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DOD News Briefing with Secretary Panetta and Gen. Dempsey from the Pentagon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey
August 14, 2012

                SECRETARY LEON E. PANETTA:  Okay, good afternoon.  First of all, I wanted to indicate that earlier today I had a very good conversation with General Al-Sisi, who's Egypt's new minister of defense.  He is a highly experienced officer who was trained and spent a lot of time in the United States.  I think he went to Fort Benning and then to the War College, as well.

                 General Al-Sisi expressed his unwavering commitment to the U.S.-Egypt mil-to-mil relationship, which has been really an anchor of stability in the Middle East for more than 30 years.  And I, in turn, indicated to him that I look forward to working with him and to continuing the relationship that we have had with Egypt over those years. 

                 General Al-Sisi stressed that he takes seriously Egypt's obligations under the Camp David treaty and he's committed to preventing the Sinai from becoming a staging area for militants.  And, again, I indicated that I look forward to working closely with him to advance our shared goals in the region. 

                 This morning, as well, I also conducted my regular update, General Dempsey and I both, with General Allen, who continues, I strongly believe, to do an outstanding job as commander of the International Security Assistance Force.  And I thought I'd give you a brief update on Afghanistan, as well as the result of that conversation. 

                 We discussed the progress of the campaign, specifically with regards to four key goals that we're trying to achieve in Afghanistan, first, to enhance the capabilities of the Afghan forces; secondly, to pressure the insurgency; third, to transition to an Afghan security lead; and, fourth, to maintain the international community's unity of effort. 

                 We've long expected that our forces would remain in a tough fight, particularly through this fighting season.  And that's -- that's been true over these last summer months.  There is no denying that this has, in fact, been the case.  Yet at the same time, it's clear that we're continuing, I believe, to make significant progress towards trying to achieve the goals that we laid out. 

                 First of all, on the Afghan forces, the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] does continue to grow in size and capability.  Two-thirds of all of those in uniform defending Afghanistan are now Afghans, and the ANSF remains on track to grow to 352,000 later this year. 

                 The growth of Afghan special operations and having that capability has allowed Afghans to plan, conduct, and lead special operations missions every day and every night.  The ANA [Afghan National Army] recently activated a special operations command, consisting of 10,000 soldiers, and in one recent 24-hour period in one regional command, 27 of 35 SOF operations were Afghan-led, so they are developing a real capability in that area, and that's going to be important for the future. 

                 The highly capable, professional ANSF has the potential, we believe, to deal a crippling and lasting blow to the insurgency.  For that reason, our enemies have attempted to undermine the trust between the coalition and Afghan forces, and in particular they have tried to take credit for a number of so-called green-on-blue or insider attacks that have taken place this fighting season. 

                 Make no mistake about it -- I've been very concerned about these incidents, both of us have, because of the lives lost and because of the potential damage to our partnership efforts.  General Allen and I discussed a range of measures that he's taking to try to stop these attacks.  And I'll just touch on a few of those.

                 First, to increase the intelligence presence so that we can try to get better information with regards to these kinds of potential attacks, also to increase counterintelligence, to have people trained in counterintelligence to be part of these units so that they can, as well, identify those threats.

                 Secondly, we have a thorough vetting process.  It's an eight-step process.  We're doing forensics on the particular instances that occur in order to make sure, you know, how that process -- that vetting process operated and what we can do to improve it. 

                 Implementing a notification process, so that when we get information, we can alert people to the threats.  Training requirements, we're not only implementing training requirements with regards to our forces, but the Afghans are doing the same to try to identify these people.  We have a guardian angel program which involves identifying one individual who stands to the side so that he can watch people's backs and hopefully identify people that would be involved in those attacks. 

                 General Allen is meeting with the security ministers to talk about further steps to take in order to protect against these attacks.  And he's also meeting with the village elders.  These are the people who usually vouch for individuals.  They have to sign something that vouches for the character of individuals, and he's going back to them to ensure that that's being done properly. 

