DOD News Briefing with George Little and Capt. Kirby from the Pentagon
GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. I'm delighted to participate in my first on-camera briefing with Captain John Kirby, an outstanding military officer and public affairs professional. I look forward to working with him, to engaging with all of you on a regular basis. I've longed believed that the press plays an important and critical role in our democracy. I'm committed to supporting your efforts to advance our nation's -- and indeed the world's -- understanding of this department and of the greatest men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to protect the American people, our interests and ideals and our future.
In more than a month on the job here at the Pentagon, I've begun to develop an even deeper appreciation for the complexity of this building and the challenges you face in covering it. Working alongside Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Wilson and his department's dedicated public affairs professionals, I will make every effort to get you the timely and accurate information you need to do your job.
Secretary Panetta is also committed to regularly engaging with the press as he seeks to communicate his vision for leading this department. And all of us here in the secretary's public affairs office will support his efforts to do precisely that.
With that, I will just briefly update you on the upcoming commemorations for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
As you know, Secretary Panetta visited the new and impressive 9/11 memorial in New York earlier this week. He was accompanied by active duty service members who've joined the military since 2001. It was, to be sure, a moving experience. He paid tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11. And in public appearances starting tonight and throughout the weekend, he will emphasize three key points.
First, we must remember those who were killed and injured in New York, Shanksville, and here at the Pentagon, where even on the day of attacks, the result to confront our terrorist enemies did not waiver.
Second, he will stress how grateful the American people are for the service of the millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who've deployed overseas in the past decade.
Third, there's absolutely no doubt that for the past 10 years America has shown its profound resilience. That's part of the American character and is one of many reasons why the secretary believes America is a special place and a leader in the world.
As we approach the 10th anniversary, we remain a nation at war. In Afghanistan, we continue to take the fight to the enemy and are making progress. We are drawing down combat forces in Iraq, and we are working toward a strategic relationship with Iraq in the years ahead. We are relentlessly pursuing al-Qaida and its militant allies.
In these and other areas throughout the world, we honor those who are serving and who have served. They have shown extraordinary courage, ceaseless determination and boundless patriotism. Indeed, it's an honor for me to be able to represent the men and women of America's armed forces.
Now I'll turn to my friend in uniform.
CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY: Thanks, George.
And good afternoon, everybody. I'm also delighted to have this opportunity. I'm honored to share the podium with you, and I look forward to working closely with you as we move forward.
Until I assume my new duties full-time next month, I'll be up here in my current capacity as Joint Staff spokesman. In that vein, the only thing that I would add to what George said regarding the 9/11 anniversary is that I hope we all keep in mind how very much the last 10 years has affected and been affected by the U.S. military. There's no question that we are a more capable and more joint force than ever before. We don't even think about deployments in any other sense but joint, and we certainly don't train for those deployments in any other way.
We are now more integrated with our interagency partners, an attribute that I think makes us more effective not only in a war zone, but also in disaster relief and humanitarian operations. And we certainly adapted well to counterinsurgency warfare, learning valuable and sometimes very costly lessons in combat.
In short, we are a radically different force than we were on the 11th of September, 2001, and we've been at war virtually nonstop since that day.
Some 2 million American men and women have deployed in uniform to fight terrorism and secure our national interests in the last decade. More than 6,200 have come home to Dover Air Force Base. Nearly 46,000 have come home with Purple Hearts. Countless others still struggle with the invisible wounds of war. And we ought to remember today that 200,000 of them are still out there forward deployed around the world doing what they have been trained to do and -- if I may take the liberty of speaking for them -- what they love to do.
These are the most combat-experienced troops in recent history, many of whom signed up in the wake of and because of the 9/11 attack. And they are supported by incredibly resilient, incredibly strong families. Though stressed by 10 years at war, our people are proud of the difference they know they are making.
As we remember and mourn our loss this Sunday, including losses felt right here in the Pentagon, Americans can take pride in the readiness of their armed forces. Our allies and partners can take comfort in it. And our enemies should continue to take caution in it.
MR. LITTLE: Bob.
