explicit about that.  Does he have any views as to whether Libya could enjoy any positive future with Gadhafi's sons engaged in some sort of meaningful role?  That's been floated, as you may know.  

                MR. MORRELL:  I have -- I have heard that.  I think that the administration's policy on this, as you may know, James, is that it's up to the Libyan people to choose their leaders.  And they, I think, have been pretty clear that Libya's next leader needs to be someone who rejects violence, respects the will of the Libyan people and is responsive to their call for change.  I'm not certain that any of his children fit the bill.  

                In fact, you know, you heard from the secretary last week, expanding on some of the possibilities for how Colonel Gadhafi may ultimately leave power, you know.  You know, he could come under his own volition to realize that it's the right thing to do.  He could -- he could be pressured into doing so by our -- by some of the military actions that are being brought against him and his forces.  His military may just find that they are sick and tired of the -- dealing with him and the cost that it is -- that they are bearing as a result of it.  And obviously, there is also the possibility that his family may choose to deal with it in some internal way.  But I have not heard him expand on any one of the -- I think he's got seven or eight kids -- on what the merits of one versus the other could be in succeeding him.  But this is ultimately a choice for the Libyan people to make.  

                Q:  Well, if he feels comfortable stating publicly that their -- that the country has no positive future with Gadhafi there, then what prohibits him from saying something about --  

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that anything prohibits him.  I just haven't heard him speak to the -- to the -- to the Gadhafi lineage.  


                Q:  But you said -- you said that the hope, desire, whatever, is that the government shutdown could be averted.  But what would be the most immediate impact to DOD, the military, if in fact the government was shut down at the end of this week? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I -- Jim, let me say this.  I think, as you witnessed today at the White House, with the president hosting congressional leaders, this is an issue of foremost concern to the political leadership of this country.  They are clearly very focused. And I think collectively, the president -- the administration, the president, congressional leaders from both parties are really determined to, hopefully, avoid a government shutdown.  I think negotiations are clearly at a very sensitive point, so I don't think it is wise for me to delve too much into this.  But it is certainly our hope here that we can avoid a shutdown come midnight on Friday evening, and so that's our position.  

                That said, I want to underscore as I did at the outset that even if that were to come to pass -- which we hope it doesn't -- we would retain the ability and the authority to continue to protect our vital interests around the world, to continue to safeguard the nation's security, to wage the wars we're fighting and the operations that we are conducting right now.  

                So that's what our focus is on right now, sort of encouraging -- hoping that this gets solved before that Friday deadline, but thankful that at the same time we retain the ability to still safeguard the nation if that were to come to pass.  

                Q:  I thought you said planning is under way in case that happens.  So what is the -- (inaudible)?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, there is -- I think, as you know, the Office of Management and Budget has put out guidance to all the departments in the government that they should begin prudent planning -- it's the responsible thing to do -- for the possible eventuality of a government shutdown.  

                Q:  (Off mic) -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  That is going on in this building.  There -- the deputy secretary has been -- is running this effort.  And he will -- he is in the process of putting out guidance to the major components in this department about how they should go about planning for a possible shutdown, including such things as what would constitute a -- an exempt operation or mission, sort of an essential operation or mission and what -- and who would be the necessary personnel to continue to carry that out in the event of a shutdown.  

                So that guidance is being worked on.  It should be put out shortly.  And so I think that's the focus right now of the planning effort.  

                Q:  Let me ask you one specific only--  

                MR. MORRELL:  But I would tell you this, though.  As you know, Jim, we've been through this -- many times before, so we're not having to learn how to -- you know, how to do this again.  We have fundamental understanding of this.  We can do this relatively quickly.  It's not without pain, but we are familiar with how to plan for this.  And so we will have the ability to do so within the timeframe that we have left.  

