Gates Meets With Biden, Works for Smooth Transition
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2008 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met yesterday with Vice President-elect Joe Biden as Gates continues to work to ensure the department’s transition between the two administrations is as seamless as possible, the Pentagon press secretary said today.
The transition, along with the attacks in India, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and an impending Inspector General’s report regarding mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles were among the topics Geoff Morrell discussed during today's Pentagon briefing.
Morrell noted that Gates also had a working lunch with leaders of the president-elect’s transition team today. The secretary's talks with the team are not yet aimed at tackling specific issues, but rather are dealing with the transition process, he said.
“Right now this is about establishing a team, building the construct in which they will work and moving forward from there. But we’re still at the early stages of this process,” Morrell said.
Morrell emphasized, though, that Gates’ priority is working with the current administration to ensure national security.
Morrell was questioned during the briefing about possible U.S. military assistance to India in response to the terrorist attacks in its financial capital of Mumbai two weeks ago.
Gates condemned the attacks last week as Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with senior Pakistani officials in Islamabad, pressing them to explore any ties between the attacks and groups based in Pakistan. The attacks left nearly 200 people dead.
Morrell said India has not asked for U.S. military assistance, but that Pentagon officials are in close discussion with the militaries of both India and Pakistan.
“I think … the problems that we have emanating from Pakistan terror-wise show us … that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with on a sustained basis,” Morrell said. “That it can't be done in fits and starts, that there needs to be a constant and vigilant effort to go after the terrorist networks that exist there and throughout the region.”
Morrell also fielded several questions about the possibility of closing the U.S. military detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Morrell reiterated Gates’ position that it would be best to see the facility closed, but said new legislation is needed to determine the disposition of detainees and that there are no immediate plans to close the facility.
Morrell called the detainees there “dangerous.”
“If they haven’t killed Americans, they have made it clear that it is their desire to do so. So we need to provide for what would happen to these people … should they be transferred stateside,” Morrell said.
The press secretary also addressed an impending DoD Inspector General’s report yet to be released concerning the Marine Corps’ responsiveness in 2005 to requests by commanders in the field asking for more mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.
A brief of the report was released on the IG’s Web site today stating that defense officials were aware of the threat posed by mines and improvised explosive devices in low-intensity conflicts and the availability of mine-resistant vehicles before insurgent actions began in Iraq in 2003. But, it claims, the the department did not develop requirements for, fund, or buy MRAP-type vehicles for low-intensity missions.
Morrell said there was an evolution of the threat in the combat theater. Larger, more heavily armored vehicles were used at the start of the war, and as the mission changed, the vehicle types were scaled down. But, as the enemy saw the U.S. military using lighter vehicles, it started hitting harder with roadside bombs, he explained.
As the U.S. military reinforced its Humvees, the insurgents again modified their tactics to used deeply buried IEDs that exploded underneath the Humvees striking the less-armored belly.
In May 2007, Gates made purchasing MRAPs a department priority and has spent $22 billion in the past 18 months to put 12,000 MRAPs in theater, Morrell said.
“We’ve seen the enemy adapt to us, and we’ve had to adapt to them,” he told reporters. “As the threat has evolved, so have our force-protection measures.”
Morrell conceded that department officials would have liked to have moved faster or more efficiently at times, but he said there was no implied neglect.
“To suggest that there was any sort of neglect or people were sitting on their hands ignoring the urgent requests of commanders in the field is just not accurate,” Morrell said. He called the department’s efforts “herculean” in ensuring U.S. troops have best possible protection.
Morrell also said defense officials are trying to get more MRAPs into Afghanistan, and are looking to build a lighter version of the vehicle to deal better with the rugged Afghan terrain.