(Note: This event was fed in progress.)
SEC. GATES: (In progress) -- so what I'm hearing you say is that the engine and drivetrain and all aren't as heavy-duty -- heavy-duty enough to carry the armor that they have on them?
Q: Well, that the older 1114s -- the 1151s were designed for the weight. And we're slowly getting those in, but a lot of it's -- a lot of the companies still have 1114s.
SEC. GATES: How do you all think things are going here?
Q: I think that one of the biggest things for people out here, those who are out on the road every day and they're (patrolling ?) the streets, you see a lot of them -- (inaudible) -- training Iraqi troops, see a much bigger impact and progress within the people than someone such as myself, who's a communicator -- you know, I sit behind a switchboard and program routers all day long -- versus people -- (inaudible) -- different job.
Q: And we -- down in 214 we just incorporated another Iraqi company. We have a power plant for our patrol base -- (inaudible) -- an Iraqi company down there. They're (working ?) pretty well for us now. The Iraqis are able to get more intelligence on some aspects than we can. (It's ?) a better understanding of their own people, I guess.
SEC. GATES: Any other comments?
Q: Yeah, on the Iraqi army, (in fact they're pretty fun to train ?). They pick up on --
SEC. GATES: Well, now that's a description I haven't heard yet. (Laughter.)
Q: (Off mike) -- we go out -- (off mike) -- with us, we push them ahead of us. And from the little bit of training (that it will be, generally ?), they pick up (what we have ?).
SEC. GATES: So you think that the Iraqis you're working with are pretty good troops?
Q: (Off mike) -- you know -- (off mike) -- American -- (off mike) -- a little bit more training, more training time -- (off mike) -- you know -- (off mike).
SEC. GATES: Do you have any -- do you operate very often with the Iraqi police?
Q: We -- I'd say (maybe about twice a week ?).
Yeah, they do real good -- (off mike). A little bit more -- (off mike) -- other than -- (off mike) -- pretty much -- (off mike).
SEC. GATES: The Iraqi troops that you're working with and training -- do you have the sense they see themselves as Iraqi or as Sunni or Shi'a?
Q: They're Iraqi troops -- (off mike) -- for the most part.
SEC. GATES: Don't want to cut you all out of the conversation.
Q: Thank you.
Q: (Inaudible) -- for Iraq?
SEC. GATES: (Off mike) -- headed in a positive direction, I mean, be honest with me.
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC GATES: Do you think they're ready to take it on themselves?
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: Just based on what you've observed, what kind of timeline do you think is involved before they're ready to operate on their own? Hard to say.
Q: (Off mike) -- a few more years -- (inaudible) -- their army lacks is discipline? I mean -- (inaudible) -- and motivated, but working with some of the MiTT teams, you know, it's too cold, they don't want to change, it's too hot, they don't want to change. (Inaudible) -- they just lack the discipline that the United States military has, and that comes from years, I guess -- (inaudible). I mean, if we could establish -- (inaudible) -- that'd be great.
Q: They can just leave any time they want.
Q: They don't have to show up. There's no set pattern (where ?) you have to show up at work every day. It's not like -- (inaudible.) My experience -- (inaudible.)
SEC. GATES: In terms of trying to get some perspective on it, have you seen -- and maybe I'm just asking the same question in a different way -- have you seen an improvement in the quality and the caliber and discipline of the Iraqi troops? Is it flat or headed down?
Q: It's improving -- (inaudible) -- it's improving -- a struggle. I mean, of course -- the more -- like I say, we had one team -- (inaudible) -- supposedly another down near -- (inaudible) -- and the more they work with us, the more they're slowly picking up on our traits. I mean, you see them sort of starting trying to act like us and stuff, and it's good; you know, little brother trying to act like a big brother, and, you know, it's good. They're coming along. It's just a process. But you definitely see it coming along.
SEC. GATES: Anybody else?
Q: (Off mike) -- the (IA ?) -- (off mike) -- Iraqis. The (IE ?) is -- (off mike).
SEC. GATES: Do y'all have any questions you want to ask us?