                Q:  Just one specific -- if there were a government shutdown, would any men or women in uniform have their paychecks suspended? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I -- I've seen some of these reports that have suggested that that is a -- that that issue has been determined. I will tell you this, Jim.  It is something that we are still working through right now.  And I think it's premature for anyone to suggest that a determination has been made one way or the other.  We're working through it; haven't come to a determination yet, but obviously that's an area of concern for us. 

                We're not alone in that.  That's something that is potentially facing all government employees.  But we're -- as I said, we're still working through it.  

                Yeah, Dave.  

                Q:  Geoff, what about military families and military family programs and wounded warrior programs and all that?  Can you give them assurances that those will continue?     

                MR. MORRELL:  I can -- I can repeat what I've said, Dave, which is that we're working through all this stuff right now.  Guidance is being -- is being formulated.  It will soon be disseminated.  And then the different major components will have to make determinations about what constitutes sort of essential core missions that need to be conducted even through a government shutdown.  But I'm not in a position here today to tell you precisely what each and every one of those is --  

                Q:  And could I just ask you --  

                MR. MORRELL:  -- aside, of course, from the ones that I mentioned from the outset, which are essential to our nation's security and protecting our vital interests around the world.  

                Q:  I hope this was not a snarky question.  My last one -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  It wouldn't be the first.  Maybe for you, but certainly not the first.   

                Q:  No, no, the last time you accused me of a snarky question.   


                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, did I?  I apologize.  

                Q:  Is your reluctance to talk about the specific impacts of a shutdown at all related to a political calculation as these delicate negotiations are under way?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, I think I've made clear that we are at a very sensitive point in this budget negotiation.  And it is being led not by this department -- we are fundamentally observers of this process -- and it's being led at the highest levels of the government.  You saw today the president hosting the speaker, the Senate majority leader and so forth.  

                So this is very much taking place at that level.  We're not directly involved in the negotiations.  So I just don't think it's appropriate for me to speak too much to this.  

                Now that said, having established that it's sensitive, there are certain things we haven't come to a determination yet on, like the question Jim raised, or the question you just raised.   

                That -- we're going to formulate the guidance.  It will go out shortly, and then these major components are going to have to make those determinations.  

                Q:  When you say shortly, what's the timeframe?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, obviously the clock is ticking and we're getting ever closer to the end of the sixth continuing resolution, so time is of the essence.  But I -- obviously we hope to do it sooner than later so that these components can have the time to figure out these things.  

                Q:  Can I just -- (coughs) -- excuse me -- ask a technical question?  The secretary of the Air Force this morning, when we pressed him on the pay issue, said basically there's an amount of money sitting in an account to pay Air Force people, in this case, and that that money is being expended, and if there's -- and if the government is shut down, that would continue, although the money would run out sooner rather than later.  So --  

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not -- I -- actually I didn't quite follow your formulation, but even if I had, I'm just not going to get into it. This is stuff that's still being worked out.  I don't have a definitive answer to you or to Mik on what exactly would happen in the event of a government shutdown to specific programs or functions.  

                Q:  And why not -- ?    

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.  

                Q:  You've had plenty -- you said you've been through this process before.  There has been talk about a government shutdown for months now.  Why on the eve of it are you still formulating your guidance?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, we're not quite on the eve of it.  And these are determinations that are sort of -- they aren't necessarily, James, durable.  Even though we've been through it before, there may be different -- may be different factors into this calculus as to what's essential at this time.  So we will reissue the direction to the major components, and they will respond with what they believe to be their core and vital functions, and then there will ultimately be determinations made by the secretary and others about how to proceed.    

                But we're -- as I said, we're just formulating the guidance, and we've got time to get this all done, but again, hope it can be averted.    

                Clearly, people are working very hard to try to forgo this unpleasant outcome.  And we are -- we are very hopeful that it can be avoided.  

                Yeah, Anna.  Hold on -- hold on, I want to -- yes.  

                Q:  Geoff, now that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [KSM] and others have been referred to --  

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me -- let me just do -- let's finish this topic and then we'll come to KSM.  Yes.  