Q: George, a question on Iraq. I know that you and the secretary both have said repeatedly there's been no decision about what size force might or might not remain in Iraq after the end of the year. My question is, has the secretary made any recommendations to the president on that subject?
MR. LITTLE: Bob, absolutely no decisions have been made whatsoever with respect to post-2011 presence in Iraq. This is a series of discussions that is ongoing with the Iraqi government. And anybody who thinks that they can pin a precise number at this point on what the U.S. presence -- troop presence might be in 2012 is engaging in pure speculation.
Q: But the question is about whether the secretary has made a recommendation to the president.
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into internal administration deliberations or on the ongoing discussions with the Iraqi government.
MR. LITTLE: Justin
Q: Then -- well, that was my question. You're not going to talk at all about the negotiations with the Iraqis? I mean, this is a big issue coming up here.
You can't tell us at all what -- has any number been proposed to the Iraqis? Where do those state of negotiations stand now?
MR. LITTLE: We're pleased that the Iraqis are talking with us. But in terms of specifics, in terms of numbers or other parts of the discussions, I'm simply not going to go there today. It'd be inappropriate to in the middle of the discussions with the Iraqis.
Q: General Odierno said this afternoon that too large a long- term presence would be counterproductive, continuing a sense of occupation, and so therefore it was important to get the number as small as possible. I wonder if that's a view shared by Secretary Panetta or Admiral Mullen.
MR. LITTLE: I think that, you know, to speculate at this point while we're in the middle of these discussions with the Iraqis really wouldn't be productive. I think that, you people are talking a lot about different proposals and so forth. But in terms of specifics, I'm simply not going to go there.
Q: (Off mic) -- more of a philosophical -- I meant it in -- maybe -- and maybe I didn't say at right. It was philosophical.
CAPT. KIRBY: I think it's -- I think it's important to remember that we are executing the current policy right now. The president's policy is to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. Those are the plans that General Austin is executing right now. And that's what our commitment from a military perspective is: to be out by the end of this year. No decision has been made by either government beyond that.
I understand what General Odierno is saying. It's not an -- it's not an uncommon thought. I mean, we face this discussion in Afghanistan as well. You remember General McChrystal would talk about it's not so much the size of the footprint, it's what the troops are doing. But right now there's no decisions past December. And in fact, this department and the United States military is focused on a complete withdrawal by the end of the year.
MR. LITTLE: And the secretary is focused on defining precisely what the strategic relationship going forward will be with Iraq, and that's of course a question that's larger than this department.
Q: But clearly it's the secretary's view that there should be some remaining force in Iraq if he had his way there’d be some training missions, some security, some special operations happening.
MR. LITTLE: Well, I think the training mission is possible. The Iraqis have said that publicly. But again -- no deal has been inked with the Iraqis, and we'll have to see where the discussions go.
CAPT. KIRBY: And we've long said that there are some gaps in their military capability, security capability that we believe we could offer some assistance with. And we're waiting for them to come back and let us know what they think those gaps are and what they -- what they might require.
Q: Is there a deadline for spelling out --- oh ok go ahead Chris.
Q: I just wanted to know, I mean, whatever this number is that you and the Iraqis come up with for the end of the year, has the U.S. military proposed, during the course of these negotiations, a flexibility so that that number could be amended a few months down the line if the Iraqis warrant it? Is this going to be a number that's etched in stone, or are you coming at it in these negotiations from a perspective of something that could be flexible?
MR. LITTLE: I think the key point here is that we're in the middle of ongoing discussions. And hypotheticals in terms of what the terms of the long-standing agreements might be, that would be premature and counterproductive at this point. I'm just not going to speculate at this stage. I think the -- John, do you --
CAPT. KIRBY: I was going to say, I find it interesting that you used etched in stone and numbers. As I said before, I mean, this is really a discussion with the Iraqi government about capabilities. And numbers flow from capabilities, and as capabilities improve, they change. But we're just not there yet.
Q: So, well, if you said capabilities can change, then the U.S. military is talking about some flexibility during the course of --
CAPT. KIRBY: No, we are -- we are in early stages of these discussions right now, and that's really where we are.