                 All of this requires action both by the United States and coalition forces and by our Afghan partners who also face this insider threat.  We shouldn't forget that the Afghans themselves are targets of these kinds of attacks, as well. 

                 As we work to prevent these kinds of disturbing attacks, I want to stress that these incidents, which have now involved 31 Afghans, do not reflect the pride and dedication of the 350,000 soldiers and police of the Afghan national security forces. 

                 One of the reasons the Taliban is targeting in this manner, we believe, is the success that our Afghan partners are having on the battlefield.  The reality is, the Taliban has not been able to regain any territory lost, and so they're resorting to these kinds of attacks to create havoc.  And there's no question it's of concern.  It's dangerous.  And we've got to do everything we can do to try to prevent it.

                 We have not and will not allow this kind of intimidation to undermine our efforts to build up the ANSF and to try to put it more and more in the lead.  Our forces continue to partner closely in the field, and they have not let these incidents disrupt those operations.

                 Secondly, we're putting pressure on the insurgency.  The growth of ANSF is increasing to put pressure on the insurgency itself.  As the fighting season has progressed, we've seen an increase in enemy-initiated attacks, though violence levels have remained consistent with past summers.  I should point out that a lot of this is, you know, according to General Allen, we are taking the fight to the -- to the enemy.  And when you're aggressive and when you're conducting operations against them, obviously, the number of casualties are going to increase.

                 The fighting has increasingly been taking place away from major populated areas.  The insurgency remains on the defensive, but it -- and as I said, it has not been able to regain ground that it -- that it's lost.  All of this has enabled us to continue with the transition to an Afghan lead, which is the third goal that we're after.  And the transition has been and remains, you know, very much a successful operation. 

                 Over half of the Afghan population is protected by a predominantly Afghan force.  We're in tranche three of the transition.  We hope that it will be fully implemented later this year.  When that happens, 75 percent of the Afghan population, including every provincial capital, will be in the transition process and will be under Afghan security and governance. 

                 Security gains made in these areas have been sustained.  Indeed, in the first six months of this year, insurgent attacks were down about 15 percent in areas that are undergoing transition compared to 2011.  This progress has enabled us to introduce security force assistance teams.  These are small teams of ISAF advisers.  They come from all of our ISAF partners to train, advise, and assist ANSF units.  There are nearly 400 of these teams in theater, and that number will increase as the transition moves ahead.

                 And finally, on the unity of effort, obviously, the transition plan has the strong support of the Afghan people and the international community.  And because of that, we've been able to maintain a strong unity of effort with the Afghan government and our international partners.  In my discussions with General Allen and with my foreign counterparts -- and I meet a lot with those that contribute forces to our effort in Afghanistan -- I've been struck by the shared determination of the international community and coalition to overcome the challenges and stay committed to the effort.

                 We're also encouraged, frankly, that Pakistan has now taken a more positive, visible step to advance our shared objective of a -- of a secure and peaceful Afghanistan.  Their decision to open up the NATO supply lines means a great deal to us in terms of our ability to transit containers and materiel that are now moving across the border into Afghanistan. 

                 Similarly, cross-border cooperation with Pakistan is increasing.  General Allen is meeting on a regular basis with General Kayani and trying to improve that kind of cross-border cooperation.  And it's helping us try to confront the challenge of these insurgent sanctuaries, which exist on both sides of the border.

                 Now, I realize that there are a lot of other things going on in this country that can draw our attention, from the Olympics to political campaigns to droughts to some of the tragedies we've seen in communities around the country.  But I thought it was important to remind the American people that there is a war going on in Afghanistan and that young men and women are dying in order to try to protect this country. 

                 Even as our surge forces are drawn down at the end of September -- and we are on track to complete that process by the end of September -- there will remain 68,000 Americans in uniform who will be deployed in a very tough fight against a determined enemy. 

                 As secretary of defense -- I've said this before -- one of my toughest jobs is to write condolence letters to the families of our fallen heroes.  And, frankly, I seem to be writing more lately.  More than 1,950 Americans in uniform have died defending our country in Afghanistan and thousands more, as you know, have been injured, some very seriously. 

