SEC. GATES: Today, for a change of pace -- no pun intended -- (laughter) -- I thought I'd let the chairman lead off.
GEN. PACE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
I recently got back from a very productive trip to the Far East. I stopped in Japan to say thanks to our great friend and ally there for all their support in the war on terrorism, for all they're doing for the coalition in the Gulf, and for their support and contributions to stability in their region.
Then I went on to China. Had some very good, candid, open discussions with the senior military and government leaders in China. We talked a lot about transparency. They demonstrated their desire to increase the amount of transparency. They took me to places that no other U.S. officer had been. I sat in an SU-27 airplane, which is their top-end fighter. I rode around inside their T-99 tank, which is their top-end tank. They showed me a combined arms demonstration. They took me to their private offices. They took me to their command centers and showed me their maps and their plans and their sand tables. Very open, very honest about what their responsibilities were.
Good discussion with my counterpart, General Liang, who has a desire to increase cadet exchanges between West Point and their academy; increase the kinds of things we've been doing at sea, like search and rescue exercises; increase humanitarian exercise opportunities; find ways that we can build trust and confidence amongst our junior officers, so as they grow up, they'll have long- lasting relationships; looking to establish between Washington and Beijing some kind of a hotline so we can get on the phone quickly between governments to make sure that misunderstandings are taken care of.
So I found it to be a very useful visit. And this week, Admiral Wu from China was here. He's -- Admiral Mullen, our Chief of Naval Operations', counterpart. So at the senior level, we have a lot of dialogue going on, and we're trying to find ways that are comfortable for both governments to increase the amount of interaction between our junior folks, so when they grow up, they'll know each other better.
With that, we'll answer your questions.
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about the arrest of the British naval and marine personnel by Iran and their recent release? Did you see that action as an act of belligerence against an ally? And what steps are you considering taking to avoid a situation like that arising again?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think it's clear that the British sailors were well inside Iraqi waters when they were seized. Naturally, this kind of an event is of concern, and we have asked for -- have asked for the chairman, through the commander of the Central Command and others, to examine our procedures and make sure that, first of all, that we're playing well within the baselines, just like the British were, and that our sailors are properly protected against any similar kind of activity.
Q What do you think it says about Iran's actions, behavior, intentions, generally in that region?
SEC. GATES: I think the honest answer to that question is, we don't know.
There are some, I think, fairly important unknowns about what went on inside Iran during all of this. And it will be interesting to see what information we get or they put out.
Q Mr. Secretary and General Pace, the United States of course is still holding five Iranian members suspected of being members of the Al-Qods Force inside Iraq. Has anybody in the Bush administration since this incident occurred had any discussions with the British government about the fate of those five Al-Qods? And is there any consideration at this time of either one, releasing them, or turning them over to the Iraqi government, which could then of course dispose of them as they see fit?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think there's no inclination right now to let them go. It's my understanding that consular access is not required, but also that Iraqi government officials and U.S. officials are discussing if there's some way, perhaps, that there could be some kind of Iranian access to them. But as far as I know, there is no requirement for that and no plan or intention to turn them back.
Q Just to be clear here, are you considering consular access? And did anybody in the Bush administration have any discussions with the British about this?
SEC. GATES: I don't think that consular access is being considered. I think the issue is whether there is some other means by which access might be given.
GEN. PACE: And the Red Cross has had access to them.
Q Have you discussed anything, either of you, with the British government about the state of these five personnel?
SEC. GATES: No.
GEN. PACE: No.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q We're getting up on spring in Afghanistan. You've said many times that we're going to make the spring offensive our offensive. Has our offensive yet begun? And a lesser question, aren't you still -- don't you still have a request to provide yet another brigade of troops for Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: The outstanding request that we have is for additional trainers in Afghanistan, and we are looking into that. In terms of the military action, let me ask the chairman to take that.
GEN. PACE: The NATO commander on the ground, General McNeill, United States Army, has begun his operations. I do not want to get into the specifics of the operations, but it will unfold very clearly here in the next couple days what he has begun.
But to answer your question specifically, yes, the NATO operations have begun. And as the secretary pointed out, the U.S. requests for forces have been fulfilled. There are some requests for forces on the NATO side that the NATO command and the NATO structure is working to fulfill.
Q Can you just expand a little on these operations that have begun? I mean, what size operations are we talking about?
GEN. PACE: I'd prefer not to discuss ongoing operations. I think if we disclose the size of the operation, it will tell our enemies what they might possibly avoid or not avoid. So I think I should leave it as describing it to you after it's happened as opposed to prescriptively.
