DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen at the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.
SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. First, as some of you may know, I will be traveling to Asia on Saturday for a six-day trip to meet with my counterparts in China, Korea and Japan. In Tokyo and Seoul, I'll touch base with two valued friends of the United States going back five decades and two strong partners in the war on terror. With regard to China, this will be a chance to keep open the lines of communication and strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
Second, I've had several meetings with congressional leaders about a fiscal year 2008 defense budget request. Just this week, the admiral and I went to the Hill to ask Congress to pass the entire bill promptly and without restrictions. Should this not prove possible, we need sufficient funding to continue operations, to provide for MRAP, to allow reset procurement, and authorization for new contracting, all of this preferably as part of the defense appropriations bill. If war funding is not in the appropriations bill, the department will have to resort to borrowing money from other accounts to sustain current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that could affect everything from the repair and replacement of equipment to quality-of-life programs.
I would emphasize that some accounts, particularly for Army operations, would be exhausted as early as February. And so I, again, hope -- expressed the hope that Congress will pass the legislation without delay.
With that, we'll take your questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about Iraq. Clearly, the security conditions have improved in some respects in many parts of Iraq, and General Odierno this morning gave us a fairly comprehensive overview of the changes in the security front. And in fact, he said that it had created the conditions for political accommodation and reconciliation.
My question to you is, where are those signs of reconciliation at the national level? Are you satisfied that that is moving in the right direction on that level?
SEC. GATES: Well, we still would like to see the Iraqi government pass some of these key pieces of legislation. We've talked here before, and it's not new news that we would like to see the de- Ba'athification law passed, even though de-Ba'athification is taking place on the ground as thousands of Sunnis are admitted back into the army and the police. We would like to see a hydrocarbon law passed, even though hydrocarbon revenues are being shared with the provinces. We -- I -- trying to predict when legislation will pass is a very risky business, and I won't go down that road. But I do think that we are seeing particularly some steps forward in terms of the outreach from, for example, the -- Sheikh Ahmed in Anbar reaching out to Shi'a sheikhs in other parts of the -- in other parts of the country. And so you're beginning to see some relationships being established.
You know, we continue to believe that you need to have reconciliation both at the local level and at the national level, and so we continue to press the Iraqi government to get some of this legislation passed.
Q But much the same has been said for several months, even before General Petraeus gave his assessment to Congress in September. And can you point to any gains that have been made on the reconciliation part at the national level, or are you just going to keep waiting?
SEC. GATES: I would say -- I would say that as the politics -- my view is that as the politics develop at the local level, they in turn are beginning to put pressure on politicians at the national level. And so while we haven't seen specific acts of reconciliation such as the particular legislation we've talked about, you're beginning to see political pressures on the leadership in different ways to try and get something done and to get these laws passed, provincial elections and so on.
So you know, we've continued to work it. There are a lot of -- as General Odierno undoubtedly briefed, there are a lot of very positive things happening in various places around the country. We would like to see the national politics catch up with everything else that's going on.
Q Mr. Secretary, later this afternoon we're going to be briefed on a report which says, in essence, that the contracting system has been totally overwhelmed by the demands of the war. How seriously do you take this? And do you have any feel for the scope of criminal behavior involved in all these contracting irregularities?
SEC. GATES: Well, Jacques Gansler came in and briefed the deputy and me yesterday on his findings and on the findings of his group. I think we were impressed with the quality of the report, dismayed by a lot of the findings, and encouraged by the path forward offered by the recommendations.
As you say, they're -- the group and Dr. Gansler will be briefing you after we get done. But you know, there are two pieces of this, it seems to me. One is the Army piece, which was really the focus. This group was commissioned by Secretary Geren, and I leave it to him in terms of the actions that he intends to take in the Army. Obviously we will be watching and working with him on that.
But the other piece of the report that is more for Gordon England and I to pay attention to is that they've identified some deficiencies in expeditionary contracting in the other services, and also some deficiencies in contracting in the department itself, and recommendations, for example, for significant strengthening of the Defense Contract Management Agency.
We intend to pursue these recommendations. They look very sensible to me. We have -- we will probably be asking John Young, the undersecretary for ATL, to lead this effort on our behalf.