                 The pain and the heartbreak of this war weigh heavily on me.  And I know they weigh heavily on General Dempsey, as well as our other military and civilian leaders, but also as well on the families of those who have lost loved ones. 

                 And yet when I talk to the families of the fallen, when you meet with them and when you meet with our wounded troops at Bethesda, I am struck by their commitment to seeing this mission through and to ensuring that these sacrifices are not in vain.

                 I just want the American people to take the time and reflect on these sacrifices.  It's because of those sacrifices that I think we're moving in the right direction to achieve our goal in Afghanistan, an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself and one that can deny Al-Qaida and its affiliates a safe haven from which to attack us. 

                 That's a tribute to General Allen's leadership and to the countless sacrifices of thousands of Americans and international and Afghan forces who have stepped forward to make us safer.  At a time when I am sure that there's an awful lot to be mad about, there's a lot to be proud of when it comes to our men and women in uniform.  And we shouldn't forget that. 

                 GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  I obviously share the secretary's deep admiration for our men and women in uniform and all those serving in Afghanistan.  Theirs is a story of unrelenting courage and uncommon sacrifice.  It's a story they share with our coalition and our Afghan partners.  It's a story of progress toward a more secure Afghanistan. 

                 The progress doesn't mean an end to violence or to tragedy.  I was reminded of that last Friday when I went to Dover to grieve with families as they -- as their flag-draped coffins returned to their native soil.  At that time, I was also inspired by the solemn professionalism of our airmen at Dover who make sure every single -- every single dignified transfer is worthy of -- of the fallen soldier and their family.

                 I'm returning to Kabul next week to talk with General Allen and some of our new commanders about how to continue to make the ANSF stronger and the Taliban weaker.  We'll discuss our exhaustive efforts at every echelon to confront the insider attack threat that the secretary just elaborated on. 

                 I'll also travel to Iraq for the first time since our mission ended there.  I'll take stock of our efforts to continue to build the relationship through the Office of Security Cooperation.  And I'll meet with my counterpart and brother-in-arms, General Babaker, about what's working and what's the best way forward.  General Babaker and I meet as peers, and it's essential that our partnership continue to develop on that basis. 

                 In a similar vein, I, too, have reached out to my new counterpart in Egypt, General Sedki Sobhi Sayyid.  I sense a positive -- for one thing, he is another Army War College graduate, so he's a man with a longstanding relationship with the United States military.  And I sense a positive trend there towards civil control of a professional and a respected military. 

                While I had a personal relationship with General Sami Anan, the previous chief of defense of Egypt, our mil-to-mil relationship with Egypt transcends individuals.  And I, too, was encouraged by President Morsi's increased emphasis on security in the Sinai, which has been a concern to all of us.

                 Before taking your questions, allow me to offer a few thoughts on my recent and upcoming travels.  I was in Silicon Valley recently for about a week to discuss vulnerabilities and opportunities in cyber with industry leaders.  This is a domain, as you know, without borders or buffer zones, where public-private collaboration is the only way to safeguard our nation's critical infrastructure.  They agreed -- we all agreed on the need to share threat information at network speed.  And I'd like to see a return in Congress push towards cyber legislation that does at least this. 

                 I'd like to also mention our Olympic and Paralympic athletes.  Sixteen of those in the London Games were active-duty military men and women.  I had a chance to visit with some of them before they departed, and I also had the chance to walk through Arlington National Cemetery with our men's and women's basketball teams.  All of our athletes displayed a driving force of will, great courage, and an enduring spirit to win.

                 Two weeks from now, I'll lead our official delegation to the Paralympics, and many of those athletes are wounded warriors.  I share with every American a great deal of pride in them.

                 On that ending note, I look forward to your questions. 