SEC. GATES: I might add that Secretary Rice and I met late yesterday afternoon and then yesterday evening with the NATO secretary-general to discuss principally Afghanistan and the need for other NATO countries that have made commitments to fulfill those commitments, opportunities for better coordination and cooperation.
Q I'd like to ask General Pace about his visit to China. One of the issues that I'm sure came up, and I saw reports on it, was the issue of China's anti-satellite weapons test. What was the Chinese response to this, and were you satisfied with it?
GEN. PACE: Yeah, it did come up, as a matter of fact, at several meetings. I was very direct with them. I told them that, you know, as we look at transparency, it was difficult for the world to understand what China was doing with their anti-satellite test. They had not announced it beforehand, they did not acknowledge it until significantly after they did it, and therefore the world was confused about what the intent was and what their policies toward space activity were. They did not answer that question.
Q Was that a problem for you? I mean, and what does that say about their transparency or their desire to be transparent?
GEN. PACE: Well, on that specific point, I don't know what their policy is and I don't know what their intent was, so I am still, as are others, confused about what their intent is. There were certain things that they were very open about, but they were not open about that.
Q Secretary Gates, you brought up the prospect in a radio interview yesterday that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq or Baghdad specifically could lead to ethnic cleansing, and I just wanted to ask you to elaborate a little on that. And isn't it clear from the bodies, the dozens of bodies that show up bound and tortured each day in Baghdad, that ethnic cleansing is already going on?
SEC. GATES: First of all, I probably should have used "sectarian violence" instead of "ethnic cleansing." But I still stand by the point that I made, that I believe that if we were precipitously to withdraw from Baghdad at this point, that there would be a dramatic increase in sectarian violence.
I continue to believe that those who are tortured and being killed are being killed by death squads, by hit squads.
This is not a large number of people turning out on to the streets and killing each other; these are targeted killings by relatively small numbers of people in an attempt to stoke the sectarian violence and, frankly, to try and make the Baghdad Security Plan fail by hampering the reconciliation process. So I do believe, though, that if we were to pull out, that there would be a significant increase in violence.
Q Mr. Secretary and General Pace, by your own accounts, you only have two of the five surge brigades into place, about 40 percent of the surge force. Why has it been so slow in getting brigades into place, and how can you judge, eight weeks into a surge -- how can you judge this summer whether the surge is working, when the surge is really more of a trickle than a surge?
SEC. GATES: Well, let me take a crack at it and then invite General Pace to comment. First of all, the plan from the very beginning has been to move approximately a brigade a month into Baghdad as part of the Baghdad Security Plan. We looked at one point of whether we could accelerate that process, and, frankly, to ensure that -- one of the principal reasons that it was not possible to accelerate it was that we want to make sure that every single one of those brigades is adequately trained before they actually enter Iraq. So the training piece of it was important as well as the fact that no matter how fast we get the troops there, most of the equipment still goes by sea, and it's 30 days, no matter how much of a hurry you're in. And so it's been really a combination of logistics and training that has paced this, as we've seen.
GEN. PACE: This is very much on track. The Marines are now -- are all in Al Anbar. The five Army brigades that are plussing up -- the third one, as you know, is moving into Baghdad as we sit here. It'll be fully operational within the next week to 10 days. The fourth brigade goes into Kuwait as scheduled, around the 15th of this month; the fifth brigade goes into Kuwait around the 15th of May. So this has been on plan to be fully up in all categories in early June to be able to continue this.
SEC. GATES: I think it's been -- to answer the other part of your question -- I think it's been General Petraeus's view all along that during -- sometime at some point during the summer -- mid to late summer, perhaps -- he has thought that he would in a position to evaluate whether the plan was working so far. As we've indicated, you know, the early signs are positive. I must say that General Petraeus and others were accurate in projecting that once the security plan began to take hold, that you would see a rise in large-scale bombings and other efforts to try and show that it wasn't working, and to try and cause more violence; so more vehicle-borne IEDs and things like that. And we are seeing that. But I think already there are -- everybody is being very careful. I think that there is a great reluctance to engage in "happy talk" about this. It's a tough environment. General Petraeus I think has been very realistic in his assessments in terms of what's working and what he's happy with and what concerns him. And I think we'll just have to wait several more months before we're in a position to make any real evaluation.
Q Mr. Secretary, we've heard, though, from some of the commanders in Iraq that this increased level of troops that are associated with this surge may be needed well into 2008. And I'm wondering, what would that extended increase in the number of troops in Iraq do to the overall readiness? After all -- and for you, too, General Pace -- you know, we're soon going to have at least three brigades returning to Iraq who have had less than a year dwell time. We've heard that some of the training opportunities for the troops redeploying to Iraq have been curtailed somewhat. A couple of brigades were not able to go to Fort Irwin, for example.
