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Department of Defense Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Gates Enroute to Washington D.C. from U.S. Central Command

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
March 16, 2007

            SEC. GATES:  (in progress)...Congress to pass the supplemental as expeditiously as possible, it starts to be a real problem for us in April if we don't have the money.  And I probably should say as well that with respect to the debate, as I've said, on the Hill, you know, I think everybody involved in the debate is -- (inaudible) -- the country.  I would

would make it difficult, if not impossible, for our commanders to achieve their mission -- (inaudible). 

 

            Q     (Inaudible) -- terms -- (inaudible).

           

            SEC. GATES:  Well, I think General Pace addressed this in response to the question from Judd Gregg at our appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee I think it was.  He went into some detail about what the specific consequences would be just in terms of looking only at the limits on dwell time and things like that in terms of the lag.  And I think he said that it would result in just the dwell time issue and no exceptions, would leave you to arrange -- you'd kind of be up and down in your forces, and he could go as low as 14 brigades would be all that you can sustain as I recall.  There were some other specifics that might be worth going back and trying to get.  But really, it's the specific deadlines and the strict conditionality of it  make it very difficult. 

 

            Did you enjoy the ceremony?

 

            Q     Yes, sir -- (inaudible).

 

            Q     If I could follow up on that thought about comments and end strength.  The surge – lots of officers (inaudible) -- would require patience on the part of the public and an indication that it may be -- (inaudible) -- months into next year.  Even ahead of that decision, do you think the forces could be found to sustain this surge in ’08 -- if that's what the commanders say is the key to victory?

 

            SEC. GATES:  There is -- well, the answer is yes – the forces can be found (inaudible) -- now.  But there's also no question that sustaining this level of commitment will introduce some additional stresses on the force -- (inaudible) -- in 2008. 

 

            Q     Do you think it’s in a meaningful way sustainable?

 

            SEC. GATES:  (Inaudible) -- we can make it work. 

 

Q    Do you think you’re going to have to, or is just too soon to say?

 

SEC. GATES:  It’s too soon to say.   I knew all along this all has to be determined by the conditions on the ground. 

 

            Q     At this point do you think you have to start at least looking at how you’re going to sustain it?  Do you think it's more than likely than not that this will go into next year?

 

            SEC. GATES:  No, that's the part I don't know the answer to.  But clearly, we have to be thinking about if it does, how will we resource it. 

 

            Q     Can I ask you about the quarterly (inaudible)--a question about the terminology --(inaudible)--civil war--(inaudible)--inside the Beltway --(inaudible)--but obviously it is --(inaudible)--role of the United States in Iraq.  And, obviously people who are opposed to the war, say it’s primarily now a sectarian conflict among Muslims, among Iraqis.  What are doing in the middle of it?  What would your response to the—do you share that view, that’s a primarily a sectarian conflict

 

            SEC. GATES:  (Inaudible.)  I don't think that -- well, sorry I end up repeating myself.  I think, you know, it's just like the national estimates that there  are some aspects that resemble a civil war, but that if the situation were much more complex than that --  and I talked about the fact that there are really four wars going on in Iraq, and maybe even five if you include crime and thuggery.  And what I think hasn't been adequately captured is the degree to which stoking sectarian violence is a conscientious strategy of al Qaeda and some of the extremists, the insurgents, the Ba'athist insurgents.  I mean, these big car bombs going off in sensitive places, like the golden mosque, are not an accident.  These guys have a very clear strategy aimed at provoking this sectarian violence.  And that's why I think -- (inaudible).

 

            The other thing that intrigues me about the situation is you don't see thousands of people out in the streets.  These are targeted assassinations that are effected.  We don't see mobs of Shi'a, mobs of Sunnis attacking each other.  You see hit squads for all practical purposes.  You see gangs of people going after targeted neighborhoods and so on, and often not from those neighborhoods. 

 

            Q     So you would say that's what makes it a strategic U.S. interest in the sense that’s your ultimate enemy al Qaeda which is behind a lot of the driving force, behind a lot this?  That's the question people say -- regardless of who is stoking it, why are we trying to (inaudible) each other, and losing lives as a result?

 

            SEC. GATES:  Again, we're just repeating ourselves, but there is -- what we are doing is partnering with the Iraqis to buy the Iraqis time for the reconciliation process to go forward.  And I think everybody in the government is on the same page, that if that doesn't work, then the strategy won't work. 

 

            Q     Do you see any way that there can be either conditions or deadlines that I guess some sort of compromise?  Do you see any way that there could be some type of either addition or deadline arranged -- (inaudible) -- legislation?  Do you think the military can live with --(inaudible)?  Or is this just something that shouldn’t be dealt with legislation?