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary, Mr. Chairman, I was wondering if you could provide perhaps a little bit more detail on some of the added actions that are going to be taken in terms of the green-on-blue attacks, including this increase intelligence presence.  I'm wondering how that would work, considering a number of these attacks, as you know, are on small teams and small parties as they have moved about the country. 

                 So is it the intention to add intelligence -- added intelligence troops to those small teams?  How is this going to be -- how is it going to be practically done?  And, also, are there any other practical things that you all are looking at in order to protect the troops, such as expanding the guardian angel across all of the services?  And is it really possible to do this or is it just sort of a cost of doing business when you're up against an insurgency like this?

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, since you gave the statement, let me add a little bit more clarity to it.  First of all, I think you'll hear us start talking about these incidents more as insider attack, rather than green-on-blue, because what that does is it -- it understates the effect that this is having on the ANSF itself.  You know, they're suffering casualties from the same -- from the same trend that we're suffering from. 

                 Secondly, I would never become content that there's not more we can do, so I'd never characterize it as a cost of doing business.  And as -- as the secretary mentioned, you know, there's -- as always, there's far more stories about the positive relationship than there is about this particular insider attack trend, but it is one that we have to remain seized with and focused on. 

                I mean, for example, in one of the recent green-on-blues, which we now try to refer to as insider attacks; it was actually an Afghan lieutenant -- special operations forces lieutenant and a sergeant who came to the aid of their American counterparts and lost their lives in the process of coming to their aid.  So -- so this isn't a case where this is a problem either unique to us and not one that we should simply just chalk up to a cost of doing business. 

                 So a couple other things.  I think we should all be encouraged by the statement that President Karzai made condemning it, because when Afghans hear it from their leadership, it resonates, I think, a little more effectively than us continuing to talk about it.

                 Secondly, John is convening -- John Allen is convening a conference of all of his one-stars and above, from all the coalition, not just the United States, as well as their senior enlisted advisers.  And this is the topic of that conference, and what we're hoping to get from that conference is some thoughts about what more we might do.

                 More important probably, the Afghan security ministers are having a summit to talk about what they can do on their side.  The secretary mentioned that John has convened an acronym called JCAT, Joint Casualty Assessment Team, that will do the forensics on these issues, to go back and look at -- was the recruiting process followed properly?  Where did the young man -- the young man who committed it, where did -- were there indicators that we missed? 

                 And then, finally, we are adding -- and we'll learn something from that.  And then we're also -- we're also adding counterintelligence expertise, both inside of our own staffs -- I wouldn't expect them to be as part of the security force assessment teams, but I'd expect them to be -- we'll make them more -- a more robust capability at the battalion level and above. 

                 And so, too, are the Afghans.  We're adding additional counterintelligence to them.  And, you know, unknown, but important, they've discharged hundreds of soldiers who did indicate that they had the -- that some of these young men had the capability to be radicalized, either by virtue of travel back and forth to Pakistan, by literature, by language, by music.  There are indicators that we track, so I hope that clears it up a little bit.

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary, there was a Pentagon report in the spring that said most of these green-on-blue incidents had to do more with personal grudges, basically Americans maybe disrespecting Afghans, and it led to bloodshed.  They said very little Taliban infiltration.  You mentioned the Taliban.  Are we seeing a change now?  We're seeing more Taliban infiltration with these incidents?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  You know, in talking with John Allen, it's clear that, you know, there's kind of no one source that -- that is producing these kinds of -- of attacks.  Some of it is -- are individuals who, for one reason or another, are upset and suddenly take it out.  We've seen that here in the United States oftentimes. 

                 Secondly, there is a self-radicalization that sometimes takes place within it, so the person may not be a member of the Taliban, but suddenly is self-radicalized.  They're tuning in.  They use cell phones to tune into various, you know, stations that provide incentives for that type of thing.  And so we've seen some of that take place in some of these attacks.  And then others, you know, have some Taliban ties. 

