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DoD Press Briefing with DoD Press Secretary Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington Va.

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
December 12, 2007
        
            MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to see you all today. 
 
            As most of you know by now, the secretary is heading to Edinborough, Scotland this evening along with Undersecretary of State Nick Burns. They will be participating in a meeting of defense and foreign ministers from the eight countries that comprise the international coalition in southern Afghanistan. The two-day gathering is being hosted by U.K. Defense Minister Des Browne and will focus on the situation in Regional Command South. RC South remains the focal point of insurgent operations in Afghanistan. In fact, daily attacks have doubled in the years since NATO's International Security Assistance Force took over there.   
 
            That said, as many of you know, Secretary Gates returned from his trip to Afghanistan last week even more convinced the Taliban's recent resurgence in some parts of the nation is not a threat militarily, but clearly is undermining the coalition's efforts to stabilize and develop that country. Secretary Gates has some clear ideas about what's wrong with our Afghan strategy and how it should be adjusted. You heard him share some of those with the Congress yesterday. Over the course of the next couple of days in Edinborough, he will have a chance to delve more deeply into those ideas with his counterparts.   
 
            And with that, I'll take your questions. 
 
            Where's my usual AP crew?   
 
            Q     I'll fill in. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You're filling in for the AP? 
 
            Q     Well, I've worked for the AP, so it works out. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: And your name? 
 
            Q     Richard Lartner (sp).   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Richard. Pleasure to meet you. 
 
            Q     I have a quick question for you here on MRAPs. Is the Army going to buy less based upon the current security environment in Iraq and especially after what General Odierno said about --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I saw when we were traveling that General Odierno had made some remarks about what the future needs of the Army may be with regards to MRAPs. I have not had a chance to speak with General Odierno myself, nor have I had a chance, really, to speak with anybody else in the Army about it. It would not surprise me if they made an adjustment. You saw the Marines have made an adjustment to what they feel is necessary for their future operations. But I'm -- I do not believe that a formal proposal has been put forth yet by the Army in terms of asking the secretary or anybody else to adjust downward what they wish to buy in the long term. As it stands right now, we continue to buy as many MRAPs as can be produced, and that has not changed.    
 
            Q     While we're on that subject, could you give us the numbers for the MRAPs? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I can.  
 
            Through November -- which is where I want to cut it off at November because I think it's best to look at things from a whole. You know, we had a very ambitious month in November. The goal, production-wise, was 997 vehicles. That more than doubles what we produced in October and we came just short of our goal. We produced 809 vehicles in the month of November. So we're about 188 vehicles short on the month. But the good news is that we are well on our way to our goal of delivering vehicles to theater. I know our goal had been to get to about 1,500 vehicles by the end of the calendar year, and through the month of November -- or actually, this may be actually more recent than that -- through December the 5th. So I'm going to confuse you a little here. We're going to get into December. But through the 5th of December, we had delivered 1,117 vehicles to theater.   
 
            So if we expeditiously get those or many of those that we produced during the month of November to theater, we will get to that 1,500 mark and it will be to the benefit of our troops over there. 
 
            Q     Can you repeat the numbers through November -- 997 --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: Nine hundred and ninety-seven was the goal, 809 produced. 
 
            Yes, Jeff.   
 
            Q     When you spoke on November 14th, you said 760 MRAPs have been delivered to Iraq. In less than a month, you've done about 400. Can you talk about how you moved so many so quickly?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Without, Jeff, having really gotten a good situational awareness on this, I can tell you that -- you know, when we last spoke, we had started to implement sealift in conjunction with airlift. So I think our capacity grew expedientially as a result of that. And so I think when you combine the 360 that we airlift per month with now ships -- some of them fast ships -- heading over there, we've been able to get many more than previous over there now.   
 