Q: What are the plans for quality of life? I mean, I know that there's a lot of quality-of-life projects going on, you know, in sector for the Iraqi people. But I don't see it as a country --
SEC. GATES: I thought you were asking about the quality of your life.
Q: No. (Laughter.) No, I'm just --
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that clearly, as we're looking at the next steps, there is, I think, a very clear understanding that if there is a hold operation, that -- certainly my view -- something needs to happen within hours that communicates the message to the residents of the neighborhood that's been cleared that having a cleared neighborhood quickly produces firm improvements in the quality of life, whether it's hooking up the sewer line or picking up the trash or something like that.
So I personally sort of see it in three phases. And I think people back in Washington are really working to strengthen the reconstruction component of whatever initiative the president announces, with the understanding that something that happens immediately, something that then happens over the course of the next week or two, and then something that's more long-term in terms of job creation and that sort of thing -- that that's a really huge component to the hold element, is people believing that things really are better and a willingness to come forward, like you were saying, with information about bad guys coming into the neighborhood, because they've got a stake in not letting it revert.
So there are a lot of folks back in D.C. working on that -- and understand the importance of it in terms of -- the analogy that I use is the tide coming in and the tide going out. If the military comes in and nothing happens behind it, in terms of quality of life and reconstruction, when the tide goes out. You can't ever tell anybody was there.
SEC. GATES: And so I think people really do have an understanding.
Q: (It is in bad shape ?).
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q: (It's something else ?).
SEC. GATES: The unemployment rates are sky-high.
But there are all kinds of opportunities that we're looking at. For example, there are a lot of state-owned factories that are actually still in pretty good shape, that have been shuttered or aren't being used, except very, very lightly. How can we get some of those restarted and get people in them and manufacturing things and real jobs?
So I think it's a very important matter. It's -- I mean, the Department of Defense has, I think -- I think the earlier in the process, the bigger role we have. But then as it moves along, then it needs to transition to both the Iraqi government and to the State Department and others and folks like the PRTs, and there's a clear understanding of the importance of it. Getting it done (on the dollars ?) is the challenge, but it's clearly a priority.
Q: Actually, quality of life -- (inaudible) -- some other questions -- (inaudible) -- units, when they come together from -- whether they're from Germany or other states, there's always a big difference in soldiers' quality of life. It always seems so -- (you ?) stateside have a lot more benefits than those who overseas in Germany. Is there -- (inaudible) -- of improvement in those overseas?
SEC. GATES: What kind of benefits do you have in mind?
Q: One of the biggest subjects is always barracks and types of barracks that people -- personnel live in. One of the biggest stories you always hear is from people who had just come from the States is that they feel as though they were living in a small apartment, like a one-room apartment. And a lot of times you hear people from -- (inaudible) -- say it's though they feel like they're living in a closet where you have community bathrooms.
SEC. GATES: In Germany?
Q: In Germany. And those in the States are -- you said it's like a one-person apartment with a kitchenette, personal bathrooms. They have a lot more privacy. They have their personal space. (So they feel more of a person ?).
SEC. GATES: I have to defer to my colleagues on that -- (inaudible).
Q: (Off mike) -- options on benefits in -- (off mike) -- you're reducing the number of people -- (off mike) -- reduction in Europe -- (off mike) -- investment -- (off mike) -- individual efforts -- (off mike). I was in -- (off mike) -- about three or four years ago -- (off mike).
One of the problems you have is, you can't build a unit (in Germany; you only renovate others ?), which puts some limitation on all the elements you can upgrade in the barracks facilities. So you -- (off mike) -- so it gives you more flexibility -- (off mike) -- doing renovations at old barracks in Europe -- (off mike). You mention -- (off mike) -- same quality. That's one of the things -- (off mike).
Does it answer your question? (Off mike.)
Q: (Off mike) -- barefoot.
Q: The 10th Mountain --
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: Yeah, the 10th Mountain barracks -- (inaudible). (Laughter, cross talk.)
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: We have too many -- (off mike) -- brick walls.
SEC. GATES: Other questions?
Q: I have a question.
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q: You've been given a -- you've taken on a huge task here. What are some of the things that you see that you think that need to be changed here, you know, throughout the Iraq war?