                Q:  Well, I just wanted to clarify, when you said components, do you mean that you all – OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] will set up parameters and then the services will then get to decide within themselves who their --  

                MR. MORRELL:  There will be -- the guidance is still being worked on.  It's a -- it's -- there's a lot there, and there's a lot there to help people figure out what is -- what's an essential or exempt operation or service or mission.  

                Let me not -- let me not pre-empt that.  It's still being worked on.  It hasn't been issued.  Hold on, and we'll have --  

                (Cross talk.)  

                MR. MORRELL:  This will be delivered to the major components of the -- of the department; to the services, to the OSD components and so forth.  

                Q:  Is it binding, or is it guidance?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, this is the direction of the deputy secretary of defense; I mean, obviously, it comes with the authority to enforce it.  

                Yeah, go ahead -- I mean, but we're not going to prescribe, so there has to -- people know best in their components what is -- what is an exempt or non-exempt function.  But there obviously are guidelines to help them better understand the parameters here.  

                Yeah, go ahead, Geoff. 

                Q:  I understand you're limited in what you can say on pay, but there's already rumors downrange that paychecks are stopping as of April 15th.  And really, they deserve an answer of some kind.  So can you say what options are on the table about how and when U.S. troops will be paid in the event of a government shutdown?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I can -- for the -- you're the "Rumor Doctor," right?  That's the column?  

                Q:  This isn't a "Rumor Doctor" story.  This is a straight story --  

                MR. MORRELL:  OK.  No, I'm going to help the "Rumor Doctor" out here, because I think if the rumor is that a decision has been made to stop paychecks on April the 15th, I can tell you no such decision has been made.  

                We have not -- we are still working to avoid a government shutdown. That's our focus.  So this is not a fait accompli.  I think at the highest levels of this government people are working to avoid that possibility.   

                I am answering you truthfully, Geoff, when I tell you -- as I always do -- when I -- as I -- when I tell you, Geoff, that we have not been able yet to arrive at a conclusive determination about how everyone's pay would be impacted by this.  We are still working through that.  So I don't have a definitive answer for you to relay to our forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, that's still an issue that's being worked.  

                Q:  Why haven't you been able to determine it by this point?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Because it's an issue that's still being worked.  


                Q:  That's not an answer.  That's saying --  

                MR. MORRELL:  It is an answer.  You may not like it as an answer, but it's an answer.  


                Q:  On Yemen, Secretary Gates supported defense --   

                MR. MORRELL:  Are we done with the budget?  

                Q:  (Off mic) -- but on the components you said, OK, the guidance will be done shortly.  I'm just trying to figure out when will the rest of the department be delivering some kind of an answer, because that's what I'm not getting here.  I mean, you're going to have guidance.  It's going to be delivered.  The different departments are going to base what they need to do.  Is it going to be by Friday?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I would certainly hope so.  

                Q:  (Inaudible) -- will have some -- will have some kind of answer?  

                MR. MORRELL:  This is all designed as a contingency for if the government were to shut down.  Again, we hope to avoid that, but obviously the sixth continuing resolution runs out on midnight Friday evening.  So the point of this is to get this done so that we know, come the stroke of midnight, how the global enterprise would be impacted by that.    

                So yes, this is something that needs to be turned quickly.  

                We're done with the budget.  We're moving on.  Okay, if we're moving on, let me go to Anna and then Larry, and then we'll go to Japan and we'll go to a couple others.  And then we've got to go.  


                Q:  It's a Guantanamo question.  I mean, now that KSM has been referred to the DOD for the tribunals, could you walk us through a little bit about what happens next, and if you can give us a sense of when those tribunals are going to  start. 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- I mean, that's -- you know, the convening authority, the prosecutor, they're going to have to figure out the timing.  So I can't forecast precisely when a trial were to begin.  I know there's been a lot of talk about this and speculation about how soon.  You know, it -- a lot of it depends, frankly, on what kind of pretrial motions are filed by the defense.  I think the hope is that because this began in the military system and there were a considerable number of motions filed before the case was dismissed in January of 2010 that you don't necessarily have to, you know, re- litigate all those motions.  