Q: Thank you. Two questions. One, we all remember this, dreadful, 10 years ago, 9/11, including in this building. What is the future now? Where do we go after 9/11? Since just like you said, like the secretary said that the war on terrorism continues, terrorists are still there. And the secretary said that drone bombs into Pakistan will continue because al-Qaida and the Talibans are still -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan.
One, what -- did anything change in 10 years as far as U.S.- Pakistani relations are concerned, or do you consider, for the secretary, I mean, Pakistanis and U.S. are allies after 10 years of war?
MR. LITTLE: Well, let me just give you the -- our sense of where the current state of play is with the al-Qaida 10 years later.
Ten years ago, al-Qaida attacked this country. Since then, we have relentlessly pursued al-Qaida and its militant allies. Let's take stock of where they are right now. Al-Qaida in Pakistan has come under unprecedented pressure. Aggressive counterterrorism operations have taken out some of their top leaders, to include Osama bin Laden. They continue to plan against us, but they are on their heels. They remain dangerous, but they've had a tougher time of it recently. And that's because of strong collaboration with -- inside the U.S. government, military, intelligence community and law enforcement agencies working closely together, information sharing.
We have structures in place that have been developed since 9/11 that enable us to make our nation safer. There are no guarantees, so we have to keep the pressure up, and that's exactly what we intend to do as a government.
In terms of the relationship with Pakistan, there's a tendency, I think, to say the relationship's up or the relationship's down.
The reality is that cooperation does continue, and the recent capture of Younis al-Mauritania in Pakistan is an example of that. It's a complicated relationship, but it's an essential one. We have both been the victims of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, and it's a common fight against a common set of enemies.
Q: One more, just quickly. What message do you think there is for India and Pakistan because bombings in Pakistan, bombings in India continues.
And as far as unstable Afghanistan, still, of course, they are -- they have freedom, Afghans, already, thankful to the NATO and U.S. that they got freedom, but Taliban's still a threat.
MR. LITTLE: The secretary deplores terrorist attacks wherever they occur.
Q: George, come back to, the question about the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. Has there been any progress made in terms of having U.S. trainers returning to Pakistan? I know that there was a visa issue earlier in the year.
CAPT. KIRBY: This is about the visa question?
Q: Concerning the military trainers from the U.S. who had been in Pakistan and then were asked to leave.
CAPT. KIRBY: Right.
Q: You know, has there been any progress made in having them go back to Pakistan?
CAPT. KIRBY: No. No.
CAPT. KIRBY: There ‘s been none.
Q: Will the U.S. interrogators have access to Mauritania?
MR. LITTLE: I think that, you know, that's not really a question that I'm in a position to answer at this point. But hopefully, we do receive information. And just as this was a development that occurred because Pakistani-U.S. cooperation, we would expect for there to be information-sharing, based on whatever Mauritania says.
Q: And, Captain Kirby, you said that we're in the early stages of discussions in Iraq about staying, but Admiral Mullen has warned earlier this year that time is running out, that they're on a glide path to pulling out. Are they out of time? And Secretary Panetta said in July, about a month and a half ago, he urged the Iraqis to make a decision.
He said, if I remember correctly, “dammit, make a decision.” Are they out of time to make a decision?
CAPT. KIRBY: No not from a military perspective. As I said, we are executing plans even this month of further removing units and equipment out of Iraq. The plan is to be out by the end of December.
And we were in Iraq in July when the Iraqi government really stepped forward. And we were there, in fact, when he said OK, we're going to sit down; we're going to start to have these discussions, which we all took as a very positive development. And those discussions are ongoing. So I think the short answer is no, we don't believe we're out of time right now.
Q: But at what point will you be out of time if you started this glide path to withdrawal? Is there a deadline for them to make a decision?
CAPT. KIRBY: I'm not aware of a deadline. As I said yesterday to you, there's no slide rule here that, you know, we could mark on a calendar and say it's got to be by such and such a date on a calendar. I think everybody shares a sense of urgency here, including the Iraqi government.
Q: Could I just follow up quickly on that?
MR. LITTLE: The Iraqis are not just talking about talking. They're actually talking, and we're pleased about that.
Q: Is it -- is it within the realm of possibility that U.S. forces would entirely leave by the end of the year because an agreement had not been reached, that an agreement would subsequently reached and then U.S. forces would go back in in some number?