            Q     And it is possible to determine -- I know the ones being sent by ship will be going to Kuwait first. Do you have an idea of the 1,500 that are expected to be in the AOR by the end of the year, how many will be in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how many will be in Kuwait? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, I hope we have all 1,500 in the war zone. I mean, that's the objective. I don't think that John Young was specific about it when he made that prediction, but I think it's the department's hope that, indeed, we have 1,500 to the men and women who need them by the end of the year. Clearly, those that are there already are having an enormous impact. We have yet to lose a single soldier or Marine in any attack involving an MRAP. And so there is a huge capability that's brought on when we bring those theater -- those vehicles to theater and we hope to get as many of them as possible as soon as possible over there.   
 
            Okay? Jennifer. 
 
            Q     Geoff, what will happen to the money that Congress has already allocated to MRAPs if the Army and Marines scale back their requests to below that figure? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: The money that's been appropriated is for the number that we've all agreed is needed. We have 8 -- more than 8,800 vehicles that are under contract and we believe all those vehicles are needed. I think it's a number above and beyond that that is being discussed as to whether you pare that ultimate requirement down slightly. But there's no issue about the amount of money that's been allocated and what we're -- what we have under contract. All those are needed. 
 
            Q     Is that money in the supplemental that you save is future money?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: The supplemental -- the one good news about the supplemental situation thus far is that the Congress chose to appropriate the money for MRAPs. So we have the money we need for MRAPs to purchase the 8,800 we've asked for. 
 
            Q     To -- quick follow-up on something you just said about MRAPs, that there's -- no one has ever died -- U.S. troops have never died in an MRAP. Is that what you said? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: That's my understanding, that no --  
 
            Q     The folks at Force Protection who make a lot of these MRAPs say they have three confirmed deaths dating back to November of '06. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: November of '06 in an MRAP.   
 
            Well that --  
 
            Q     Because of an EFP. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: That would be news to me. I -- we'll --  have to go back and check on that for you. My understanding -- and maybe I'm confusing Anbar with the region as a whole, but -- and my recollection of that fact was that there had been none. But we'll certainly go back and check it for you. But if it's none or if it's three, clearly there is an enormous enhanced protection brought on by MRAPs. And that's why this vehicle is so important for the war effort over there. 
 
            Peter.   
 
            Q     Getting back to Afghanistan, we met -- that the secretary had yesterday about NATO not stepping up, particularly with these trainers, has been something, I think, since the day he arrived in office they've been having problems with. Is there a point at which the secretary says, you know what? NATO is just not going to show up with these trainers and these troops, and we're going to have to find either domestically our own to fill those gaps or lean on other, more helpful NATO members like the Brits or the Canadians to fill that gap?  
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I think you heard him talk about it at length yesterday, Peter. I think he was asked that question directly by some -- by several frustrated members of Congress who are of the belief that this mission is too vital to let it in any way be jeopardized by the fact that some of our allies have not fulfilled their commitments made at Riga a year ago. The secretary's answer, I believe, was that he is not ready to let NATO off the hook on this issue. And Lord knows that our trainers are being stretched as it is. We have had to supplement or hold over -- I think we held over 3,500 trainers to sort of fill the gap on a temporary basis and he -- we still need an additional 3,500 for the Afghan police and we're trying to grow the Afghan army at the same time.   
 
            Our responsibility -- the U.S. military trainer responsibility is to the Afghan army. We were hoping that NATO could take over and help out with the Afghan police. And that's why it's urgently needed that they get their trainers over there so we can concentrate on the Afghan army which, as you heard from the chairman yesterday, the Karzai government wishes to grow their army even beyond the 70,000 which we've agreed to.   
 
            So U.S. trainers are very much in demand and I don't know that there's the ability for us take on the mission of our allies as well. 
 
            Q     Let me ask you -- ask the question a different way. Does there will come a time when there is -- you start naming and shaming because there has been a complaint for a while and we sort of generally say certain NATO allies have not lived up to their commitments -- we never say who they are.   
 