                And so a lot of the pretrial activity hopefully has occurred and doesn't have to be replicated this time around.  That's the hope.  I don't know that those determinations have been made.  And ultimately, it's going to be up to the -- to the defense counsel and to the judge. But that's the hope.  But obviously the desire is to do this as soon as can be while still, obviously, preserving the defendant's right to a fair trial and ultimately hopefully bringing justice to the victims.  

                Q:  And Geoff, can I ask a follow-up too on this pastor in Florida and whether Secretary Gates has had any contact with him, what the secretary's reaction has been to this?  

                MR. MORRELL:  You know, he has not -- he has not had contact with him in the -- in the aftermath of this very unfortunate incident, I guess, last week or the week before.  

                It went sort of unnoticed here, at least for the first few days.  

                I mean, you remember last summer there was, you know, the world's attention, it seemed -- or at least the cable world's attention was focused on this pastor down in Florida and his threat to do a mass Quran burning at his church down there.  You know, that caused a great deal of concern by our commanders in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that was relayed to the secretary.  And the secretary was concerned enough himself at the possible consequences downrange that he -- that he called the pastor and really implored him not to go through with this burning.  Thankfully, that or something else convinced him not to go through with it, and we were able to avoid a tragic outcome then. Unfortunately, in this case, this guy or one of his associates proceeded with a Quran burning, much smaller in scope.  

                But I think this goes to show you that our concerns were well- founded when we -- when we reached out last summer, because you saw that it has sparked really violent reactions in Afghanistan, and I think some in Pakistan, that have resulted in the deaths, I think, of more than a dozen people.  It's just terribly tragic.  I mean, obviously, this pastor has behaved in a very reckless and irresponsible manner.  We deplore the fact that he has desecrated a holy book.  And it is just disgusting that it has resulted in the deaths of so many people.  

                Similarly, we deplore the violent reaction of so many -- so many people in Afghanistan that have led to the -- to the -- to the killing of many innocent people, including U.N. personnel who are, you know, committing their lives to trying to help the Afghans live a better one themselves.  

                So I just think it was a lot of reckless and irresponsible behavior on both parts.  And we deplore the burning and we deplore the violent reaction.    

                And I think we've been comforted to see, though, that at least in the last day or so, the violence has reduced in Afghanistan.  I don't think there were any violent protests today.  I think there was a peaceful protest that took place at Kabul University.  But peaceful protests are fine, obviously.  It's when they turn violent and the mob takes over, as we saw up in Mazar-e Sharif and then in Kandahar that it can turn tragic.  

                We've also been heartened to see, frankly, a lot of -- and I think this got crowded out in some of the coverage of the Mazar-e Sharif attack -- that a lot of the imams, the religious leaders in Afghanistan, are stepping up and denouncing the violence and making the point to their followers that the actions of this pastor down in Florida are not representative of how America views them or views Islam, and -- nor how the coalition countries view Islam.    

                So that is comforting to see that kind of reason taking hold and being promulgated, and people, I think, responding to it.  

                Q:  Can I follow on KSM real quick?  

                MR. MORRELL:  OK.  

                Q:  Given all the caveats you've laid out about pre-trial proceedings, I'm wondering nonetheless whether you could tell us, do you see it as conceivable that this trial might not yet have begun on the 10th anniversary of 9/11?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I just -- I couldn't tell you with -- with any certainty.  I just don't -- I'm not authoritative enough on how long these proceedings will take to give you any authoritative answer on that.  

                MR. MORRELL:  I just -- I couldn't tell you with any certainty. I just don't -- I'm not authoritative enough on how long these proceedings will take to give you any authoritative answer on that, James.  

                Q:  Do you expect it?  I mean, just --  

                MR. MORRELL:  I think we -- I could -- I couldn't tell you if I expect it.  I can tell you we certainly hope for it.  Ten years is a long time for victims to wait for justice.  