                 So I don't -- it's a -- it's difficult to kind of draw any kind of firm conclusion as to just exactly, you know, whether this is kind of a pattern, a broad pattern.  As a matter of fact, at least from everybody I've talked to at this point, you know, these seem to be incidents that are taking place and oftentimes caused by different backgrounds of the individuals involved. 

                 Q:  My name is -- (inaudible) -- I'm from Afghanistan, and I work for Afghan TV.  As you mentioned about Pakistan and Afghanistan relationship, now with Pakistani rockets increasing day by day – and people are running out of patience in Afghanistan, just I ask that what is U.S. serious reaction?  Why the U.S. does not able to show a strong reaction to Pakistan?  And what will be the solution, final solution?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, I think it's -- it's been very important that we do everything possible to try to get Pakistan to take the right steps on their side of the border.  And the reality is that the communication and the relationship has gotten better.  General Allen is meeting with General Kayani on a regular basis.  As a matter of fact, General Dempsey, General Mattis will be meeting with General Kayani, as well.  We have been able to open the GLOCs.  We are making progress with regards to other areas of assistance. 

                 The one area that we are making particular progress with is trying to develop better cross-border operations so that both the Pakistanis and the United States and Afghans are working on those border areas to identify terrorists who are creating havoc there. 

                 There's no question that there are terrorists that are coming across from Pakistan who find -- who wind up in Afghanistan and then cause some cross-border incidents across the way.  What General Allen is hoping to do is that the Pakistanis can help the United States identify the terrorists on the Afghan side of the border and we could help identify some of the terrorists on the Pakistani side of the border so that there can be better coordination to try to deal with these kinds of cross-border incidents. 

                 Q:  (Inaudible) Mr. Secretary, on Syria, we've got word now that many of the 48 Iranian men who were captured earlier this month by the Free Syrian Army in Damascus are, in fact, IRGC members.  What information do you have about this?  How -- what were they doing there?  How deep does Iranian involvement run in this conflict? 

                 SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, without having specific information that -- of the individuals involved in -- in this particular situation, it is obvious to both General Dempsey and I that Iran is playing a larger role in Syria in many ways, not only in terms of the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps], but in terms of assistance, training.  There's now an indication that they're trying to develop -- or trying to train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime.

                 So we are seeing a growing presence by Iran, and that is of deep concern to us, that that's taking place.  And, you know, we -- we do not think that -- that Iran ought to be playing that role at this moment in time, that it's dangerous, that it's adding to the killing that's going on in Syria, and that it tries to bolster a regime that we think ultimately is going to come down.

                 But all it's going to wind up doing, frankly, is to prolong the misery of the Syrian people.  So I guess our hope is that -- is that Iran thinks better about how much they do want to get involved.  But in any event, we've got to make sure that Iran does not exercise that kind of influence in Syria and try to determine the future of the Syrians, Syrian people.  The Syrian people ought to determine their future, not Iran. 

                 Q:  To follow up on that, sir, the militia you mentioned, are these Iranian fighters you're talking about?  Have the Iranians picked up arms, to your knowledge, or are they training Syrians? 

                 SEC. PANETTA:  I think from what we're seeing, a lot of it is training and a lot of it is assistance, as to -- they are training this militia, but I believe that that militia is made up of the Syrians. 

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  It's made up of Syrian, generally Shia, some Alawite, and it's out -- it's in the open press, Jaish al-Sha'abi, which is translated Army of the People, similar to what they did in Iraq with Jaish al-Mahdi. 

                Q:  Can I follow up on that, please?  Mr. Secretary, you talked about seeing a larger role being played by Iran.  There have also been reports of a larger role by Al-Qaida.  Have either of you seen evidence of that in Syria?

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, in terms of the -- there have been reports that Al-Qaida's present, but not aligned with the opposition.  Al-Qaida is opportunistic.  And I think it's on that basis that they are trying to find inroads into Syria, but not aligned with the opposition in the way that the Iranian influence is aligning itself with the regime. 

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary, you were talking -- you made a statement, as did Secretary Clinton, that in a post-Assad era, you don't want to see a repeat of what happened in Iraq, in terms of the military being dismantled. 