CAPT. KIRBY: That's a hypothetical, David. I'll just tell you that the plan right now and the plan we're executing to is to be out by the end of this year.
Q: But are you -- but you're striving to get an agreement for all U.S. forces.
CAPT. KIRBY: I think everybody shares a sense of urgency about trying to get an agreement, if there's going to be an agreement, for a residual force -- and that's a -- and that's an if right now -- as soon as possible.
Q: Can I just follow up? How can you reassure members of the public and members of Congress that in terms of efficiency, and cost, and risk, that the decision will be made quickly enough before December 31st?
MR. LITTLE: I think John has answered it perfectly. We all share a sense of urgency. There has been progress. We may be in early-stage discussions with the Iraqis, but they understand what the timeline is, and we understand what the timeline is.
And the American people should rest assured that we're doing everything we possibly can to reach an agreement with Iraq. Not just in terms of troop presence for possibly extending beyond 2011, but also about the strategic relationship going forward.
Q: Cost? Security?
MR. LITTLE: Those are all elements that have to be factored in on both sides.
Q: Can you give a little more description of what the discussions are -- who -- this discussion -- who's in the discussion? Is it strictly the State Department? Is CENTCOM involved? Is OSD involved? And what are they talking about exactly right now? If they're not talking about numbers, what are they talking about?
MR. LITTLE: I wouldn't want to get -- want to get into the particulars, but as you would expect, a number of departments and agencies and elements of the U.S. government are involved in this process. This has to be --
CAPT. KIRBY: It’s State Department lead --
MR. LITTLE: A State Department lead, of course, on this. But others are involved.
Q: And what are they talking about?
MR. LITTLE: They're talking about the strategic relationship going forward and how to define it.
Q: But they're not talking about troop levels?
MR. LITTLE: They're talking about a range of topics to include what a potential U.S. troop presence may be beyond 2011.
CAPT. KIRBY: And again, as I said before, you know, at the base level, it's a discussion about mission, capabilities and what gaps the Iraqis may believe they have and what we may be able to do to assist them in closing those gaps.
Q: When you talk about mission and contribution, the U.S. contribution -- Libya mission right now, is there any -- do you have any plans right now to start drawing down your involvement in the NATO operations based on the changing situation in Libya, and the fact that it seems like a fair amount of the fighting is now over and it's starting to wind down? Do you have any plans, at this point, to withdraw any forces or withdraw any -- not forces --but withdraw any of your assets from that?
MR. LITTLE: U.S. support to the NATO mission continues at the civilian protection mission.
And as you said, Viola, there are still Gadhafi loyalists who are fighting. Momentum has clearly turned to anti-Gadhafi forces and to the TNC, and it's a matter of time now, as folks have said, before Gadhafi goes. But our support to this very important mission continues.
Q: Is capturing Gadhafi critical to ending U.S. and NATO involvement in Libya?
MR. LITTLE: The mission that we've set forward from the beginning is protecting the civilian populations of Libya against pro- Gadhafi forces.
Q: I know that, but the question is, is capturing Gadhafi critical to ending the mission? Does he pose a threat to civilians, and therefore is it critical to capture him before the U.S. and NATO --
CAPT. KIRBY: The military mission is not about Colonel Gadhafi. It's about enforcing a U.N. mandate which is still in effect.
Q: OK. But again -- should I ask again, or --
MR. LITTLE: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
CAPT. KIRBY: You can ask as many times as you want, Justin.
CAPT. KIRBY: The military mission is not about capturing or finding Colonel Gadhafi.
MR. LITTLE: The military mission is not about Gadhafi.
Q: So you could potentially leave -- (off mic).
CAPT. KIRBY: You know, again, we're there to enforce the U.N. mandate to protect the people of Libya from their own brutal regime and to enforce the no-fly zone.
Q: Is Gadhafi still a threat to the people?
CAPT. KIRBY: We believe that Gadhafi's forces are still endangering the lives of Libyan citizens. The regime is still -- is still enacting violence against their own people
Q: Is Gadhafi still in charge of those forces?