So what is this prolonged deployment in Iraq doing to the overall readiness of the force, and what is the state of the readiness of the force today?
SEC. GATES: Let me make one comment and then ask General Pace to answer your question.
I have said all along that I believe the decisions on duration and everything else will depend on the situation on the ground. So the truth is, I think people don't know right now how long this will last. I believe that the thinking of those involved in the process was that it would be a period of months, not a period of years or a year and a half or something like that. So the honest answer is that nobody knows for sure. It will depend on the circumstances on the ground.
But in terms of readiness -- General?
GEN. PACE: First of all, fundamentally, Mic, we are not going to send any troop into Iraq who is not manned, trained and equipped to do the job. And that's why, as the secretary pointed out, that we have them going one month at a time, so we can make sure that they are properly trained. And it is true that some units are not going to be leaving their home station, go to California, train out in California and come back. But they will get the training at their home base. And we will certify -- the commanders must certify to their chain of command before the units deploy that their soldiers and their Marines are properly trained.
What happens over time -- to answer your question about long-term readiness -- is that we will ensure, we will have the capacity to ensure that those who are going into Iraq, those who are going into Afghanistan are properly trained for those missions. But when you only have one year between -- or less -- between deployments instead of the two that you would like to have, you then do not train to what we call full spectrum. So that if an unexpected event were to happen somewhere in the world where you needed your full combined arms team, that you had been training to that on a routine basis.
So you end up with your troops who are well-trained for the mission they're going to, but you do forfeit some of the kind of training you would like to do just to have a little bit more readiness in case something happens that you're not expecting.
But there's more than one audience here, so let me make sure I got -- I make sure our potential enemies also know that the United States armed forces have enormous power and capacity, and at any given time we have about 200,000 to 250,000 of our troops overseas out of some 2.4 million. We have enormous residual capacity. We have the vast power of our Army -- correction -- of our Navy and our Air Force still available to take on any potential foes. And it would take longer then for the reserve forces to be remobilized and to get to the fight, but there is zero doubt about the outcome. It would simply take us longer than we would like, or than it would if we were not doing anything else, to defeat any potential enemy.
Q Which would potentially increase the number of casualties of the West.
GEN. PACE: You potentially increase the number of casualties on both sides and the amount of damage done on both sides, because you have some of your precision intelligence systems and some of your precision delivery systems already committed, and therefore, you may end up using more dumb bombs, for example, to get the job done. So you would end up using more brute force than you normally would if you could just start with nothing else going on and pick the exact units and exact weapons that you would use.
Q Mr. Secretary, to follow up, acknowledging you don't want to engage in happy talk, but clearly the debate on the Hill has been looking for some sort of sign of a drawdown somewhere between March and fall of next year. You say things are so far, so good in the surge. Is there anything you can say about whether or not Congress's expectations or hopes that there be some sort of drawdown beginning sometime next year are out of the question of that you would rule that out?
SEC. GATES: I think that the best -- the best way to answer that question is to go back to what I said earlier. And that is, any decisions like that will depend on the conditions on the ground. And I think that General Petraeus has said and would say that he believes he will be in a position to make that kind of an evaluation perhaps by mid-to- late summer. Yeah?
Q Mr. Secretary, how do you evaluate the Iranian president's decision to release the 15 U.K. sailors and Marines? And do you think this could lead in the future to direct talks between Washington and Tehran?
SEC. GATES: I don't think there's any connection between his action to release the British sailors and what might or might not happen between the United States and Iran in the future in terms of talks, or anything else, for that matter. I will simply say, as I did before, the motives of those who took the sailors, who authorized the taking of the sailors, who moved the sailors to Tehran and the decision to release them are unknown to us at this point.
Q Sir, to get back on an earlier question, as you know, the Pentagon announced Monday that the two units that would be going do not have the full 12-month dwell time.
This seems to run kind of in a different direction from what you had indicated earlier this year, trying to get the military back on track in terms of deployments -- does this open the door to more deployments of forces that are not going to have the kind of dwell time that you'd like? And are we making -- is the nation kind of making a transition to a different kind of play when it comes to manning a war?
SEC. GATES: I think I was quite explicit when I announced the changes in mobilization policy in January that this was an aspiration, to get to one year deployed, two years at home for the active component, one year deployed, five years at home for the reserve component. I was also, I think, quite clear in saying there would be a transition period during which those guidelines would be violated, and which we would be unable, because of the troop commitments in Afghanistan and in Iraq, to meet those goals. My hope is that by moving to mobilization by units, limiting mobilization time for the reserve to a year and by adding to the end strength of the Army and the Marine Corps, that over a period of time we will be able to move to achieve those goals of one year at home, two at home, and one to five for the reserves. But I think we always anticipated and talked pretty clearly about the fact that there would be a transition time when those -- when there would be both extensions and violations of dwell policy, just because of the major -- the magnitude of the commitments we have.