                 SEC. PANETTA:  That's right.

                 Q:  Now, are -- are you just throwing that out there publicly?  Or are you specifically talking to anyone in Syria or the opposition?  And I don't mean you personally, but the U.S., specifically talking to either side yet about that post-Assad era?

                SEC. PANETTA:  Well, I'm not, but, I mean, obviously, one of the focuses for Secretary Clinton is to try to work with the other countries to try to determine what a post-Assad Syria will look like and what steps need to be taken.  I mean, there's a number of concerns, obviously, that we have in that situation.  How do we maintain security of the chemical, biological weapons that -- that are being stored there and ensure that they remain secure and don't fall into the wrong hands? 

                 How do we develop a process to ensure that the -- that the different segments of the opposition can come together and be able to organize in some kind of transitional government?  How do we -- be able to -- to deal with some of the -- the other groups that are now, like Al-Qaida and [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps], how -- you know, their involvement, how do we deal with them?  How do we deal with Hezbollah in this process? 

                 There are a number of questions that have to be addressed in that kind of situation.  And I think there is a strong diplomatic effort going on to try to determine what that would look like. 

                 Q:  And would that require a direct U.S. active role in trying to solve all those problems?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  I think -- I think the United States, obviously, is involved working with our allies to try to determine what steps will be taken.

                 Q:  Chairman Dempsey, can I ask you your military assessment on both sides in this area of conflict?  For the regime, their forces, their troops, their equipment, what's your assessment?  Are they worn out?  Are they reaching the end?  How much have they used up?  Can they maintain spare parts, logistics, keeping the force in the field?  And on the opposition, lots of rumors out there.  Do you believe that the MANPADS, that they have an anti-air capability, that they have the beginning potentially of heavy weapons?  Your assessment of both sides.

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, on the -- on the condition of the Syrian army, the Syrian army has been fighting now for about 18 months or so.  And any army would be taxed with that kind of pace.  So we are expecting that they are having -- and, you know, sanctions and other -- other pressures -- they are having re-supply problems, they are having morale problems, they are having the -- the kind of wear and tear that would come of being in a fight for as long as they have. 

                 And I actually think that's why Iran is stepping in to form this militia to take some of the pressure off of the Syrian military.  And, you know, you may have seen that the prime minister, who, you know, left Syria, is now calling on others inside Syria to do the honorable thing and join him.  And I think that would be an outcome that would be -- that we would support. 

                 So, on the other side, the -- there was the report of the shoot-down of the MiG-23, no indicator -- we don't -- honestly don't know how that was shot down, could have --

                 Q:  But you believe it was shot down?

                GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, we think it was shot down, because the indicator was that, you know, it had a failure of some kind.  It didn't appear to be mechanical.  But it could have been shot down with -- you know, with small-arms fire.  So, you know, it'd be a mistake at this point to assume the opposition have -- has surface-to-air missile capability. 

                 They did capture one tank that was -- that was prominently displayed in the news, but beyond that, we have seen no indicator that anyone has armed them with heavy weaponry, although we are certainly alert to that possibility and wouldn't be surprised by it. 

                 Q:  And can I just ask you, given what Secretary Clinton said in Istanbul over the weekend, are you now re-looking at the notion of essentially a no-fly zone or safe haven working group, new working group for contingency planning again?  Or are you both absolutely convinced that a no-fly zone is not feasible?

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I'll let the secretary -- but let me tell what I'm doing militarily, because militarily I explore -- I explore options with partners, and especially in these kind of incidents, so we have been in discussion with Jordanians and -- and the Turks are -- you know, they're both interested mostly in the effects that could spill from Syria into their countries.  Both have examined the -- the possibility of a safe haven.  And with a safe haven would probably come some form of no-fly zone, but we're not planning anything unilaterally, if that's what you're asking.