SEC. GATES: Well, that's really -- one of the main purposes of my trip was to try and identify those things. When I was out here with that status -- the study group in early September, we were clearly asking a different kind of -- a different set of questions than the kinds of issues that I face now that I have real responsibility for, instead of kibitzing from the sidelines.
And so one of the reasons to come out here and talk to you all, as well as with the commanders, is to see what we need to do. I mean, the president's been pretty clear, and it's pretty obvious that things aren't getting particularly better here. And the question is, what needs to be done to change the dynamic here?
It doesn't matter whether you buy the study group's description of the situation as "grave" and "deteriorating" or "we're not winning, we're not losing," or whatever. However you characterize it along those lines, that's not good enough. And I think that the president and everybody agrees with that.
And so what we're trying to figure out is what combination of new things going forward will change that dynamic, will put us on an upward slope, where the Iraqis become more and more capable, more and more able to take the lead, and we can begin this process of transitioning to them responsibility for their own security over the longer term. And at some point we reduce our own presence here.
I think we're going to have to support them in a lot of ways -- logistics and communications and so on -- probably for a lot longer than we need a major combat presence here.
SEC. GATES: But if we're successful, that will be in a much more secure environment.
So I'm trying to figure out the specifics on all of this in terms of what to recommend to the president. You've got an awful lot of people in Washington, both at DOD and elsewhere in the government and at the White House, trying to put together a package of initiatives, a package of new ways of doing things that holds greater promise of faster progress. And it's everything from what you raised in terms of economic reconstruction to how best to work with the Iraqis and enhancing the quality of their troops and meeting their growing desire to have control over their own forces, but also to make sure that they don't fail. It's really important to us that they succeed.
I think another dimension of this that's really changed -- and regardless of how we got here, the reality is that, as I said in my confirmation hearings, pretty much all the bad guys in the Middle East are here now.
Q: That's right.
SEC. GATES: And so it's not purely an Iraqi problem. It's mostly an Iraqi problem, but not entirely. And you've got Syria and especially Iran playing a very negative role here now. Two years ago -- two and a half years ago, that was more of a mixed picture. I think it's more completely negative now.
And figuring out how to approach not only the problems inside Iraq but how to look at this whole situation in a regional context in terms of our staying power here in this whole area is clearly very important. And we need to make damn sure that the neighbors understand we're going to be here a long time, "here" meaning the Persian Gulf area, not necessarily here in Iraq.
We will be here as long as the Iraqis want us to be here and we think we can be helpful. And as we've all said, we can't fail here, the consequences are too great; and they're too great mainly because of all these regional implications, in addition to what happens to the Iraqi people themselves.
So that's a long and roundabout answer to your question, but the bottom line is that we're trying to identify the best mix of new ideas and improved old ideas that will change the dynamic here and put this country and its government more clearly on a path first of all to getting control of the security situation and then beginning to rebuild.
Q: Are you going to meet with any of the Iraqi army commanders?
SEC. GATES: I don't think I'm meeting with the army commanders themselves. I did meet after dinner last night with the minister of Defense, and we'll see him and other members of their National Security Council, the minister of Interior and others this afternoon. And I'll meet with the prime minister this afternoon. But I don't think I'm meeting with any of their commanders themselves.
Do you have any sense of the quality -- I mean, you all have ideas about the quality of your own commanders. Do you have any perceptions of the quality of their leadership?
Q: (Inaudible) -- pretty good, sir.
SEC. GATES: Is your exposure sort of at their mid-grade level?
Q: No, like (lower ?) -- company commanders --
SEC. GATES: Yeah, captains and lieutenants and so on.
Q: I deal with a lot of lieutenants. Lieutenants are very knowledgeable about what they're doing, and they're eager to learn. (Inaudible) -- stopping a lot of (police department things ?). And I think a lot of that comes from the kidnapping of (women ?) and all the (damage ?) that goes with it.
Q: I think one of the things that we need to do is integrate them more into our patrols. We work with them now, and it's been working down there. And I think if we did that more (on the border ?) -- (inaudible) -- because the way we're doing it is they're seeing how our team leaders and our company commanders are doing it. So they're trying to (shadow us ?) -- (inaudible) -- the way they do it is the way we're going to do it. (Inaudible) -- right now. It's working for them. And like I said, I've definitely in the last six months seen improvement.