            Yesterday, the secretary sort of said, "Oh, by the way, the Brits and the Canadians have been particularly helpful." But he wouldn't say who was actually failing to live up to their commitments. Does there come a time where he feels that maybe we start pointing out who's not living up to their commitments? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think the secretary's philosophy is to praise in public and reprimand in private. I don't think you're going to hear from this podium or from him in a public manner any way casting aspersions on individual countries. We are an alliance. We are in it together. We are working together. He very much wants the alliance to fulfill its commitments to Afghanistan. That said, he clearly did note the countries that he believes are indeed stepping up to the plate, including the Brits and the Canadians and the Aussies and the Dutch for that matter, I think.   
 
            And they are -- you know, these are countries and you heard it from the secretary I think on our last trip to Europe -- a speech to the council of European armies, he talked about how, for example, the Brits -- I think 22 percent of the British force is deployed right now, more than any other NATO country. So the Brits are doing more than their fair share of the work abroad. And we'd like to see other countries commit similar resources to our combined efforts abroad. That's not just resources, that's also in the budgeting -- it's also a budgeting issue. I think he noted yesterday that only 6 percent -- pardon me -- six NATO allies spend more than 2 percent of their GDP on their military. That's not enough to sustain the alliance.   
 
            And so these are issues he deals with; he primarily deals with them in private. You can certainly bet that he is going to take these up when he meets with fellow members of RC South. But remember, RC South -- people who are down in RC South are in the fight. This is a bit like preaching to the choir. These are countries that are very much involved in combat. The issue is getting other contributing nations in other parts of Afghanistan to take off the caveats, to fulfill their commitments and to really engage in counterinsurgency.   
 
            Q     I asked you recently about the 23,000 vets who've been discharged for preexisting personality disorders being told they don't have --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: And, you know, I've been traveling and I probably haven't had a chance to follow up on that as much as I would like. 
 
            Q     Well, fair enough. But when General Peake was before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee for his nomination hearing he basically said he didn't know -- he was aware of the issue, didn't know much about it. He was asked by Senators Murray and Bond and they later said they were disappointed and astonished that he didn't know about this and hadn't been at least briefed on it. And Veterans' groups said stronger words. Are you concerned at all about the message that sends both to vets and recruits that there doesn't seem to a -- this doesn't seem to be a priority? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't think that whether or not one general was able to speak to it to the satisfaction of the committee is in any way representative of whether or not this department is addressing it in a satisfactory matter. 
 
            Q     The president's nominee to be secretary of Veterans' Affairs. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Okay. So he's coming on; he's new to the job. And I can assure you he will get up to speed. I think you want to talk to the Department of Veterans' Affairs about whether or not their nominee for that position is up to speed on that issue. I can tell you this; this is an issue that is a complicated one and one that is being wrestled with internally.   
 
            It goes to this fundamental question of, due to preexisting conditions that are discovered after someone comes on for service, who has ownership of those conditions? Some would say that they existed beforehand, they are not our responsibility. Others would believe that we should have -- are of the belief that we should have discovered them on the way in and, therefore, we have a certain degree of responsibility for the fact we did not catch them, and therefore if they'd been in combat since then, we perhaps should have ownership of those conditions as well in terms of treatment after their service. That is a subject that's being debated internally, it's a complicated issue and I don't think we're anywhere closer to a final decision on it for me to share with you from this podium.   
 
            Tony? 
 
            Q     I have a Pakistan question. Yesterday, lost in the secretary's comments about NATO was the, I thought, significant remark that the United States may do unilateral action into Pakistan's Western districts. I think one of the quotes were, "We are -- among the top agenda -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Quote from whom --  
 
            Q     From Gates.  
 
            MR. MORRELL: From the secretary? 
 
            Q     Yeah. He said, among the top agenda items with the Paks was helping them do things more effectively on their own or with us or along the lines of we would have to possibly have to do it on our own. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: What's, "along the lines"? You could at least come to me with a specific quote. 
 