The -- there is -- Gansler made very clear, they stayed away from any criminal investigations and that sort of thing, and so that's really on a separate track. So I didn't draw any conclusions from his report with regard to any potential criminal activity that may have taken place. But there are a lot of recommendations in there for the department as a whole that we intend to pursue.
Q How can it be that five years into a war, these sort of fundamental deficiencies are just now being recognized, and people are starting to just talk about doing something?
SEC. GATES: Well, we talked a little bit about this. And some of the information that the group has assembled, and you can ask them about this, indicates that among other things, beginning in the 1990s, mid-1990s, there was considerable pressure from the Hill to reduce the number of personnel here at the department involved in acquisition. And the number of people involved in acquisition dramatically dropped.
At the same time, particularly in the Army, and again Dr. Gansler can speak to this far better than I can. In the Army, it really began -- the contracting expertise began to fade away as a desirable career track. And so you had relatively few people in the Army who would choose contracting as a career path.
By contrast, for example, the Air Force would -- again I'm just repeating what he'll tell you. But the Air Force would begin to train officers in contracting as second lieutenants. And that process wouldn't start in the Army sometimes until they were majors.
And so one of the things that clearly is going to have to be addressed in all the services is whether they have enough uniformed officers in contracting. Because when you deploy, as we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, those are not going to be the department's civilians necessarily out there in the field managing these contracts and letting these contracts. So clearly one of the lessons that I took away from the report is the need for all of the services, but especially the Army, to focus on rebuilding contracting as an attractive career path.
I -- you want to say anything about this, Mike, beyond --
ADM. MULLEN: No, sir, I haven't really -- I haven't seen the report.
SEC. GATES: Oh, okay.
ADM. MULLEN: I certainly understand the pressure that has existed with respect to the reduction on the acquisition side.
Q Back to the levels of violence in Iraq, a pretty remarkable series of statistics that General Odierno presented -- things like level of IEDs at their lowest number since October of 2004; U.S. combat deaths lowest since February of 2004. Do you see this trend as being sustainable? Are we now in fact winning in Iraq? Or is this going to go the way of other maybe not quite as consistent trends, but we've seen other blips downward in violence in the past that have been followed, of course, by more bloodshed.
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that we have certainly been successful in significantly improving the security situation in Iraq, and I would say that what we need to do is continue this effort and ensure that the economic reconstruction and development follows. We clearly have more work to do with the police, as do the Iraqis, and we still need to get some of this basic legislation that I was talking about earlier done. So this is not just a matter of the extraordinary success that we've had in the security arena and the local reconciliation, but these other elements have to be addressed as well.
And I think we're making progress on them. The PRTs have been very successful. They've only been fully deployed for a relatively short period of time, so there's still a lot of institution building that needs to be done. So it's still going to take time to get this done, but clearly events are headed -- the direction in Iraq is headed in a significantly more positive direction today than it was five or six months ago.
Q Yeah, but you're not ready to say we're winning, that the surge is working.
SEC. GATES: I think those end up being loaded words. I think we have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.
Q My question's actually for Admiral Mullen, sir. What is your professional military opinion about whether U.S. military personnel should be ever involved in waterboarding activities? I'm not asking whether the military does it or not, but I would like both of you gentlemen -- do you believe it's appropriate for U.S. military personnel to be involved in waterboarding? What is -- would both of you say, do you believe that waterboarding is or is not torture?
ADM. MULLEN: My involvement in this up to this point has been to look at what has been described as the Article III level, and I've been very comfortable that that's where we should be with respect to the kinds of activities that are involved with individuals that we take on the battlefield. I haven't really been involved on the legal side of this, and from the military standpoint, these are the kinds of activities specifically that military personnel -- I would not expect them to be involved in with respect to waterboarding.
But I'm also not enough of an expert with respect to the specifics in terms of it to really take it any further than that and the decisions that have been made with respect to that. I think it's important for us as military members to maintain the high ground with respect to activities that involved prisoners or detainees.
Q Admiral, just to make sure I have not misunderstood anything you've said.
ADM. MULLEN: Sure.
Q Let me make sure. You are saying that you believe U.S. military personnel should not participate or be involved in any activities involving waterboarding? If I --
SEC. GATES: Let me go ahead and answer instead.