SEC. GATES: It certainly has been my impression that however the embedding takes place, that it really ends up being very useful OJT for them. You know, watching how you all do it, how your leaders do it, and then kind of picking it up that way.
Do you all have any thoughts in terms of how we might do what you were just talking about better?
Q: Right now, I know that the Iraqi army is short on people. I mean, they're going short, I know that they're short -- (inaudible). So we can only get so many people trained at one time. We have in our sector alone about three companies of Iraqi, one company done, got one of -- (inaudible) -- another. So if we could get more, that would be ideal, but I mean --
SEC. GATES: Do you all feel you're short of American troops?
Q: We're always short. I mean -- (laughter.) The military is always short on people, so you do what you got.
SEC. GATES: You know, there's a penalty you have to pay if you don't speak up. (Laughter.) There's a fine at the end of the breakfast.
SEC. GATES: The raw numbers, in terms of number recruited, seem pretty robust. From what I hear you guys saying, that doesn't necessarily mean all those folks are showing up every day.
SEC. GATES: Do they talk about a sense of their families being at risk by them having --
Q: Not so much but, like -- (inaudible.) (Inaudible.) So that may be a little more intimidating, to get out of those vehicles, things of that nature, to actually get out and put their feet on the ground. (Inaudible.)
SEC. GATES: What else is going on?
Q: A big thing, sir -- (inaudible) -- there's a lot of crooked (folks ?) within the army now. One big thing which I get a lot -- (inaudible) -- two or three weeks. His concern is -- I guess you could say he likes to -- (inaudible) -- what's going on. (Inaudible) -- like Colonel Llewellyn (ph) has received -- (inaudible) -- death threats within the past month.
SEC. GATES: So when you say that some of the soldiers -- some in the Iraqi army are crooked, you mean that they've got mixed loyalties.
SEC. GATES: So it's not so much theft or things like that you're talking about, it's --
Q: (Inaudible.) One example would be Mr. Talil (ph). He's the (SG ?) -- (inaudible). We were conducting an operation with the Iraqi army -- (inaudible). Two days prior, he went on leave. The day of the operation, he came back, and when we -- (inaudible) -- do the (raid ?) -- (inaudible). Another thing, the Iraqi army -- (inaudible) -- knocking on doors. There were little (black tapes ?), they would skip those doors. They'd knock and walk to the next door. Of course, (Mr. Talil ?) is right there -- (inaudible). He kicks in one door, and then he'll move -- (inaudible). The integrity of -- (inaudible) -- is really bad. (Him/them ?) being crooked is not -- (inaudible).
SEC. GATES: Any other comments? How much longer -- let's go on. How much longer do you all have on your current tour?
Q: I've heard rumors that it was June. And that's about all I know, sir.
Q: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
SEC. GATES: Honest answer.
Q: June, sir.
SEC. GATES: So do you-all think we need more U.S. troops here?
Q: Yes, sir.
Q: I think we need better -- a different vehicle for patrols. I don't think the humvee is the right vehicle. You know, there's too many people dying over here, you know, getting injured, coming home with no legs or arms or whatever. They humvee is not made for this. It's a light vehicle. (Inaudible) -- in an urban environment -- (inaudible). I mean, I know some -- (inaudible) -- some -- (inaudible) -- I was told last night that the (explosively formed ?) projectiles can actually do in an Abrams Tank -- (inaudible) -- (177 Armor ?) -- (inaudible) -- tank --
STAFF (?): (Off mike) -- some of these things we can't -- (inaudible) -- that's just the way it is.
SEC. GATES: (Inaudible.)
STAFF (?): (Inaudible) -- IEDs. I mean, luckily, we can find them a lot more and, you know, detonating them. So we've been getting a lot better at finding them parts -- (inaudible) -- and that's -- you know, prevention is our biggest weapon right now.
SEC. GATES: Well, it's pretty clear they're the primary source of casualties among -- (inaudible) -- troops.
So what advice to you all have for me? I'm brand-new at my job. This is my fourth day on the job. (Soft laughter.) This may be your one and only chance to --
Q (?) Keep an open mind.