 

            SEC. GATES:  Well, I certainly think that everybody's got the message that there's a great deal of impatience to see progress.  And the Congress doesn't want to see an open-ended commitment here.  So, if the attempt was to send a powerful message, I think the message has been received; and not just by us, but by the Iraqis as well.  And I met with Vice President Abdal-Mahdi the other day.  And they certainly understand the pressure on them in terms of the impatience here in the United States.

 

            Q     Shift subjects a little bit – what do you think about KSM, CSRTs and the statements that he made?  What are your thoughts -- (inaudible) -- try and take responsibility for all of the -- (inaudible)?

 

            SEC. GATES:  The deputy, Gordon England, went down to Guantanamo with the senator-- (inaudible).  And Gordon and I talked about it after he got back.  And kind of hearing it firsthand, Gordon said there was no doubt in his mind this guy meant every word he said.  Did he embellish a little bit?  Maybe, but it was -- according to Gordon -- a really -- I can't remember the exact word he used, but it was sort of a stunning -- you know, Hannah Arendt wrote that book -- spoke of the banality of evil.  And that's sort of the way I interpreted Gordon’s description of this guy – his laconic answers to the head of the tribunal’s questions, his politeness.  And reading the transcript, I sort of had the same reaction – that this was the banality of evil, no (inaudible), no waving of the arms -- or anything like that.  And it really was a fresh reminder of the kind of threat we're facing -- (inaudible) -- as John Abizaid says, for the long war. 

 

            Q     That particular theory -- (inaudible) -- one of America's biggest enemies – biggest targets -- (inaudible).  Do you think, in retrospect, maybe it should have been – open, in a sense -- to give people exactly that sense of  stunnigness?

 

            SEC. GATES:  No, because there are some aspects of this, and particularly on some of these fourteen -- where some of the things being presented are classified.  But I think what we tried to do was we had promised to release a redacted transcript as quickly as possible and getting it out in a couple of days validated that we were going to keep our commitment in that respect.  But I think as long as we do this after all -- if they go to trial, the trials, obviously, will be open, open  to the press and everything else.  So, this really is trying to get the root of what there is there against these guys.

 

            Q     None of them so far have faced a possible death penalty – the first round now with Hicks is a non-capital case -- do you think KSM could face the death penalty?

 

            SEC. GATES:  I don't know what the -- I don't know, but one would think so, but I just don't know. 

 

            Q     Have there been any thought to --(inaudible)—release of –(inaudible)—have you recorded –(inaudible).  Because when you release a transcript, you can see on any message board, --(inaudible)—this is just the Pentagon’s version.

 

            SEC. GATES:  We issued a transcript.  If we issued the recording, then they would assume we dubbed the recording.

 

            Q     (Inaudible)—for example, Saddam’s capture, video and execution of him, left doubt of what happened.

 

            SEC. GATES:  Interesting thought.  I haven't heard it discussed, but it's a question worth asking.  And I'll ask it.  Since you've asked me, I'll ask it. 

 

            Q     What did you think of his torture allegations?

 

            SEC. GATES:  What I read was the redacted version -- (laughter).  I actually haven't read that. 

 

            Q     (Inaudible) -- handed in a piece of paper -- (inaudible) -- about his prior time in the sites, the CIA sites – it was unclear the allegation -- (inaudible).

 

            SEC. GATES:  Yeah, I just haven't seen them.  I know that he made the allegation.  I’ve got the version you guys got.  After I've been on the job four months they'll give me clearance -- (laughter) -- and I can see the other stuff.

 

            Q     You mentioned Secretary England talked a little bit about his reaction to it.  Did it surprise you –did you get the sense that it was not what he expected?

 

            SEC. GATES:  I don't want to put words in Gordon's mouth.  But I just had the impression from him that there was an emotional impact he hadn't expected, hearing this guy go through this incredible list -- sort of, I did this and then I did that, so on and so forth -- and hearing somebody actually saying, "I cut off Daniel Pearl's head.  If you want to see it, go to the Internet." 

 

            Q     (Inaudible)—an aviation brigade, an extra request for an extra brigade to Iraq at least sooner than planned.  Are you aware of that request – (inaudible)--

 

            SEC. GATES:  Actually I talked about this request at the press conference last week or week before.  That was included, that request was included in the figure of 7,000 that Gordon England used.  So, the components of the 7,000 are the 2,400 combat support that we talked about routinely, and that the two new requests, and the money for them is in the supplemental.  And the two new requests, Petraeus – for the 2,200 military police, we talked about last week, and the combat aviation brigade – which is really primarily rotary helicopter support for the troops is the final piece.  That’s been recommended – the decision is completely final.

 

            Q     (Inaudible)—Afghanistan--request for significant increase in the number of trainers –(inaudible)—rough number?

 

            SEC. GATES:  (Inaudible)—some where around 3,000

 

            Q     (Inaudible.)

 

            SEC. GATES:  (Inaudible.)

 

            Thank you, have a good weekend.