Q I'm sorry. I really would like Admiral Mullen --
SEC. GATES: Well --
Q -- to make sure I understood what he said.
SEC. GATES: Let me -- since I actually, in this area, have been in my job longer --
ADM. MULLEN: Right.
SEC. GATES: -- (chuckles) -- than the admiral has, one of these rare instances. The fact is it's not a permitted technique under the Army Field Manual, and therefore, no member of the U.S. military is allowed to do it, period.
Q Well, let me take that one step further, then. I'm asking whether you believe, since you're both senior representatives of the U.S. government, do you believe that waterboarding is torture? Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: I am not going to wander into that legal thicket.
Q I have an intelligence question about Iran. The premise underlying the European missile defense site is that Iran may have -- may develop ICBMs with a nuclear capability by 2015. Putting your intelligence cap on, how credible are those estimates? Are you comfortable with them? And why should the American public have any faith in those estimates, given that the prewar intelligence was so flawed?
SEC. GATES: The underlying premise for the third sites (sic) is the indivisibility of security of all of the members of the alliance.
The U.S. third sites (sic) need to be complementary to a NATO layered defense so that all of the members of the alliance are protected. The premise is not necessarily an ICBM with a nuclear warhead on it; it is a missile that could hit any of our allies with any kind of a warhead.
The basis of my discussions in Moscow with President Putin and the discussions that I had in Eastern Europe were focused on how soon can the Iranians have a ballistic missile that can reach Central or Western Europe, that can reach the allies, with any kind of a warhead. We already have flight testing. We already know that they have a missile deployed that has a 1,300-kilometer range. We know that they have acquired from North Korea missiles that potentially have a range of 2,500 kilometers. So the question is, how soon can the Iranians have missiles that can hit our allies if you accept, as the alliance does, the indivisibility of the security of the alliance?
The idea of the third site is that that's the site that provides protection for Canada and for the United States. The layered defense in Europe provides protection -- and in the Mediterranean -- would provide protection for our European allies.
Q So you're comfortable in that the basic intelligence, it's based on a lot more tangible evidence than the intelligence gathered for the buildup to the Iraq war?
SEC. GATES: The whole premise of the suggestion that I made in Moscow of when you operationalize this would be tied to seeing a flight test. I mean, I think it's a pretty -- it's a pretty straightforward threshold. And our belief is we will see those flight tests considerably sooner than the Russians seem to think we will see those flight tests. And I don't know what -- when the Russians say that the Iranians might not have a missile that could hit Europe or the United States for 20 or -- 15 or 20 years, frankly, I don't know what they're talking about.
Q So we shouldn't get lost in the debate over nuclear capability --
SEC. GATES: Yeah, this is about ballistic missiles.
Q Thank you, sir. A question for both you and the chairman on Iran.
I think it's fair to say that the language from the White House about Iran is much harsher than the language from this building.
The president has used the analogy of World War III, the vice president issues very stern threats. The two of you, while never taking the military option off the table, have said often that that should be the last option, and that diplomacy and other pressures should be allowed to run first.
Is there a difference in views on the way to deal with Iran between this building and the White House? And if not, how should we interpret this very different tone and choice of language?
SEC. GATES: No. I think -- I think that you can parse the speeches -- I gave a speech two or three weeks ago in which, among other things, with specific reference to Iran, I said that restraint should not be confused with weakness. And I think that everybody has agreed that the United States' approach to dealing with the Iranian problem now is to focus on economic sanctions and on diplomacy, and I don't think there's any difference within the government on that principle.
Q Mr. Secretary, I think you had that lunch with Secretary Rice about Blackwater and about what -- well, last time here you described different missions that the U.S. military has and the security guards for civilian personnel. Were you able to resolve anything?
SEC. GATES: I think that we're headed toward a resolution of it, yes.
We've had the two deputy secretaries -- John Negroponte and Gordon England have met and talked. They have come up with some general guidelines. Experts are now fleshing those out in terms of how we would operate going forward. They will, I think, next week take those to Baghdad to go through them with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus. And we will then get the recommendations -- Secretary Rice and I will get the recommendations of that group, as well as from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus. I'm obviously going to be very interested in MNF-I's view of whether the measures that are being proposed are sufficient to meet the needs that they see.
