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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace from Pentagon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace
February 02, 2007 9:55 AM EDT
             SEC. GATES: Well, what you see is a compromise between your needs and my desire for a greater informality in all of this.  
 
            Good morning. I am announcing today that I've recommended to the president two officers to key leadership positions in the nation's unified command structure.   
 
            Admiral Timothy Keating, who currently heads Northern Command, is being recommended to take command -- take charge of Pacific Command. Lieutenant General Gene Renuart, who is currently senior military assistant to the secretary of Defense, will be nominated for a fourth star and the command of Northern Command. 
 
            Admiral Keating commanded a carrier group based in Japan, and later the Navy's 5th Fleet during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After serving as director of the Joint Staff, Admiral Keating became commander of Northern Command, where he oversaw the active duty military's response to Hurricane Katrina.  
 
            General Renuart commanded a fire squadron during the first Gulf War, and was director of operations for Central Command during the planning and execution of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before becoming senior military assistant last year, General Renuart served as vice commander of the Pacific Air Forces and director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff.   
 
            On a personal note, I'd like to thank General Renuart for helping me acclimate to the Pentagon during the past several weeks.   
 
            Each of these fine officers has established a record of accomplishment in a variety of complex and challenging assignments. 
 
            Each has shown the requisite combination of military, diplomatic and intellectual skills to be successful in these two positions. 
 
            The final thing I would say by way of introduction is that I will travel to Europe next week for the NATO Defense ministers' meeting, and then for the Wehrkunde Conference. 
 
            General? 
 
            GEN. PACE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'd like to add my congratulations to Admiral Keating and Lieutenant General Renuart for their nominations. They both have served this country extremely well, and if confirmed, they both will continue to do so. 
 
            I'd like to make note of something that happened in San Antonio, Texas this past Monday that says a great deal about the American people. Many of you know that at the Brooke Army Medical Center there, the Center for the Intrepid and two additional Fisher Houses were opened to take care of our severely wounded and to take care of their families. Those facilities were funded by more than 600,000 Americans who sent in everything from bags of coins to checks for millions of dollars. All of us in uniform deeply appreciate the Fisher family and the Fisher Foundation, but also the consistent support of the American people exemplified in those facilities. And we thank you. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, I'd like -- one thing you can do in your role and in this forum is to help shape perceptions of things, and I want to ask you about two things in which there are some perceptions and some -- even mistrust of the U.S. government. 
 
            One of them is fueled by the Congressional Budget Office study, which suggests that the actual number of troops that will be deployed to Iraq is actually double and the cost is doubled as well, because they say you're not talking about the support troops that are actually going to go. And I'm wondering if you could bring some clarity to that. 
 
            And the second one is one that I get -- as a reporter I get e-mailed about all the time, which is -- from people who are very suspicious that the administration is simply building up to an attack against Iran. I get these e-mails with the subject line all the time -- "Can't you see they're going to attack Iran?" 
 
            Can you tell us -- try to put that in perspective? And, again, General Pace I'd welcome your input on this as well. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Sure. Let me respond to both of those and then invite the chairman to do so as well. 
 
            First of all, the CBO study, I think, dramatically overstates both the cost and the personnel, and let me give you two statistical reasons why -- that lie behind that. 
 
            The first is that our cost estimates for the surge is through September of this year, through the end of FY '07. The CBO number goes out to the end of FY '09. 
 
            And you may recall that when I was asked, in the Senate Armed Services Committee, how long I thought the surge would last, I said that I thought that while there was no precise number by any means, that I thought those of us involved in the process thought of it in terms of months, rather than 18 months or two years.   
 
            So one of the differences is in a dramatic difference in the timespan of the assumption. The second is that the estimate of the number of support forces required is dramatically higher. When we made the first announcement of the force levels, we acknowledged that there would be some additional support forces. We think that number -- it's not settled for sure right now, but that number looks right now like it will be about 10 to 15 percent of the number that CBO cited. So those are two reasons why there's such a great difference between the CBO number and the number that we have used.   
 
            With respect to Iran, first of all, the president has made clear; the secretary of State has made clear; I've made clear -- nobody is planning -- we are not planning for a war with Iran. What we are trying to do is in Iraq, counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers, their involvement in activities, particularly these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops, and we are trying to get them to stop their nuclear enrichment. We are doing the latter strictly through the diplomatic process. It seems to be showing some progress. At least we -- the diplomatic process is working, and I think that that's where we are relying.   
 