            Q     I don't have the specific quote but the intents are accurate. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, Tony, I'd say this -- I mean, I don't think our policy -- our position has changed at all despite what you may see as a difference from the secretary's testimony yesterday. I mean, we -- our policy is that we seek out terrorists wherever they are and that we do so with the cooperation of our allies. Terrorists, as you know, do not respect national boundaries; it makes this a more complicated fight. But we believe we have an excellent working relationship with the Musharraf government and believe that that relationship will afford us the ability to get any terrorist we need to get when we find them. 
 
            Q     One follow-up. He expressed frustration with the traffic -- the Taliban and al Qaeda traffic going in from Pakistan to Afghanistan and he did leave the impression that the U.S. would go in there on its own if it could -- not with a large force but in some respect. Do you have any feel for how far along his thinking is on this subject and -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't. I'm going to let his -- whatever he said in public yesterday to the committee, I'm going to let that stand on its own.   
 
            Yeah? Yeah? 
 
            Q     -- (Inaudible.) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: That's not fair. You're right. I apologize. 
 
            Maybe this is the A-team finally coming in.  
 
            Q     You want to go to Andrew? 
 
            Q     Can't do the accent thing. 
 
            The European Missile Defense said today the House is probably going to pass that conference report that strips out or withholds the funding for deployment construction of the missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic until those countries give final approval. How do you plan to go forward on that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I'm not familiar with what the House is doing today. I mean, our attitude basically about missile defense is obviously we need full funding to proceed with this. This is a very expensive endeavor. It needs to be progressing in step with the threat that is developing from Iran and others. So we are very much encouraging of the Congress to fund us while we work with the governments of the Czech Republic and the new government in Poland to come to an agreement -- hopefully sooner than later -- the goal I think has been by the end of the year, that maybe a little difficult -- to get an arrangement for us to deploy a third site in Eastern Europe.   
 
            But money is needed for us to progress with this plan as we are negotiating with the Poles and the Czechs and to keep pace with the threat that continues to develop from Iran on the ballistic missile front. 
 
            Q     Wanted to ask you if the DOD had received a request from the United Nations for helicopters -- assistance with helicopters in the Sudan -- Darfur region. I know yesterday the secretary talked about shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan, but he also mentioned that a certain kind of helicopter is needed and that maybe we don't have that kind. Can another kind be used in Darfur? I mean, are you guys considering that request from --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, I am not armed today with our assistance at Darfur. I know that we have had helicopter assistance in transporting African Union Forces in the Sudan, in Darfur. I am not armed with them from the podium today, but I know we have had missions in support of their efforts there. Clearly, helicopters are in high demand -- especially so in Afghanistan. It's been a real issue for us with NATO. That's one of the shortfalls that is particularly troublesome for us because we've had to keep a number of our helicopters there to fill in the gap of the 20 we need to do the mission that's required there. So -- but in answer to your question, I don't have specifics on what we've done for Darfur, but I know we've had helicopter missions down there. 
 
            Q     Already received any requests -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know that we've had any requests. I don't.  
 
            Ken? 
 
            Q     The Russians have begun this naval exercise that they announced last week. Their ships are apparently in the North Sea and are now on their way to the Mediterranean. Is this a source of concern at all? Or does this pose any difficulties or any strategic or tactical problems for the U.S. Navy? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not aware that we have any issue right now with Russian naval exercises. We exercise; they exercise. I don't think we view it as threatening. I think the military's entitled to do that. They've been exercising their Bear bombers as well, and it doesn't surprise me that they'd exercise their naval fleet, but I don't think it's of any concern to us. 
 
            Q     On the subject of those bombers, the State Department's initial reaction to that announcement was quite dismissive -- something along the lines of, if they want to get these old planes out of mothballs it's fine with us. What's the Pentagon's view of that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Sounds about right. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     There was a GAO report out yesterday that says the department in the BRAC commission in '05 substantially overestimated the amount of money to be saved with the BRAC in '05. Secretary Grone was on the Hill this morning saying that despite that, the department believes that was a useful exercise. And he reminded the members that the department originally recommended two rounds of BRAC beginning in '05. 
 
