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Media Roundtable with Secretary Gates from Noordwijk, Netherlands

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
October 24, 2007
            SEC. GATES: A few opening remarks, and then I'll be happy to take some questions. 
 
            I'd like to start by thanking the Dutch government for hosting the conference. I'd also like to thank my fellow defense ministers for their willingness to discuss in a candid and open manner today the critical issues facing the alliance. 
 
            The main topic of discussion today, of course, was Afghanistan, a litmus test for effectiveness of the alliance in the 21st century. Earlier this afternoon, NATO ministers heard from both General McNeill and General Craddock about the state of operations in Afghanistan. I would describe their briefing as informative, forward-looking and positive. There was unanimity among ministers, I believe, of success in Afghanistan. It requires that we pursue a strategy that integrates economic and political development, security and counternarcotics operations and effective strategic communications. 
 
            Last year, there also has been a growing consensus that the successful training of the Afghan security forces would be central to any progress. To this end, there's been a steady increase in contributions of training teams, and I was pleased that today more offers were put on the table. The mission still requires more maneuver elements and fewer restraints on how forces can be used. We discussed the short falls opening and honestly, and a number of ministers spoke very strongly about the need for increased contribution so that the burden is shared more equally by all. 
 
            No one doubts the justice or necessity of the alliance mission in Afghanistan. What we need now are actions, deeds and a sense of urgency and commitment to back up our pledges and promises. I'm confident that NATO can rise for the occasion. 
 
            I'd be happy to take some questions. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, a couple of days ago -- (inaudible) -- not satisfied, that you were not satisfied with the extent of contributions by the alliance in Afghanistan. As a result of today's discussions, are you satisfied? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I wouldn't say I'm satisfied, but I would say that I -- today was a considerably more positive day than I anticipated. A number of ministers indicated that their countries were either in the process of deciding or had decided on making some additional commitments. I'll leave it to them to make the appropriate announcements at the time, but on the whole I think today was a very good day. 
 
            Q     Does it fill the gap completely that you were -- (off mike)? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, it remains to be seen. I think that, you know, conversations are still ongoing. The force -- the meeting on committing forces is the first week in November, I believe, so we'll know for sure more at that time. But just based on the comments were made, I was  
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, limits are fine, but as you yourself have noted, NATO has not delivered on -- (inaudible). How do you -- what does it say about the alliance that, as you pointed out, has 2 million in forces and then can't come up with, as you put it, modest additional resources where they're needed? What does it say about maybe the strength of NATO itself? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think where people have made specific commitments to troops and trainers and so on, that they have fulfilled those commitments. Where -- the distinction that I tried to draw today in my remarks was that there were sort of five baskets of broad commitments that were made at Riga in terms of making the mission in Afghanistan successful. And while many of the individual commitments have been made, the overall commitment has not been great enough to fulfill those baskets of commitments that were made in Riga. And so one of my approaches today was to say that we as an alliance have to look at those broader commitments that were made in Riga, not just for specific units or elements, but what does it take to be successful in Afghanistan. 
 
            I also talked about some specific areas. A good example is the fact that by this summer -- by next summer, we will need in Afghanistan something on the order of 72 operational mentoring and liaison teams, non-U.S. teams. And there are commitments now for about 36, I believe. Some of the things that I heard today leads me to believe that we would be near to the requirement by next summer, but that's a specific example. 
 
            Q     Did you make it clear that you were not going to extend that U.S. Aviation Brigade again? Or did that come up at all? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I did. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, the German minister of Defense, after -- (inaudible) -- said that United States is too focused on increasing military presence in Afghanistan but there's not enough focused on economics and reconstruction. Do you think that there's too little focus on economics and reconstruction? Where is the balance there? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I think that, as I said in my opening remarks, I think what's required -- and I think all of the ministers agree that there is a need for an integrated strategy that includes economic development, building civic institutions and also improving the security environment -- I think all of these things are important, and we need to do them all. And more is required in each of these areas. So my view is that it's not one or the other; it has to be a combination of all of the above. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, what confidence do you have that in this meeting of Defense ministers, they all take that home and follow through with all those extra assets that will be needed, such as military assets -- (inaudible) -- economic reconstruction and support? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I suspect that the ministers would not have come to this meeting and said anything about the possibility of additional commitments without having the approval of their governments. So I think if they actually follow through on what they said -- I just don't think they were winging it. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, the Dutch are complaining about the huge costs of their operation in the south. 
 
            SEC. GATES: Who is? I'm sorry.   
 
            Q     The Dutch. But has there been any talk of financial burden-sharing today? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, there hasn't been. There's been some conversation, given the shortage of helicopter assets, whether there might be some pooling of resources for that purpose, for that specific purpose. But there was not any discussion of financial support along the lines you suggest today. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, were there naysayers in the group? There is a report that at least one major country says: Enough of these demands for more forces; we need to go more with the softer side of it. 
 
            SEC. GATES: No, I don't recall anybody saying that today. 
 
            Q     The German minister is quoted as having said that. 
 
            SEC. GATES: I -- he did not -- I do not recall him saying that in the meeting. 
 
            Q     Is the leasing option still considered the best option on the table right now for that kind of operation? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, my view is, it's not the best option. It may be the only option.  
 