                 SEC. PANETTA:  As I -- as we both indicated, obviously, we -- we plan for a number of contingencies and we have planned for a number of contingencies there.  But we are, right now, with regards to Syria, focused on three areas, number one, humanitarian assistance.  We provided about $81 million, and we're continuing to work with Turkey and Jordan to try to do what we can to provide further assistance to deal with the refugees.

                 Secondly, [chemical and biological weapons] sites remain a serious concern for us, and we continue to monitor those sites, working with Turkey, working with Jordan.  We've had -- we've been in discussions with Israel, as well, to determine what -- you know, what steps need to be taken to ensure that those sites are secure and maintained so that those weapons don't fall into the wrong hands. 

                 And, thirdly, assisting the opposition.  We are providing non-lethal aid to the opposition.  Other gulf countries are providing, you know, more -- more aggressive assistance to the opposition, as well.  But our goal is to try to do what we can to try to assist them in a way that can make them more effective in this fight.

                 With regards to the no-fly zone, that is not a front-burner issue for us. 

                 Q:  (off mic) on Israel-Iran issues, there's been an uptick in publicity in the Middle East about speculation that Israel is getting ready to attack Iran again.  This periodically happens, obviously.  

                 On April -- on August , you were in Israel and you said we -- we need to exhaust every option, every effort before undertaking military action.  Five days later, Michael Oren, the ambassador to Israel, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "Time is dwindling.  The window of opportunity that opened 20 years ago to stop their program is almost shut." 

                 At this point, what's your view here?  Is Israel closer than ever before to undertaking unilateral strikes against Iran?  And, General Dempsey, what's your latest thinking about the effectiveness of those types of strikes undertaken by a nation with non-stealthy aircraft and a limited number of bunker buster-type of weaponry?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  I've said this before; I'll say it now.  I don't believe they've made a decision as to whether or not they will -- they will go in and attack Iran at this time.  Obviously, they're an independent, they’re a sovereign country.  They're ultimately make decisions based on what they think is in their national security interest.  But I don't believe they've made that decision at this time. 

                 And with regards to, you know, the issue of where we're at from a diplomatic point of view, the reality is that we still think there is room to continue to negotiate.  We're just -- these sanctions, the additional sanctions have been put in place.  They're beginning to have an additional impact on top of the other sanctions that have been placed there.  The international community is strongly unified in opposition to Iran developing any kind of nuclear weapon.  And we are working together, both on the diplomatic side, as well as on the economic side, to apply sanctions. 

                 And I think the effort, you know, is one that the United States and the international community is going to continue to press, because as I said -- and I'll continue to repeat -- the prime minister of Israel said the same thing, that military -- any kind of military action ought to be the last alternative, not the first. 

                 Q:  But when you've got the ambassador saying the window is almost shut, that implies they're at wit's end, almost, and that they're ready to strike.

                 SEC. PANETTA:  I mean, I -- you know, obviously, Israel has to respond to that question.  But from our point of view, the window is still open to try to work towards a diplomatic solution.

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  And militarily, my -- my assessment hasn't changed.  And I want to make clear; I'm not privy to their planning.  So what I'm telling you is based on what I know of their capabilities, and I may not know about all their capabilities, but I think that it's a fair characterization to say that they could delay, but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities. 

                 Q:  Is a two- to three-year timeframe of delay, is that still the swag that --

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  I haven't changed my assessment. 

                 Q:  Thank you. 

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  Okay.

                 MR. PANETTA:  (off mic) go to the back, yes. 

                Q:  Okay, thank you.  And I am -- (inaudible) -- Venezuela.  I was wondering if you have any comment -- the Venezuelan government has been very outspoken, highlighting its support of the Syrian and Iranian government, and I would like to know if you have any comments on that.  Thank you.

                 SEC. PANETTA:  Obviously, Venezuela makes its decisions as to who it supports and doesn't support.  We don't -- we don't agree with a lot that Venezuela does, and we would obviously not agree with their approach to Syria, as well.  But, you know, I guess Venezuela will have to make its own decisions as to what -- what governments they want to support or not support. 