            So there really is -- you know, I think because we are acting against the Iranians' activities in Iraq, it's given rise to some of these talks. Clearly, the deployment of the second carrier group has given -- has further led to this. But really, the purpose of that is simply to underscore to our friends, as well as to our potential adversaries in the region, that the United States has considered the Persian Gulf and that whole area, and stability in that area, to be a vital national interest. And that has been the case for decades, under many, many presidents. And we simply want to reinforce to our friends, in particular, that they can count on us having a presence and being strong in their area in protecting our interests and in protecting theirs.   
            General? 
 
            GEN. PACE: The only thing I would add to the math with regard to the cost of the plus-up is that -- the other thing we did was we took from the time forces actually arrive there until 30 September. So you have one brigade that's there now through 30 September; the next brigade gets there this month through 30 September, the next brigade gets there next month through 30 September. So I'm not sure how they did their math, but we did it based on actual arrival dates through 30 September and did not project beyond that. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, on the subject of Iran, do you now have indications or evidence in fact that Iranians were involved either in the planning or the executions of that attack in Karbala? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I know there's a lot of speculation about this. I would just tell you flatly that the investigation is still going on, and the information that I've seen is ambiguous. It's not clear yet. 
 
            Q     In a similar vein, there's been reports of Iraqi generals having aided the attack -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Iranian. 
 
            Q     No, sir, actually, Iraqi generals. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Oh. I have not seen that. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can we just ask you about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which has been released? And according to a section of that, it says that the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict. And the administration and this department has resisted that definition before, just as it also resisted saying there was an insurgency in Iraq. I guess the question is, do you now accept that there is a civil war in Iraq or are you going to be behind the curve on that? 
 
            SEC. GATES (?): Too? (Laughter.) 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            SEC. GATES: First of all, I received the estimate this morning and have not read it. I'll invite the chairman to comment. 
 
            What I have said in my testimony is that I think that the words "civil war" oversimplify a very complex situation in Iraq. I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq.  
 
            One is Shi'a on Shi'a, principally in the south; the second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad, but not solely; third is the insurgency; and fourth is al Qaeda, and al Qaeda is attacking, at times, all of those targets. 
 
            So I think I just -- you know, I -- it's not, I think, just a matter of politics or semantics. I think it oversimplifies it. It's a bumper sticker answer to what's going on in Iraq. 
 
            General? 
 
            GEN. PACE: If I could just add, one very important part is that the same analysts who worked so hard on the National Intelligence Estimate that came out today are the same analysts who provided input throughout the course of the planning for the decisions that the president made. 
 
            So we had access to their thinking at the Joint Chiefs level, we had access to their thinking in the work that was being done over at the White House, we had access to their thinking at Tampa with General Abizaid's planning and we had access to it in Baghdad. So their ideas that are codified in the National Intelligence Estimate that was produced -- was released today, classified released today, were very much part of the dialogue that led to the decisions. 
 
            Q     Could I just follow up? So aren't we in fact saying, then, that there is a civil war but there's also several other wars as well, that it's worse than just a civil war? 
 
            GEN. PACE: No, I do not -- I do not personally subscribe to that. The Iraqi army is loyal to the central government. You do not have Iraqi army of the north fighting Iraqi army of the south and other things like that. I think the secretary put it very, very well. It's a very complex issue, and putting a bumper sticker on it really doesn't help solve the problem. The question is, where are we, where should we be, and how do we get from where we are to where we're supposed to be? And that is what the new plan is about. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, yesterday General Casey said that of the Iraqi units that have shown up with the new Baghdad security plan, they are at 55 to 65 percent strength. Do you consider that meeting the commitment that the Iraqis made? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that partly it will depend on how quickly they get back up to strength. One of the problems that the Iraqis have right now is that the troops are paid in cash and often have to go home to deliver their pay to their families, and so there is an absentee level that doesn't represent desertion but represents people who've gone to take their pay home.   
 
            And so I don't know what kind of a percent that that represents, and whether it's a cyclical kind of thing during the month. I guess my answer is, 55 percent probably isn't good enough. But I'm not sure that that's -- what the end strength of that unit is going to be when the time comes for it to go into combat.   
 
            General, do you want to --  
 
            GEN. PACE: Well, I think the secretary has it right. There's good news and bad news. The good news is that contrary to what has happened in the past, the units that were designated to arrive in Baghdad have begun to arrive on the schedule they were supposed to be there. The first brigade is there; the second brigade is en route, and the third brigade will foreclose by the end of February.   
 