            Q     What would be the best option? 
 
            SEC. GATES: The best option would be that other countries that have helicopter assets that could be used would be provided. That seems to be very difficult. And I do grant the fact that ordinary helicopters don't work very well in Afghanistan, just because of the altitude and so on. So it does require helicopters that have upgraded capabilities. 
 
            But I support the lease option, as opposed to not fulfilling the requirement at all.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, what is it that you expect after these talks that you have here? How will you -- what -- (inaudible) -- that you take will make sure that there is a follow-through and that there's follow-up? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I'll stay in touch with the other ministers, but clearly the coordinating element in all of this is NATO's secretary-general.   
 
            We're also interested in a greater U.N. and European Union role, particularly in the latter case, in terms of economic development and police training. And one of the things that we've been discussing and I hope we can come to closure on is the appointment of a senior person who could coordinate all of these different elements, apart from the security operations. I have been concerned since I made my first trip to Afghanistan that we have something like 42 countries and a dozen NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, all engaged in institution- building, economic development and so on. But there's really no coordinating element to ensure that we're learning best practices from one another and that maybe there's a sharing of responsibilities or cooperation, collaboration on certain projects, the opportunities that we're missing.  
 
            So I think that finding somebody like that is really important. I think it should not be an American, and I hope that we can make some progress on that.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, after today's discussions, do you think that the Dutch will stay after the 1st of next year? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I can't speak for the Dutch. I certainly hope so, and I guess I would say I expect them to do so.   
 
            Q     You talked about Afghanistan primarily. What was your -- the outcome of the Kosovo talks? Were you satisfied?  
 
            SEC. GATES: Really -- there really was very little discussion about Kosovo. It was almost entirely focused on Afghanistan. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary -- 
 
            STAFF: Hold on there for one second. We'll get -- (off mike). 
 
            SEC. GATES: Yeah. 
 
            Q     Did you say anything -- (off mike) -- with troop rotation -- (off mike)? That's been sort of --  
 
            SEC. GATES: There really wasn't much kind of a discussion about troop rotations. 
 
            Q     What are your ideas about it? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, how do you mean?  
 
            Q     Well, Secretary -- (off mike) -- Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer mentioned that he wanted to discuss on a long-term basis troop rotations -- (off mike) -- sort of -- how do you say it --  
 
            Q     That it -- (off mike) -- advance troops, so you would have a more -- a better of view of -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: Longer term? 
 
            Q     Long -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: We really didn't get into that today. 
 
            Yeah? 
 
            Q     May I ask one question? Was there any discussion about (the NRN ?) in relation to --  
 
            SEC. GATES: Not today 
 
            Q     No? 
 
            SEC. GATES: No. 
 
            Q     Secretary --  
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, earlier you said something that confused me at least a little bit. You said it's not so much that nations aren't stepping up on specific commitments, but it's the broader requirements, the five facets that you mentioned. What are you referring as the broader requirements that aren't being met if the specific requirements -- are you saying mostly are? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, I don't have my notes with me from Riga, but there were five broad commitments that were made in Riga in terms of providing support and training for the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army in terms of counternarcotics and so on. So what I was trying to draw the contrast between was if a country says it's going to provide a PRT or an OMLT or a battalion or a company, for the most part, the nations have followed through on those commitments. The issue is that the alliance as a whole has not met these broader commitments in terms of what's required for success in Afghanistan. And that was the point that I was trying to make.   
 
            Q     So you think maybe more specific battalions or PRTs or OMLTs are needed in order to meet those five -- 
 
            SEC. GATES: We need to lift our sights, it seems to me, and see what is required long-term for success beyond the specific commitments that have already been made. And as I suggest, that includes efforts in the economic development and civic institutions area as well, as well as counternarcotics. 
 
            (Cross talk.) 
 
            STAFF: I think -- let's take two more, please.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, France is apparently willing to expand their troops and some people in Afghanistan. What is your reaction to that move by France -- (off mike) -- a bigger role in NATO --  
 
            SEC. GATES: I have read the press accounts. 
 
            I was impressed with Defense Minister Morin's comments today. I don't want to prejudge any decisions or announcements that the French want to make. About all I can say is, any greater French involvement would be most welcome. 
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, on Turkey. You've mentioned in recent days the difficulty of getting actionable intelligence with regard to the PKK in northern Iraq. In that context, could you comment on the possibility of U.S. military action against the PKK in terms of airstrikes in the coming days and weeks? 
 
            SEC. GATES: Well, again, without -- without good intelligence, just sending large numbers of troops across the border or dropping bombs doesn't seem to make much sense to me. 
 
            Q     In the U.S. context as well? 
 
            SEC. GATES: It would -- for anybody.   
 
            Q     Mr. Secretary, two members of Congress, two members of the House Intelligence Committee who've been briefed on U.S. intelligence about the Israeli strikes in Syria, have said that while they're -- you know, they're sworn to secrecy, they believe that that information ought to be provided to the American public. What is your feeling, given your past experience in intelligence and your current role, about whether more information about that situation should be provided to the American public? 
 
            SEC. GATES: I'm not going to comment on that. 
 
            STAFF: Thank you all very much.
 
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