                Obviously there's been some complicating factors, but I think the decision has been made to proceed with adjudicating this individual in a -- in the military judicial system, which is perfectly capable of doing so.  And we will set about carrying that out as quickly as possible.  

                I mean, as you know, the secretary's belief on this all along was that both systems are -- provide viable alternatives for prosecuting terrorists and that frankly you need options in dealing with sort of the complex environment that we're in and the complex legal challenges associated with the global war on terror and apprehending suspects and terrorists, murderers, at different places around the world.  

                I think he was -- he -- but he has said many, many times, as you know, that the -- that the federal system, the civilian court system -- the civilian system, period, is perfectly capable of trying, convicting and ultimately imprisoning terrorist suspects.  

                At the same time, though, he has full confidence in the military judicial system.  And he is -- he is a firm believer that it can bring KSM to justice.  And that process will hopefully begin sooner than later.   

                Q:  (Off mic) -- about the KSM case, has the department made any sort of determination, similar to the determination that DOJ [Department of Justice] apparently had when it was in civil -- going to be tried in civilian court, what happens if any or all of the defendants are found not guilty?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not aware of it.  I mean, I don't have the "if" -- I don't have these hypothetical answers for you.  I mean, this is -- this is something that's going to be handled in the -- you know, in the military justice system.  Although it's part of, obviously the -- our enterprise, it is a separate, you know, independent body that is -- that can provide due process and a fair trial for the defendants. And that's where it resides at this point. 

                So I'm not going to speculate on what, if, when, how and so forth. 

                The hope --   

                Q:  Attorney General Holder said -- when it was in civilian court, he said if they were to be found not guilty in a civilian court, they would still be in the custody of --   

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I don't -- I don't have anything for you.  

                Yes, let's go -- I promised -- I already went to Larry?  I didn't go to Larry.  

                Q:  I never finished my question.  

                MR. MORRELL:  Larry, Japan and then -- I've only got time for, like, four more, so let's do this quickly. 


                Q:  Secretary of Defense Gates supported doubling military aid to Yemen.  In the event of recent attacks by the military on civilians in Yemen, does the secretary regret that, or does he feel like it was a bad idea? 

                 MR. MORRELL:  Listen, I mean, obviously the violence in Yemen right now is deplorable -- I think we all condemn that -- on both sides.  The protests, the demonstrations need to be nonviolent. Obviously, the government needs to respond to them in a nonviolent manner.  So we are -- we condemn the violence all around.  

                That said, Yemen is of major concern to us, has been for years because of the presence of al-Qaida there and the threats that have emanated from there.    

                We have worked hard over the past several years to try to increase the Yemeni government's capacity to deal with that threat in their midst. That is a prudent course of action, given the fact that we knew there was, or is still, a very real threat emanating from that small country on the Arabian Peninsula.  So I don't think there is anybody here -- or anywhere else, frankly, in this government -- who is questioning whether that was the right thing to do and remains the right thing to do.  

                Obviously, the situation right now is a -- is a difficult one. The longer is festers, the more difficult it becomes.  That is why this government has been urging a negotiated transition as quickly as possible.  And hopefully, as that takes place, we will be able to better collectively go after this threat that exists in Yemen.  

                Q:  Were there any contractual conditions set on the aid to Yemen about using it against Yemeni civilians?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, I mean -- to suggest that the aid to Yemen has somehow been used against protesters I think is a leap of faith for which there is no evidence to support. 

                Go ahead.  

                Q:  Geoff, can you give us any update on the efforts of the CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] teams recently dispatched to Japan to help out with the nuclear situation?  

                MR. MORRELL:  The consequence management guys?  

                Q:  Yeah. And secondly, the USS Reagan Carrier Strike Group is repositioning.  Could you tell us about that and why they're repositioning?  