            However, you're correct in that right now, the initial units got there with about 60 percent. And therefore, they do need to continue to flesh out those units, get all those who may be home taking their money to their families, and get them in. So they're not at the level we would like them to be total strength-wise, but they are showing up on the time on they said they would.   
 
            Q     Whatever the reason, does that -- does a unit, an Iraqi unit at two-thirds strength, constitute meeting their part of the deal here?   
 
            GEN. PACE: It needs to be stronger than that.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, are you comfortable with sending troops into combat in Iraq with -- against the apparent opposition of Congress, which does have a constitutional role in authorizing war?   
 
            SEC. GATES: The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. The president has given the direction. We are carrying out his orders. I am comfortable doing that, and I think that -- I won't speak for the chairman. I'll let him speak for himself.   
 
            You know, I like to remind people that when President -- the first President Bush announced that he was going to remove Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait in 1990, 15 percent of the American people supported that decision. After it was successful, 90 percent approved it. So I think sometimes, a president, as I mentioned in one of our hearings, sometimes a president has to take a long view, and sometimes that puts him in opposition to public opinion and to sentiment in Congress.   
 
            I think that what -- it's now a familiar term, but I think it's true that I don't know anyone on the Hill who thinks that failure would be anything -- in Iraq -- would be anything other than -- would have anything other than very serious and negative consequences for the United States and for the region -- failure meaning, at this point, leaving Iraq in chaos.   
 
            And so I think what people are trying to do is figure out what is the proper -- what is the best constructive way forward to avoid that outcome in Iraq. And I think that's what the debate's about. The debate is, I think, an entirely proper one and an entirely appropriate one. But I think it's more about how do we move forward from here, and how do we best incentivize the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. I think that's what the debate is about, and I think that's a good debate to have.  
 
            Q     Sir, on the question of benchmarks, as you know, Senator Levin has been requesting more detailed information about what the benchmarks are for success in Iraq. Can you just characterize why the resistance to lay out a more detailed public version of those benchmarks, with a little bit of wiggle room, so people can see that there would be progress or not. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well first of all, I don't have any problem with doing that. And second, I believe that the benchmarks that Senator Levin requested were, in fact, delivered by the Department of State a couple of days ago. 
 
            Q     He got a letter with four kind of general benchmarks from Secretary Rice, but not -- he's still saying I'd like something more.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well let us look at it. I mean, personally, I don't have a problem with some more -- 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- classified? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, I don't think so. I mean, I've talked before about the benchmarks that I think we need to look at. And what I've said in testimony is that the benchmarks that we will see earliest on performance are: Are the brigades showing up, are they showing up reasonably on time, are they showing up in the numbers that they need to be showing up? Are the politicians staying out of decisions on which neighborhoods to go into? Are the politicians -- are the security forces allowed to go into all neighborhoods where there are lawbreakers?   
 
            There are several of these that are pretty straightforward benchmarks, it seems to me. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, can I take you back to Iran? I think the word you just used a minute ago was "counter," that you wanted to counter Iran's -- what they're doing inside Iraq. Can you spell out for us what is -- you know, either of you gentlemen -- what is the military strategy to counter Iran's activities inside of Iraq? And can you tell us what evidence, proof or information you have has Iran now been directly responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the principal endeavor -- and again, I'll invite the chairman to comment. 
 
            I think the principal area where we have seen evidence of Iranian involvement is in providing these EFPs, these very powerful IEDs, to the -- either or both the technology and the weapons themselves that have been killing American soldiers. And so our effort is aimed at uprooting the networks that are providing these EFPs. We're also trying to uproot the networks that provide the IEDs as well that are being provided -- or being used by al Qaeda and others. These darn things account for about 70 percent of our casualties. And so there's a huge effort under way to try and uproot these networks and try and stop this. So that's the principal area. 
 
            As you know, MNF-I (Multi-National Forces, Iraq) has been working on a briefing to provide some specifics about the Iranian supply of these weapons. Frankly, we have caused them to delay that because I and Secretary Rice and the National Security Adviser want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is absolutely accurate and is dominated by facts -- serial numbers, technology and so on. And so we just want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is completely reliable. 
 