There are clearly two missions. Both have to be accomplished. One is to advance our overall mission in Iraq in terms of winning the Iraqis to our side. But the other also is to protect our diplomats, and that's an important mission too. And figuring out -- both Secretary Rice and I believe that those missions are not in contradiction with one another, it's how they're carried out. And we are looking at -- some improvements in coordination have already been made in Baghdad. We're looking for the recommendations that come back. And, frankly, I'm optimistic we're going to be able to work it out.
Q Can I follow-up on this, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q Follow up.
Could you clear up some confusion, please, about where the DOD and military stand on what they want -- what responsibilities they want to assume in terms of the private security contractors? We're told now that the military would simply like to coordinate the movement of these private security convoys and not necessarily control them. Is that a retreat from your previous position or the military's previous position on ultimate control over those security contractors?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the key here is keeping our eye on the ball, which is how do we accomplish these two missions. And that's why I said that, frankly, if MNF-I thinks that these measures give them the visibility into what the private contractors are doing, we also -- we want to make sure that there's standardization of training.
We want to make -- we want a window into the training of the private contractors to make sure that they're being trained.
There clearly has to be some consistency and coordination of the rules of -- on the use of force. And how we effect ensuring that incidents like those that happened early in September don't happen again is really the basis for the discussions that are going on among the experts. And frankly, you know, I don't -- I know that there's a lot of neuralgia about words like "control" and owning these things and so on. I think that -- I think the important thing is how do we get the mission -- how do we get both of these missions accomplished. And I just am focused on the practicalities of it, frankly.
Q How could you enter into a private contracting firm in terms of their training? I mean, would you require certification from the U.S. military? Would the military take over that training? How would you do that?
SEC. GATES: I think that's exactly the -- those are exactly the kinds of questions that this group ought to be addressing. And you know, we don't want to take over Department of -- I have said from the outset we sure don't want to take over the Department of State's contracting responsibilities. We've got enough -- (chuckles) -- as an earlier question indicated, we've got enough contracting problems of our own to deal with without taking theirs on as well. So those -- the specifics of it are exactly what the group's working on right now.
(To the admiral.) Like to add anything?
ADM. MULLEN: The only thing I'd add is, I'm comfortable from a military standpoint that we can do this in a coordinated fashion; that it's going to take work on the part of both departments, but that it is doable to meet both the missions that the secretary described.
SEC. GATES: Yeah?
Q Mr. Secretary, with regard to your trip to China, what would you say your specific goals are? Will you be pursuing the transparency theme? Will you pursue it through requests for access to more sensitive or more important Chinese installations than have been allowed in the past? And do you consider China militarily a threat to the United States?
SEC. GATES: First, no, I don't consider China at this point a military threat to the United States. I have concerns with a variety of military programs that they have under way, the developmental programs. I have concern with the lack of transparency. And those are the kinds of issues that we will be talking about, in addition to how we can strengthen the relationship. But I don't -- I'm -- I guess I'd leave that -- you catch me at a little disadvantage, since I haven't opened my briefing book yet.
Q Sir, General Odierno presented some figures about EFPs and how they're down in Iraq, 30 this month compared to 99 in July. Can you both explain? Is this a change in strategy, as far as your intel tells you, from Iran? Is Iran sending fewer EFPs as a result of any policy or any outreach by the Maliki government? Do you have any reason for why these EFPs are down?
SEC. GATES: Let me take a shot, and then invite the admiral.
I think it's too early to know, and we've had some discussions on this -- how will we know if the supply of weaponry, including EFPs -- it's not just EFPs; they're the most -- they've done the most damage, but there are other weapons as well -- how will we know if that flow has been reduced in some significant measure. And in my own view, based on everything I've seen, is it's too early to tell.
ADM. MULLEN: No, I would agree with that. I think it is too early. There's a concerted effort, as we've said before, to intercept and control the borders better, all those things, but I just think it's too soon to know this data point sets it up for something that's going to be sustained.
Q Well, would you attribute civilian deaths and the number of U.S. casualty scene down to the surge and success of the surge? How would you explain these numbers?