                MR. MORRELL:  I have -- I heard that actually just before I went out today, that it was repositioning.  Obviously, we have the George Washington still in Japan, so there is another carrier there.  We've had two carriers there for the past several weeks to be on hand to help with the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  I'm – I’ve got to go double-check that that was -- that that has been the decision that's been made, to actually pull the Reagan out and reassign it to another mission.  

                But regardless, if that has been the decision, we still have a number of ships that will remain off the coast of Japan, including the carrier George Washington.  So we will retain that capability.  

                I noticed that Minister Kitazawa visited the Reagan yesterday and thanked them for their assistance and the assistance of all U.S. forces over the past couple of weeks. 

                So I would not, in any way, interpret the Reagan's reassignment as in any way a reflection of a diminution of focus or effort or support to the Japanese government in this hour of need.  We continue to have tens of thousands of forces, scores of thousands of forces, in Japan.  We have about 20,000 committed to this phase of the operation, the humanitarian assistance, disaster relief.  As I mentioned at the outset, I think we've [had] 20-plus ships and so forth on hand to assist, aircraft as well, a number of helicopters, aircraft that can monitor radioactive material in the air and so forth. 

                So there is no lessening of our commitment to assisting the Japanese during this difficult time.  I think you saw Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Schiffer went over Friday and communicated that, as well, to his -- to his Japanese counterparts.  I think just the mere fact that the [Pacific Fleet] commander, Admiral Walsh, has been based in Japan, really for the last couple of weeks, running the joint task force there, is a sign of the commitment and the high-level commitment to this problem. 

                So we are going to keep the necessary assets on hand to deal with a whole range of scenarios, and that's just the responsible thing to do -- not just to meet our alliance obligations, but also because, frankly, we just don't know yet -- although there's -- we've had a few encouraging days where the situation seems to be static -- that we don't yet know for certain how this will develop, so we need to retain the ability to respond in a number of different ways.  

                Q:  Are you saying the G.W. is now able to provide assistance in Japan?  Because it hasn't done that so far since the disaster hit.  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know -- you mean that it's -- it obviously left -- it was dry-docked.  It was being serviced.  It came out of dry dock.  It still is on hand and it still has the capability to assist in the missions, absolutely.  

                Q:  CBRN, the CBRN teams -- do you have anything on --  

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't have anything specifically on them, but they can -- I mean, the whole consequence management effort, I think, just continues to grow.  I think we've got 400-plus personnel involved here from across the United States government, Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  There are -- the State Department. There are a lot of professionals who have been dispatched to Japan with a lot of expertise to assist the Japanese government, deal with the range of possibilities associated with this disaster that they're confronting.    

                And that will remain so.  I don't think this -- as I said, the Reagan, what -- and I will go check on precisely what the timing is and what the mission is of the Reagan, but I would not in any way view that as somehow us losing our focus on this mission.  We remain very much engaged in helping our Japanese friends.  

                Yeah, Chris. 

                Q:  Just to follow up on Larry's question, you said that no one in the government had a problem with the secretary approving $150 million in training, in military assets for Yemen.  But Leon Panetta and several others did raise some concerns about that funding.  

                I'm just wondering, at this point, with the instability there, what is the status of U.S. military aid to Yemen?  Has it been suspended?     

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I don't -- as far as I know, it has not been. Obviously, we are monitoring the situation closely.  It's fluid.  And we are making determinations and evaluations based upon how it's developing.  

                Our focus right now, though, Chris, I think from the -- from the USG's point of view is working to try to help in the -- in the peaceful negotiated transition that I think all -- all sides are hoping for.  But, again, I think my colleagues across the river would be better able to speak to that. 

                Q:  But is it smart even giving U.S. military aid to a government that may not even be constituted the same way in a few weeks?  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, but the bottom line is, despite what is -- what is taking place, the fact of life is Saleh remains the president of that country, he remains in control of its military forces, and although clearly our desire is for the response to the protest to be nonviolent and that the grievances of the people of Yemen be heard and be dealt with in a democratic way, we -- we both still face a threat emanating from Yemen that needs to be dealt with.  