            Q     A follow-up, sir? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Let me ask the -- 
 
            GEN. PACE: I think the secretary said it exactly right with regard to the networks. We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they're put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off. And we do that without regard to nationality but just with regard to who our enemies are. It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians. 
 
            Q     May I just clarify one point, though, sir? I apologize. When you say all this, just to be clear, do you have evidence that you can share or a statement; do you believe that these Iranian-supplied weapons, that that is sanctioned shipments by the central government of Iran? Is the government behind it? Is it rogue elements? Is it just the Al-Quds Revolutionary Guard? Or is the government of Iran shipping weapons into Iraq that are killing Americans? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't know that we know the answer to that question. 
 
            Q     Until recently, I think most people have assumed when an IED -- a roadside bomb has gone off in Iraq, that the Sunni insurgency or al Qaeda has been behind it. 
 
            In recent weeks, we've heard more about Iranians and explosively foreign projectiles. Is there any number of sense of scale of what percentage of the roadside bombs are attributable to Shi'ites or Iranians as opposed to al Qaeda or Sunnis? 
 
            GEN. PACE: I don't have that fidelity in my head. I think the reason you're hearing more about Iranian involvement is because, as I said, twice within the last 30 to 40 days in going after the networks, we have ended up policing up those who are Iranians. So that's why you're hearing more talk about it, because they happen to be policed up amongst the bad guys. 
 
            But with regard to exactly how many are Shi'a, how many are Sunni, I don't have that. I'll see if we can get that. 
 
            SEC. GATES: I don't have a specific number, but my impression is that the percentage of IED attacks that involve these explosively foreign projectiles is a relatively small percentage of the overall number of attacks, but they are far more lethal. They can -- I've been told when I was out there that they can take out an Abrams tank. 
 
            Yes, sir. 
 
            Q     Yes, two questions, one just operationally. Another helicopter, an Apache, shot down today, the third in the last two weeks. Is this an increasing threat we're seeing to our aircraft over there? 
 
            And secondly to Secretary Gates, we heard General Petraeus say that he wants to get these five additional brigades into Baghdad as soon as possible. And we heard General Casey yesterday say that he thinks only two brigades are necessary to get the job done. Who do you agree with, General Casey or General Petraeus? 
 
            SEC. GATES: (Chuckles.) Well, first -- well, you know, I think on the first question, let me ask the chairman to respond to that. 
 
            I think that -- you know, there's been some discussion about the different expectations of the current commander and the future commander in terms of these brigades, and I think that the chairman has been much more directly involved with both of them in that respect. And just based on earlier conversations that he and I have had, I think he's probably in a better position to answer your question on both of those, frankly, because there may not be as big a difference between the two of them as it sounds like. 
 
            GEN. PACE: We should point out fundamentally and first of all that General George Casey was the very first person to highlight in our government, that I know of, that he was going to need more troops, and he did that around July of 2006. That is -- it was his estimate that, rather than be able to come down and send troops home, he'd have to at least hold what he had and then do the assessment. 
 
            Q     That was the first surge, though, right? Because we went from 12 to 14 brigades in August. 
 
            GEN. PACE: Okay, this was when we were at 15 brigades, and we thought we'd be able to come down to around 12 or 10 by the end of the year. 
 
            And General Casey in about the July time frame said, "I'm looking at this. I'm not comfortable sending these troops home. I need to hold what I have, and I need to do the assessment." So he was the first one to highlight the potential need for more. 
 
            In the process of doing that, again, there were multiple groups working, including the Joint Chiefs. General Casey came in and asked for three brigades -- two for Baghdad and one for Al Anbar. We looked at that and said, "Yes, and oh, by the way, to ensure that you have the combat power you may need based on enemy activity, we're recommending that we also put in the pipeline three more brigades." He was happy to have that flexibility. He did not ask for that initially, but when offered it, he was happy to have it. 
 
            Comes along General Petraeus, who's looking at now the forces that are available to him, and looking from outside in, he's saying he'd like to have that force as soon as possible. But he's also saying he wants to get on the ground, do his homework as a new commander and do the estimate, so that we have the forces properly positioned for both commanders who are on the ground at different times to be able to have them come in as they're programmed to. And if nothing changes, all six brigades will go in -- one to Al Anbar and five to Baghdad. Or if General Petraeus gets on the ground and determines he needs less or more, then he'll come in and let us know. 
 
            But General Casey's initial flag on needing more is what started this entire process. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Do you want to say something about the helicopters? 
 