            I was just wondering what the department's position is on that now. Is there any plan to recommend a future round? Can you fill us in? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, you're predating me a little bit in terms of my capacity, you know, when I came on here. And I have not heard any discussion since coming on that we are desirous of another round of BRAC, or that we are dissatisfied with the amount of savings that will be attained through this round of BRAC. So I've got nothing for you on that. 
 
            Q     Geoff, yesterday the president issued a statement praising the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights for some work that was done in Burma and a report they issued. I wonder if there's any change in the department's position on allowing the rapporteur to visit Guantanamo. Two years ago they were invited under restrictions that they found unacceptable. Would the department be willing to allow them to visit, to have full access and to do the kind of reporting that they do everywhere else? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, Al, I've got nothing for you. I apologize. I'm just not up to what our position is right now in terms of them visiting Gitmo. I assume that it is in keeping with our policy of openness with regards to Gitmo. We've had thousands -- literally thousands of journalists and other visitors, government officials throughout the world coming down to see for themselves the detention facilities. So I think our general policy's one of openness down there. We think we have nothing to hide and we are encouraging of others to visit, because we believe it is a totally above board system down there. 
 
            Q     May I try another one, then? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: On that same subject? 
 
            Q     No. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I mean, it's all over the map today. Go ahead, Al. 
 
            Q     Another part of the map as well: Have there been any new requests for port visits in Hong Kong or elsewhere in China or do you anticipate any? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Not that I've heard. Not that I've heard. I think, you know, when we were away last week I think there were talks -- defense consultative talks with the Chinese -- and I don't know if anything came out of that with regards to additional port visits, or if we were able to reschedule any of those that had been cancelled. 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, I just don't know. I mean, you guys -- who was with me? Was nobody with me on this trip who can vouch? Tom, you can vouch. Were we a little busy? (Laughs.)   
 
            No, I don't know if it's been resolved. Sorry, Jennifer. 
 
            Luis. 
 
            Q     Geoff, you know, the Air Force has had to ground once again the majority of its F-15s as they check for problems. One of the things they're looking at is a new proposal to potentially to expand or continue the production line for the F-22 Raptor. Is DOD inclined to support that proposal? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Luis, I would say as a rule that we just do not talk about internal discussions, deliberations, about recommendations that we will make to the president on any program. And I'm not going to diverge from that on the F-22. I mean, I will say this: That we have had and continue to have consultations, discussions, with interested members of Congress about that program and we certainly welcome their input. 
 
            Q     Are you going to potentially seek an expansion of the current F-22? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think I'm going to leave it as just where I put it, which is we just don't talk about those internal matters. 
 
            Q     Just a follow up on something you said earlier: Are you saying defense officials are thinking about curtailing MRAP orders beyond the 8,800 that are already on order? I believe you were saying that they were possibly going to parry that down? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think what I said is that the Marines have made a decision that they don't need the 3,700, I think, that they originally requested. And I think they've revised that down some 1,400 vehicles. That, I think -- as you may have learned while we were away -- has been approved by the secretary, after there was consultation with General Petraeus and Admiral Fallon about what they thought of the idea. They seemed to have no problems with it. So if it wasn't a problem to the commanding general and the combatant commander, it's not a problem for the secretary. But that's the only sort of formal request by any of the services thus far to adjust their MRAP at all. 
 
            Q     Talking about your answer to Jennifer's question when you were talking about the 8,800 --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't think orders that we have right now are at all -- anything we have on order right now, or perhaps even the next order that we're planning on placing, is impacted by Marine revision downward. And certainly, we have not gotten a formal request from the Army as to what they want to do. So those orders are not impacted. 
 
            Ann. 
 