                 Yes

                 Q:  Secretary, Pakistan.  Two questions, one.  As Pakistan -- as Pakistan today, 65 years of independence they celebrate, but still today they have -- (inaudible) -- terrorists and extremists and also militants.  Are you worried, Mr. Secretary, their nuclear capability, because of -- according to a congressional report last week, Pakistan is extending its nuclear weapons program, because since the terrorists and safe haven is inside Pakistan?

                 And, secondly, tomorrow India also celebrates 65 years of independence.  So where do you put two nations between U.S. and India relations, same time, same day they got independence of 65 years?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  Well, you know, one of the things I've always tried to stress in that region is the importance of India and Pakistan working together to -- to deal with the issues that -- that they confront.  We're never going to have stability, real stability in that region without India and Pakistan and, for that matter, Afghanistan working together to try to deal with common threats, particularly those threats from terrorism. 

                 I really do -- I really do believe that, when I -- when I talk to the Pakistanis, I've always stressed the fact that we should have common cause with regards to confronting terrorism, that terrorists not only represent a threat to our country, terrorism represents a real threat to their country, as well.  And a lot of Pakistanis have died as a result of terrorism.  A lot of members of their military have died as a result of terrorism.  And it's important for them to recognize that threat and to act against that threat. 

                 And in particular, it's important because they are a nuclear power.  And the great danger we've always feared is that, you know, if terrorism is not controlled in their country, that those nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands. 

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  I'd like to highlight --

                 Q:  (off mic) ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] chief was in Washington -- I'm sorry to interrupt you.  The ISI chief was in Washington.  Have you met with him?  And also, what message, Mr. Secretary, you have given him on these and other issues?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  I did not.  He was here when I was abroad. 

                 GEN. DEMPSEY:  As I was.  But I would highlight General Kayani, the chief of army staff in -- in recognizing the independence day, gave a speech in Abbottabad that I'd encourage you to take a look at, because it sounds the right themes in seeing his understanding of the challenge.

                 Q:  It's Mike Evans from the London Times.  As General Dempsey said, the war and conflict in Syria has been going on for 17, 18 months.  Do you think, one, that America is doing enough to bring this regime to an end?  And, two, if there were reason in the future to have some form of military intervention, no-fly zone or otherwise, are you satisfied you have enough firepower in the region to carry that out?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  Well, with regards to your -- your last question, there -- there is no question in my mind that we have positioned a sufficient force in the Middle East to deal with any contingency at this time.  And, you know, we're prepared to be able to respond to whatever the president of the United States asks us to do. 

                 With regards to Syria, I -- you know, we are not standing still.  There is a very strong diplomatic effort that Secretary Clinton is involved in, working with Turkey, working with Jordan, working with our allies, to try to continue to bring pressure on Syria.  There are a number of sanctions that have been brought against Syria, economic sanctions that are having an impact. 

                 At the same time, we are working on the humanitarian assistance.  We're working on trying to secure the CBW.  And we're working on trying to provide assistance to the opposition. 

                 I think -- I think the reality is that -- that it is having an impact on -- on Assad.  It's having an impact on the regime.  We are seeing increasing defections.  We're seeing problems within their own military.  And I think that it is a matter of time before we're going to be successful in bringing Assad down and allowing the Syrian people to determine their future.

                 But it is going to take continuing broad pressure.  It would be very helpful if the Russians and the Chinese were part of that effort.  But if they -- if they are not, we -- we believe that the international community is maintaining enough unity on this issue that they can continue to bring strong pressure on the Syrian regime to -- to bring it down and to give Syria back to the Syrian people. 

                 Q:  Quick follow-up.  You said we're working on securing the CBW.  What do you mean? 

                 SEC. PANETTA:  We -- we are monitoring the CBW sites, and we're keeping an eye on them, and we're continuing to -- to develop plans with the adjoining countries to ensure that they will always be secure. 

                 Q:  Will that involve U.S. armed forces?

                 SEC. PANETTA:  Not at this point.

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