                And so there -- and, you know, I don't think there has been any diminution in the commitment of the Yemeni leadership to confront that threat.  And so we will continue to evaluate what makes the most sense for us in terms of dealing with this threat, in terms of support for the Yemeni government.  

                It's a fluid situation.  We'll watch it.  We'll evaluate.  We'll make adjustments if necessary.  

                But the threat from Yemen is a real one that needs to be dealt with, and that's where our focus has been over the past several years.  

                Q:  Geoff, DOD --   

                MR. MORRELL:  Let's do -- you had one, right?  Let's go -- I'll go right down the line, you three and that's it.  Boom, boom, boom. Go.  

                Q:  On mission Tomodachi, do you have the approximate cost of that?  And -- (inaudible) -- make sure that, if any government shutdown happens, that will -- that will not affect the --   

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I've said that from the outset, that that would be a mission that would -- we would still retain the ability to carry out. 

                I think -- I think there had been about $80 million appropriated for the humanitarian assistance disaster relief.  I do not believe we have spent all of that yet.  

                Yes.  Go ahead, Yoso.  

                Q:  Operation Tomodachi has turned out to be the largest U.S.- Japan joint operation in history.  How do you estimate the long-term impact of this operation on the alliance and on their regional stability?  

                And also, is the U.S.-Japan two-plus-two Cabinet-level meetings still on schedule?  It's supposed to be held later in spring in Washington.  

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, to the second part first, I would say that obviously there is a lot going on for the Japanese government, many challenges that they are facing.  And we will continue to work with them on planning for a two-plus-two.  We're both very much committed to engaging in that way.  

                But we're sensitive to the -- to their needs right now, in terms of responding to the immediate crisis at hand.  So we'll work with them to figure out the timing that makes the most sense for their -- for the entire Japanese government.  It's hard enough scheduling four principals to appear at the same place at the same time without a crisis of this magnitude going on.  But we'll work through it, and we'll -- at the appropriate time, we will get together and engage in this fashion.  

                To your first question, how does it impact the alliance, I mean, I -- listen, crises test everybody.  This crisis -- this crisis has tested us.  But I think it's made us stronger and it's made the alliance more solid.  You know, the alliance is codified in a -- in a legal agreement, but where it's really put to the test is in real-life scenarios like the one we're confronting together right now and have been for the past several weeks.  

                And when a -- when a close friend and ally of ours is confronted with a devastating earthquake, a horrific tsunami and then the potential for a nuclear meltdown, there was never a doubt in our minds that we had to respond and had to respond aggressively and with as much as we could bring to bear to help the Japanese.  

                We have done so.  I think it's been very appreciated by the Japanese government, and I think we've worked together in new and different ways than we ever have before, not just on a military-to- military basis but across our governments, in a -- in a true crisis situation.  

                And I think we've had growing pains along the way.  There's no question about that.  But that's to be expected in a -- in a very volatile situation like this.  But I think -- I think all those involved would agree that we are -- we are coming out of this stronger.  

                Now, there are still tests to come, because we're not in -- out of the woods here yet, by any means.  But we're going to work through this together.  

                Last question.  

                Q:  DOD, with DHS and Mexican authorities, have been monitoring the increasing activity of the Mexican cartels, especially now that they are taking more control in Central America.  Do you have any additional concerns because of that?  

                And, on the other hand, I would like to ask you, the adjustment -- the adjustments to the budget of DOD can affect the military assistance to Mexico? 

                MR. MORRELL:  If there -- if there were a government shutdown -- again, I'm not going to speculate on which programs may or may not be impacted.  Obviously, these are determinations that have to be made. But if there were a government shutdown, there would have to be hard choices to be made, and it would have to be essential national security functions that would be retained even through the shutdown of the government.  Again, we hope to avoid that, but those determinations will have to be made.  

                To your first point, I don't have anything for you on that.  

                Thanks, guys. 


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