SEC. GATES: Well, my -- General Odierno's probably is in a much better position to answer that than we are, but I think, first, it is due in the first instance to the surge, and then the consequences of the surge and some of the things that the surge has led to in places like Al Anbar and some of the areas around Baghdad at this point. So I think it would not have been possible -- the reduction in death would not have been possible without the surge. As we get further into it, some of the other factors that are the resulting benefits of the surge may begin to play a larger role.
ADM. MULLEN: I would only add there's a cumulative effect. One of the areas that I immediately think about are the concerned citizens who've stood up to provide local intelligence, that have made it more difficult and more challenging. That's a result of the surge as well. So I think I would say it's more cumulative at this particular point in time than being able to just hang our hat on one specific area -- all of which is positive.
SEC. GATES: Andrew.
Q Can you just -- if I could just follow up on the issue with the EFPs. Is it your understanding that behind the scenes Iran has given assurances that it will try and stop that flow, because, of course, publicly they deny that they're even supplying these devices. Is it your understanding that they've given assurances either to the United States or to the Iraqi government, Iraqi authorities that they are going to take this problem a bit more seriously?
SEC. GATES: It is my understanding that they have provided such assurances. I don't know whether to believe them. I'll wait and see.
Q If I could return back for a moment to Iran and to EFPs, General Petraeus has always been quite careful to say that there are weaponry coming into Iraq from Iran, but he wasn't certain at how high of a level the Iranian government was involved in sending those weapons in.
You've now had State Department officials -- David Satterfield most notably -- say that there was no doubt at all that the Iranian government at high levels was involved in those shipments. I wonder the opinion of both of you. Do you believe that the Iranian government at its highest levels is actively and knowingly funneling weapons into Iraq?
SEC. GATES: I am confident -- I -- well, I should say I believe certainly the leadership of the Qods Force is aware of this. Whether Khameini is aware, I think you'd have to say it -- say probably. But I haven't seen anything that is definitive along those lines. My guess is that he -- that the highest levels are aware.
ADM. MULLEN: Nor have I, although I don't know how they couldn't be.
Q Point of clarification on your answer to the previous question. They have provided us assurances?
SEC. GATES: No.
Q Do you mean they --
SEC. GATES: The question was whether the Iranians had provided the Iraqi government with assurances.
Q But by "they" you mean the Iranian government or do you mean Qods Force?
SEC. GATES: I don't know the answer to that question.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: Yeah.
Q Thank you, sir. Two quick questions.
One, going back to China, there has been so much that has been written, Mr. Secretary, in recent weeks about China in think tanks, and including Mr. Undersecretary Negroponte also speaking at AEI. They -- all what they said, Mr. Secretary, that China is a big threat to the United States in the foresee future.
And second, Mr. Secretary, next door to China --
SEC. GATES: Saying they're not a threat?
Q Is a threat to the United States.
SEC. GATES: Is a threat?
Q Yes, sir. That's what they said, including Undersecretary Negroponte and many think tanks.
And second, Mr. Secretary, as you travel to China and in the region, one, if you are going to talk about the military expansion of Chinese in the region? And second, next-door neighbor China, Pakistan, is also in trouble because bombings and al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, has issued a new warning to the U.S. and to the neighboring countries. How do you think concern about the ongoing violence in Pakistan also?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that al Qaeda represents a risk not just to the United States, but to a variety of countries, including Pakistan, and they've been pretty explicit in declaring Musharraf, the Pakistani government, an enemy. So I think it's -- it's clear that they're trying to foment additional trouble there. How much they have been able to actually accomplish so far I don't know.
Q Mr. Secretary, just today Japan ended its refueling mission in support of OEF in the Indian Ocean. This effectively ends the country's most significant military contribution to the war -- global war on terror. Are you encouraging Japan to renew its mission in support of OEF? And how will this impact the U.S.-Japan defense relationship?
SEC. GATES: I don't think it will have an impact. Clearly, this has been a result of some of the political changes that have taken place in Japan in recent weeks. My hope is that relatively soon, in a matter of weeks or -- I hope not -- more than a few months, this assistance will be able to be renewed.
We welcome Japan's partnership in the war on terror. They are involved in other ways in the war on -- in combating terrorism. But this clearly was an important area, and we hope it'll be renewed.
Thank you all very much.
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