SEC. GATES: About?
Q (?) I think -- just to -- any information would be good from people. (Inaudible.) Listen to a lot of people, a lot of different people, taking advice from multiple sources and (respond ?) -- (inaudible) --
SEC. GATES: Well, you all have a great task, too. Mine's probably traumatically less risky. Actually, I like that. I like that question. Let's start down here. What advice would you give the secretary of Defense?
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: Go back to Texas A&M? (Laughter.)
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: Well, I can guarantee you all, I didn't come back to government after all this time to play any kind of politics. I'm going to do what I think is right, and at least in terms of the advice I give the president, whatever decisions I make. And I can guarantee you that my decisions and recommendations won't be shaped by politics in any way, shape or form.
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: Yep.
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: I'm sorry?
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: (Off mike.) (Laughter.) Yeah, we'll come back. You won't escape, but you can skip.
Q: (Off mike) -- a lot of different players that are playing a role right now in Iraq. With the knowledge that you gained while being director of CIA, and also your long career, and just try to find a creative solution, and we'll support -- (inaudible) -- with the whole region to try to -- (inaudible).
Q: In my opinion, sir, I believe soldiers need more authority to do their job in the way it needs to be done because I feel there's too many political issues involved with pleasing some people or there are so many paperwork trails for little things that are unnecessary. Just for example, down in Kuwait we had to get a memo to get a memo for fuel. And it shouldn't be like that. I believe if you need fuel, you go get fuel.
You know, what you said, so many things have changed just between a year and a half and the time -- (inaudible) -- my second rotation here.
SEC. GATES: It's more bureaucratic now than it was?
Q: Yes, sir.
SEC. GATES: Do you say that, too?
Q: Roger. You know, we're given orders to, hey, get the job done. I believe we should -- okay, roger -- (inaudible) -- go get the job done, not have to, you know, run around the block three times before we can start the job. I think that's how I feel how things seem to be going in a lot of places.
SEC. GATES: You all share that?
Q: Roger, sir.
Q: A lot of things are -- (inaudible) -- more about getting out -- (inaudible) -- doing what you're doing, some of the little stuff, you know, i.e., fuel, or whether or not we have to get some extra (go meals ?) from the (chow house ?) -- (inaudible) -- going on patrol -- (inaudible) -- little things. But we've been here long and some people are getting complacent, which is in the nature of the beast.
SEC. GATES: (Inaudible word.)
Q: Don't sweat the small stuff.
Q: Sir, I think we need to just keep doing what we're doing and support the people out here, because I really think we need more troops here. I really think we need more troops in Iraq. I fly UAVs, and I know as a presence in the sky that the insurgents, when you're flying above them, don't do anything. They stop. They'll stop doing what they're doing. So I'm just thinking that maybe more presence on the ground, more troops, might be able to hold them off long enough to where we can actually get some of the Iraqis trained up strong to where they can hold it themselves.
Q: Just keep us in mind over here. Let us help you make your decisions. Take our advice.
Q: I would just like to see more development in -- (inaudible) -- Iraqi army taking control -- (inaudible).
Q: I actually do think we need more troops over here, but I also think that -- like, we've all been asked, how long do you think you're going to be here, how long do you think the war's going to last? And I don't think you can -- (inaudible). And having more troops here would help us integrate the Iraqis into our patrols and it would help them finally take the first step in -- they're already in the first step in the process of taking over.
But also, with -- (inaudible) -- one of the things that -- I know 189, they do a lot of patrolling -- (inaudible). They walk the streets, they -- (inaudible). We take them things, we help with their water, their food -- take them (dumpsters ?) so they can clean up their area and stuff. Those people come back to us and help us out -- (inaudible). But after we've been in that town or village for a month, they come out.
We have -- I work in a brigade support battalion, and we have medics and (truck drivers ?) -- (off mike). And the medics in my battalion have -- (off mike) -- like 40-foot -- (off mike). And it's called the "Doc in a Box." And they take this "Doc in a Box" -- (off mike) -- and actually open it up, and the troops go out and let everybody know, "Hey, the doctor's here."