            GEN. PACE: Oh, on the helicopters, yeah. Clearly, they've been more effective ground fire -- or ground fire that has been more effective against our helicopters in the last couple of weeks. I've taken a hard look at that. Don't know whether or not this is just statistically what's going to happen over time when you're flying at that level and people are shooting at you, or if there are some kind of new tactics and techniques that we need to adjust to. And the folks on the ground are looking at that right now. 
 
            Q     If I can clarify what you said regarding the NIE and the term "civil war." You said it oversimplifies what's happening in Iraq, but it says it accurately describes elements of what's happening with the Iraqi conflict. Do you agree with that assessment or not? 
 
            SEC. GATES: When I think of a civil war, I think of thousands of people out in the streets killing each other. What I see in Iraq and the sectarian conflict are gangs of killers going after specific neighborhoods, going after specific targets, either individuals or other groups or terror attacks in marketplaces to inflict casualties. This isn't a divided army, a divided government in the sense that I've always thought of a civil war. 
 
            I think that, quite honestly -- and maybe it's still because I'm so new back in Washington -- I don't understand -- it seems to me everybody's getting wrapped around the axle on what to call this instead of talking about the complexities that I've talked about, and the situation on the ground that the chairman was talking about, about where are we in these different conflicts, where do we want to be, and so on.   
 
            You know, I don't understand why, you know, getting somebody -- it's sort of like the debate we had about when's the Cold War over, that we had back in that 1988 to 1991. Everybody wanted -- you know, you had this big debate in Washington: When shall we say the Cold War ended?   
 
            And I just don't think it's very helpful either in helping the American people understand what's going on on the ground in Iraq or in helping us formulate policies to deal with it. 
 
            Q     Sir, what is your assessment of the NIE assessment says that sectarian violence has surpassed al Qaeda in Iraq as being the more immediate threat to U.S. forces? Do you agree with that assessment? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I don't think it makes any sense for me to comment on an estimate that I haven't even read yet. 
 
            Last question. And then we'll end on a lighter note. 
 
            Q     The House has recently passed a bill that will give the Defense Department about $3 billion less for realignment than it was promised in the fall. Can you talk about how this will affect moving troops from the 1st Armor Division from Europe back to the United States? 
 
            SEC. GATES: The chairman may know something about the specifics. What I do know is that this does hit us very hard with respect to BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure). We had asked for $5.8 billion. The $3.1 billion takes us to $2.7 billion, and it would -- if that money is not restored in some way, it will make it impossible for us to meet the statutory deadline for BRAC. 
 
            It stops the construction at the receiving end for units or organizations that are being moved as part of BRAC, so it -- there's a $300 million hit to housing allowances for our troops in there.   
 
            So the cut does have a dramatic effect. When I was on the Hill yesterday and spoke to both the Republican and the Democratic leadership of the Senate, I talked to them about this, and we talked about some alternatives on how to deal with it. They understand the problem. They are concerned about it. Both -- all of the leaders are, because it does impact our troops. And I'm actually fairly confident, based on the tone of what I heard, that we'll find a way to resolve the situation satisfactorily.   
 
            Last question?   
 
            Q     When I look at you two up here sitting behind the desk, I can't help but think that you look like the anchor team for the evening news on the Pentagon Channel. (Laughter.) But seriously, I'm just wondering, in changing the, sort of, format or the dynamics of the briefing here, are you trying to make a break with the past? In particular, are you trying specifically to set yourself apart from your predecessor, who was the acknowledged master of the Pentagon briefing, Don Rumsfeld? (Laughter.)   
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I'll never be in that category.   
 
            This is -- dealing with the press on a regular basis is a new thing for me. I didn't do it much in my last job as director of Central Intelligence. And it may have changed, but we didn't have a press room at CIA. And so I'm just trying to find a format in which I am comfortable. I'm -- I feel more at ease in a more informal setting. Frankly, I get tired when I stand up too long.   
 
            So we're just trying to figure out what works best here in terms of -- you know, it's a little bit like the initial conversation we had about this in Bahrain with the media that were traveling with us. I like a setting that is more of a conversation than a one-way means of communication, and it says nothing about the past. It's just about my style.   
 
            Q     We could just drop by your office in the morning. (Laughter.)   
 
            SEC. GATES: Actually, that thought occurred, but then we couldn't accommodate the cable networks, so -- (laughter.)   
 
            Q     Thank you, sir.   
 
            SEC. GATES: Thank you.
 
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