CAPT. KIRBY: We do believe that there are still forces of the old Libyan military that remain loyal to Colonel Gadhafi.
MR. LITTLE: Let me just talk about the NATO operation. This operation has shown the power of international partnership. And I think by any measure at this point it's been a success. The no-fly zone, the civilian protection mission, the cooperation between the United States and our NATO partners has been critical to the success we've seen.
Q: Yeah, can I follow up with Libya for a second? Once the Gadhafi regime is gone, if civilians continue to remain at risk -- because there have been reports of human rights abuses by the rebels -- will the NATO mission continue, and will the U.S. continue to participate?
MR. LITTLE: I think all of that is in the realm of speculation right now. I think we made it clear to the TNC that we take, you know, human rights very seriously and that we hope that, you know, they conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with the ideals that many Libyans have tried to voice in recent months. And we'll see where things head, but I wouldn't engage in speculation.
Q: Could I -- I mean, NATO has defined protecting civilians as going after command and control of Libyan forces. Presumably, if Gadhafi is still in command of some forces, assets are being used to try to locate Gadhafi. Seems an entirely reasonable question to -- for you to -- for us to ask and, I hope, for you to answer, whether U.S. assets, specifically Predators, are being used to try to find Gadhafi, since, as you say, he is still in command of a certain number of forces. Can you answer that?
MR. LITTLE: The U.S. mission is not about Gadhafi. I would reiterate what John said earlier.
Q: Right, but -- well, OK. I could ask it again -- I mean, the NATO has defined the mission as going after command and control entities, with specific -- (inaudible) --
MR. LITTLE: Command and control --
CAPT. KIRBY: Command and control are one type of military capability that, as we've denigrated much of his military capacity and capability, and command and control facilities, as you know, have been targeted, continue to be targeted.
But this is not -- this is about helping take away his ability to further violence on his own people. It's not about him personally or him as the commander or commander in chief of his forces or whatever degree to which he's still in command. This is really about protecting people from the regime itself, and we continue to do that.
Q: But there's very little -- (inaudible) -- regime and Gadhafi. So it's kind of like we're -- it's a semantic debate we're having here, and I guess I'm appealing for a certain --
CAPT. KIRBY: It's not a debate from my perspective. (Laughter.)
MR. LITTLE: All right.
Q: Is this building doing anything to secure the SA-7 and -24 missiles that are, started to go missing?
MR. LITTLE: I don't think we'd comment on that. Look, the issue of missing missiles, we are obviously aware of the press reports out there and take them very seriously. And it's important, as we've expressed to the TNC, that they look to get their arms around where certain weapons are.
Q: Yesterday the U.S. ambassador to Libya confirmed that the U.S. has teams on the ground trying to secure these weapons. Since that's already in the public domain, why can't you just confirm that? And is -- are any DOD personnel involved in that?
MR. LITTLE: There are no boots on the ground in Libya. And the -- what I would say on the issue of chemical weapons, just to underscore the point, is that we're aware of chemical weapons materiel in Libya. We feel confident that the -- those chemical weapons caches are secure. We have monitored them round the clock for months now, and we don't believe that any of those chemical weapons caches have moved.
Q: I'll just change the topic to Japan. We've had a change of leadership in Japan, and there's been some reshuffling within the government. Does this building foresee any new challenges as it relates to base relocation?
And the second question: Does the secretary have any plan to go to Japan or to Asia in the near future?
MR. LITTLE: I think, on the first question, I would refer you to the State Department.
But I'd stay tuned for a possible trip to the region.
CAPT. KIRBY: And from a military perspective, Japan's obviously a vital ally in the region. And we enjoy -- continue to enjoy a very strong relationship with their military; I don't foresee any of that changing.
MR. LITTLE: Mike.
Q: First one on Libya and then Yemen. I thought -- in my ignorance perhaps -that the -- part of the deal with Gadhafi -- whenever it was, eight years ago, nine years ago -- was that the Americans and others would help to get rid of all the weapons of mass destruction. And they got rid of a whole lot of it. So why is there so much chemical weapons stocks still left? Why is there not still a continuing program to get rid of it?