            Q     Geoff, you said that the secretary has some clear idea what's wrong with the Afghan strategy and shared some of them. Could you elaborate on that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You heard him yesterday. I don't think -- I mean, you wrote a long piece on it and you certainly heard his ideas yesterday. I think he spoke for himself quite well on this matter and he'll speak of it more with his counterparts when we get to Scotland. But I think they were obvious. 
 
            Q     Now, in connection with the possible furloughs, do you know when the decision will be made who to furlough? And will DOD make that decision or will it be the Army and Marines? And is there anything new on this? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: We are in the midst of still trying to figure out the full impact of the Congress not acting on the global war on terror supplemental. I can assure you there are hundreds of people -- lawyers, human resource professionals and others -- trying to figure out exactly what the impact will be when come mid-February for the Army, mid-March for the Marines, we literally run out of money. And so there is an enormous undertaking going on right now to figure out who, how many and where people will have to be furloughed from if, indeed, there's not action very soon by the Congress. 
 
            We are in, I should mention, really unchartered waters. This is unprecedented. We have never been in a situation at wartime where our troops have, as they are right now, been unfunded by the Congress -- not even in Vietnam, at the height of that conflict with demonstrations in the streets and so forth, did Congress not fund the war effort. I know we had a case in 1995, you know, when the government shutdown and which there was a break in funding, obviously, but we were not at war then. So we are really in a difficult situation and there are many, many people trying to figure out what the full impact will be. And all we continue to do is really urge the Congress to realize how dire the situation is and act as quickly as possible to pass a budget the president can and will sign. 
 
            The last thing we want is for -- I mean, can you envision this: troops coming back from 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving home to bases that are basically shuttered -- except for, you know, security services and maybe the infirmary. That's not the welcome home our troops deserve and we are working hard to impress upon Congress that this is a very serious situation and we need help as soon as possible. 
 
            Q     But to follow up -- who will decide who will be furloughed? Will it be DOD or the branches? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, the branches -- the secretary has tasked the service secretaries to go down into their departments and figure out who is impacted when we run out of money. Those people who are paid from operation and maintenance funds will no longer be able to be paid. We will run out of that money in mid-February for the Army and mid-March for the Marines. And anybody who is paid by O&M can no longer be -- can no longer be on the dole. And therefore, they are right now trying to figure out exactly who and how many those people are. 
 
            Q     Have any of the unions been notified yet or have anyone --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: There has not been formal notification yet as to -- you know, we are still trying to figure out who this would apply to.   
 
            Q     Would Secretary England, -- he'd write those letters, right, and they'd have to essentially go out next week, right?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think it depends on -- well, I think this is -- would happen, will have to happen soon, it could happen within the next couple days, may bleed into next week, but we are clearly getting into the time where, because of contractual obligations, we need to notify people 45 to 60 days in advance of when they could potentially be furloughed.   
 
            Q     But some people could get furlough notices this week.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Some people could -- we could make it -- it could happen, it could happen very soon. It could happen very soon. 
 
            Q     On the Afghanistan strategy again, real quick. The Secretary yesterday indicated -- excuse me, more specifically that he was concerned about the lack of a counternarcotics strategy. Is your sense that his concern is with the U.S. State Department, or with NATO when it comes to being hamstrung that way?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: No. I mean, I think that, you know -- I think that, with regards to counternarcotics, it is obviously the poppy problem in Afghanistan is a real one; 90 percent of the world's poppy is produced there. Almost all of that, or much of that goes to Europe so it's a -- clearly a European problem as well. And we all need to collectively come up with a strategy that works, and works better than the one we have right now.   
 
            Among the strategy that's being advocated, particularly by this government, is aerial eradication. But that is something that right now is abhorrent to the Afghan government. The Karzai government just is not of the mind, at this point, that that is something they wish to do.   
 
            So whatever we do, and if we are able to persuade the Afghan government that aerial eradication may be the best way to combat this problem, the secretary's of the belief that you got to be in there -- almost as soon as spray hits the ground, or you manually you know, pull poppies from the ground -- with money and seeds for another crop so that these farmers can have an alternative lifestyle -- livelihood rather.   
 