Q Do you see the transition lasting maybe a year or two, or even more than that?
SEC. GATES: I think that's very possible, yeah.
Q General, you talked about the Army brigades heading into Baghdad. Could you focus on Anbar province and the Marines? The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has left or is leaving Anbar. Which unit will replace that? Do you know at this point?
GEN. PACE: Admiral Fallon will make a decision. He has the troops available to him right now. He has another Marine unit available to him right now. He'll decide with the commands on the ground when and if to send that additional unit ashore. In addition, there have been the plus-up of additional Marine battalions, two additional Marine battalions. So the entire force is available to the commands on the ground. It will be up to them to employ them ashore as they see fit.
Q But do you expect to have that level -- it's the same level of Marines there, correct?
GEN. PACE: We'll have the same level of Marines in theater. Right now the Marine Expeditionary Unit Number 15 is back aboard ship, and another Marine expeditionary unit is available in theater. The commanders have not yet made the decision to put that unit on the ground. They can if they want to. They have not yet made that decision.
Q But the bottom line is, you're 1,200 short in Anbar as a result, aren't you?
GEN. PACE: No. The bottom line is, there are about -- there are 1,200 fewer Marines there today than there were two weeks ago. Those Marine are available to the commanders if they want to put them ashore. They have not yet made that decision.
SEC. GATES: Yeah?
Q Mr. Secretary, there was a report today that Israeli officials had put some pressure on the administration and were working with Capitol Hill to try and stop a billion-dollar -- multi-billion- dollar arms sale to some of the U.S. Sunni allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and others -- a big arms sale. Is that true? Did the Israelis ask that that arms deal be reconsidered? And what were the reasons that they gave?
SEC. GATES: This is -- I'm not aware of that. The -- contrary to what most people think, these programs actually are run by the State Department, and I'm happy to let them have the principal action in it.
We make -- we -- this government makes decisions with respect to arms sales taking into account what we believe will promote stability in the areas where we are prepared to sell arms, but also in terms of what advances our interests. And I think those are the criteria that we have to take into account. We also clearly always take into account the interests of our friends and allies.
Q Mr. Secretary, can I go back to Afghanistan? For either of you, what are the stakes in this spring offensive, which you say has now, at least on our side, begun?
SEC. GATES: My concern, when I became secretary, was that the level of violence in Afghanistan during the springtime had increased fairly steadily over the past two or three years. And I wanted to make sure that with our focus on Iraq, that we did not take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, either. It was the reason why I extended a brigade in Afghanistan to ensure additional force would be available. General McNeill has made additional requests of NATO. I spoke to the NATO Defense ministers in February about the importance of them meeting the commitments that they've made.
I think that -- you know, I don't think this is sort of a critical moment. I think that this is part of a longer-term effort not just to defeat renewed Taliban attempts to stake out a position in southern and eastern Afghanistan in particular, but to help the Afghan government strengthen its capacity to help the Afghan people for economic development, for better governance, to get control of the narcotics problem. So I see this as a fairly -- I see it this way, and I think most of the NATO people and our non-NATO allies and partners who are there see this as a long-term endeavor in Afghanistan. This is a country that has spent, like Iraq in many respects, many years at war, and there's a lot of things that need to be done to establish a stable and democratic state there. I think we've made strong progress. We want to make sure that the progress that's been made is preserved, and then that we move further.
STAFF: One more question.
Q Sir, just a clarification, if you would. General Pace, in talking about the coalition spring offensive in Afghanistan, did you mean to say that that had just begun? Because I thought it had been announced that it had begun about a month ago with this Operation Achilles. So did the offensive just begin now, or has it been under way for several weeks?
GEN. PACE: The operation you talked about, Achilles, began maybe two or three weeks ago, maybe as much as a month ago.
What I was referring to in answer to David's question was that there is, as we speak, a new part of this unfolding, and that this is a NATO operation. NATO has the responsibility for all of the general-purpose forces in Afghanistan right now. This is a NATO operation that, by name, started probably three or four weeks ago, and will continue now for several months at various levels of intensity as various pockets of enemy are identified and taken under action.
Q And I'm sorry, what is the name of that operation? And is it separate?
GEN. PACE: This is all -- this is all part of the same, of Achilles.
Q Thank you.
Copyright (c) 2007 by Federal News Service, Inc., Ste. 500 1000 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA. Federal News Service is a private firm not affiliated with the federal government. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's official duties. For information on subscribing to the FNS Internet Service, please visit http://www.fednews.com or call(202)347-1400