And talking of boots on the ground, Secretary Panetta pointedly said the other day that Yemen now -- remains -- now was sort of the lead country of threat -- (inaudible) -- al-Qaida. Does that have any consequences for the Pentagon, more assets -- more military assets may be going to Yemen, anything that will change the sort of footprint for America there?
MR. LITTLE: I'll take part of the question and then I'll turn it over to John for another part.
In terms of what the secretary has said on al-Qaida, he's been very clear that al-Qaida in Pakistan remains dangerous, but they've been seriously damaged. He's expressed concern about the so-called nodes in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa, perhaps elsewhere. And that's something that this government obviously takes very seriously as does this department.
CAPT. KIRBY: And the concerns from a military perspective about al-Qaida in Yemen are actually long-standing. We've -- and the chairman has spoken to this for the last few years -- growing concerns about safe haven there, and frankly, al-Qaida activity in Somalia, Horn of Africa as well. So I wouldn't be jumping to any conclusions about major changes. We continue to work with -- we have a good working relationship with the Yemeni military. We look for that to continue.
Q: How about a chemical demilitarization question. Is that not continuing, what happened with that?
MR. LITTLE: I’ll have to get back to you on that.
We'll take that. Next.
Q: George, a funding question. The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday cut $26 billion from the Fiscal '12 budget. It's basically a flat budget now, compared to this year's 513 billion (dollars). What's the sentiment among the leaders here? Was that a draconian cut, or is it acceptable?
MR. LITTLE: Well, the Budget Control Act, recently enacted in connection with the debt ceiling negotiations, required certain cuts, and this is roughly in line with the proportional cuts that the department expected.
Q: So you're not bewitched, bothered or bewildered by it? (Laughter.)
MR. LITTLE: Well, remember that this department has already agreed to hundreds of billion dollars in cuts, so the fact that there is a cut at that level is in line with our expectations, and we're working closely with Congress to try to find those savings.
Q: One follow -- one follow-up. Next week, the defense bill is actually marked up. Will the Pentagon be providing any informal guidance in terms of their wish list of how the $26 billion cut is allocated?
MR. LITTLE: I don't have the answer for you today. But, you know, obviously, we're going to be in discussions with Congress going forward.
Q: Can you say anything about how you know that the chemical weapons caches in Libya are secure? Is there someone guarding it? Do you know who they are?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into particulars of how we know, but we have strong confidence that those weapons caches have not moved. There's been constant monitoring and around-the-clock observation.
Q: But do you know, is it under guard?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into the particulars of how we know --
Q: Is it underground -- (inaudible) -- a long time ago, or what?
MR. LITTLE: Some of this gets to matters that I shouldn't discuss in a public forum.
STAFF: You've only got time for about two more.
MR. LITTLE: OK.
Q: George, if I could ask you a question then it may be out of your lane here, but I figured I'd ask it anyway.
General Petraeus took over the CIA this week there's been some reporters commenting that this is kind of a militarization of the CIA. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. LITTLE: The militarization of intelligence -- well, first let me say that the secretary believes that Director Petraeus will be a strong leader and strong successor at the CIA.
When it comes to militarization of intelligence, this, I think, at this point is a question that's being hotly debated in certain ivory towers across the United States. Since 9/11, we have seen unprecedented cooperation among the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities. There has been unprecedented collaboration and unprecedented success in carrying out our mission and defending the country. The American people should expect that cooperation to occur. There should be close cooperation between the military and intelligence and law enforcement communities. There are laws, of course, and we follow them. But when it comes to thwarting al-Qaida, going after our enemies, fighting wars, this is about team America, it's not about turf wars in Washington.
Q: On the Global Posture Review can we expect a roll-out of the document?
MR. LITTLE: Come again? I'm sorry?
Q: The Global Posture Review. Do you have any dates on when it will be released?
MR. LITTLE: I don't have any dates on that.
Q: Just a quick one. General Allen is in Pakistan meeting with General Kayani, you think ISAF will -- (inaudible) -- and is it caring any message from the secretary?
MR. LITTLE: I would refer you to ISAF for that.
Q: Thank you.
STAFF: All right. Thank you very much.
MR. LITTLE: Thank you.