And the first one they did it in, it was about three hours for the first patient to come in. And after that, they just started flowing in, those people. And (if you happen ?) to send that "Doc in a Box" down there now, they come out. They're happy to see it. And would more troops mean that we'd do that? And having more feet on the ground, I think we'd see a big reaction (that we've had here ?) already. This "Doc in a Box" thing has only been in effect for maybe a month.
SEC. GATES: Hm.
Q: (I'd say it's probably anecdotal, but ?) -- (off mike) -- soldiers -- (off mike) -- very important. And for people waiting -- (off mike).
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: (Off mike) -- a bunch of valid points, but I don't -- I can't talk -- (off mike). I'm happy to have -- (off mike). (Chuckles.)
Q: A little bit in the same way, sir. I -- as I work up in the brigade, I produce -- (inaudible) -- for division -- not from division, for the brigade. Some of the stuff I've seen sounds like, (as you said, would be the little nit-picky ?) stuff, but some of the (stuff ?) needs to concentrate more on the bigger areas, like the vehicles, the up-armor and stuff, what they were saying earlier about getting them better developed (ones ?).
(Off mike) -- don't get to see much, sir, sitting behind a computer almost all day.
SEC. GATES: (Chuckles.)
Q: (Off mike) -- sir -- (off mike) -- take all of this that you're getting, all the way from generals to privates, take all of that information -- (off mike) -- a plan of attack -- (off mike).
I do think that -- I don't know where (you're getting all the troops, but technically ?), maybe we do need to see more (sugar pumpers ?) down here, people that are out in the street, you know, out there, talking to public, you know, helping them out, getting their electricity going, their water starting to going. Just normal everyday things that the American public will take advantage of, they don't have in Iraq. And I think that once you get their basics set in place, as in water, electricity and employment, they're going to be less inclined to go to, say, the Jaish al-Mahdi or something like that, and ask them for their help.
Unemployment, poverty -- it all breeds criminal activity -- (inaudible). That's what they're faced -- that's what they are faced with out there, either get a job or, you know, start committing crimes.
SEC. GATES: You get the last word.
Q: I think -- (inaudible) -- the hearts-and-minds aspect of it. I think we're (doing ?) that, but I think we're thinking about that too much. And I think we need to separate -- like if we bring more troops over, that would be a great thing, I think, but we need to separate and have, like, teams who are (training ?) -- (inaudible) -- and you've got teams where you can deal with the local populace, worry about their food, water, electricity, carrying trash, and have more (teams ?) to do our job, to put boots -- (inaudible) -- on the insurgency and the sectarian violence and things of that nature. If you get a team that has the ability to go out and not worry about handing out -- (inaudible) -- and stuff like that, and they remain focused -- (inaudible) -- (battle on ?) that insurgency, I think it will be more -- (inaudible) -- more of a positive effect on the battlespace, then slowly -- (inaudible) -- IA working toward that -- (inaudible) -- and stuff like that -- (inaudible) -- on the street.
Q: (Inaudible) -- troops, I know we -- most of us are on second, people on third, fourth deployments -- know we don't have the troops. I just think we need to train more Iraqis, get more Iraqis, concentrate on that, make them (improve ?) their country, make them run their country. That's the only way we're going to leave here, have them run it. I mean --- (inaudible) -- more troops, like I say, most of us are on our second or third deployment. So the reason why we're here, again, is because there are no more troops. If we train the Iraqis, get the Iraqis up to speed so they can take it over, I think that's the best thing.
SEC. GATES: Well, I want to thank all of you for being here this morning, and I want to thank you for your candor. But above all, I want to thank you for your service. You-all are really the point of the spear out here. And there's a great story in one of Stephen Ambrose's books about World War II, where some guy on the very front line was interviewed in his foxhole and was asked about the rear echelon. And he said, "Listen, as far as I'm concerned, every son of a bitch behind ME is rear echelon. " (Laughter.) So we're all rear echelon, I guess, and you all are out here and putting it on the line every day.
And we're really proud of you and really grateful to you. And I think I speak for General Pace and all the rest of us, that we're very, very proud just to be associated with young people like you-all, and thanks a lot. Good luck to you.
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