            And if you don't have that, he believes this just creates a breeding-ground for Taliban recruits. So there is a -- there is a real concern on the secretary's part that there be a -- with the counternarcotics effort, that we, sort of, couple it with an effort to, sort of, provide economic assistance to these farmers.   
 
            Q     The State Department agrees with the aerial eradication, I mean --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think you'd have to ask the State Department. My understanding is that there are those in our government who are very much advocates for aerial eradication of poppy plants and poppy farms in Afghanistan.   
 
            Q     But everything you just said about Afghanistan is what's been said for years by the State Department -- we need eradication, we need interdiction, we need economic development, we need education, we need a justice system -- and every year there's a record crop. Why will anything change?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, there has -- we have had a record crop, but we've also had a number of provinces that have zero poppy production right now. So it's not as if progress isn't being made in some places in Afghanistan. There is considerable progress being made in certain provinces. There are -- the problem persists in other ones.   
 
            The effort right now is to try to figure out a way in which you can, sort of, have more provinces improving on that scale and turning their back on poppy production. And you're not going to have that, I don't believe, until you have greater stability, greater -- until you have a counterinsurgency effort which is making the country more stable and prime for economic development.   And that's what we're working on right now. That's why the NATO effort is so important. We want to be fully manned so we can have an effective counterinsurgency effort to create the conditions for economic development and stability in the country.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: This is the last one.  
 
            Tony.   
 
            Q     Quick over budget question: Both the secretary and Admiral Mullen have talked about the need for the overall Defense budget to increase from 3.3 percent to 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. What success have you had thus far with the White House? Are you getting indications that they are going to approve that bump-up with you on --  
 
            (Cross talk.)  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think my -- the answer I had to Luis applies to you as well. I'm not going to get into the discussions we have internally, or with the White House about budget matters. I just don't think it's appropriate.   
 
            Q     But generally, are you getting positive feedback?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to talk about our discussions with the White House. I don't think it's appropriate.   
 
            Thanks, Tony.
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any change in the department's position on allowing the rapporteur to visit Guantanamo. Two years ago they were invited under restrictions that they found unacceptable. Would the department be willing to allow them to visit, to have full access and to do the kind of reporting that they do everywhere else? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, Al, I've got nothing for you. I apologize. I'm just not up to what our position is right now in terms of them visiting Gitmo. I assume that it is in keeping with our policy of openness with regards to Gitmo. We've had thousands -- literally thousands of journalists and other visitors, government officials throughout the world coming down to see for themselves the detention facilities. So I think our general policy's one of openness down there. We think we have nothing to hide and we are encouraging of others to visit, because we believe it is a totally above board system down there. 
 
            Q     May I try another one, then? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: On that same subject? 
 
            Q     No. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I mean, it's all over the map today. Go ahead, Al. 
 
            Q     Another part of the map as well: Have there been any new requests for port visits in Hong Kong or elsewhere in China or do you anticipate any? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Not that I've heard. Not that I've heard. I think, you know, when we were away last week I think there were talks -- defense consultative talks with the Chinese -- and I don't know if anything came out of that with regards to additional port visits, or if we were able to reschedule any of those that had been cancelled. 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You know, I just don't know. I mean, you guys -- who was with me? Was nobody with me on this trip who can vouch? Tom, you can vouch. Were we a little busy? (Laughs.)   
 
            No, I don't know if it's been resolved. Sorry, Jennifer. 
 
            Luis. 
 
            Q     Geoff, you know, the Air Force has had to ground once again the majority of its F-15s as they check for problems. One of the things they're looking at is a new proposal to potentially to expand or continue the production line for the F-22 Raptor. Is DOD inclined to support that proposal? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Luis, I would say as a rule that we just do not talk about internal discussions, deliberations, about recommendations that we will make to the president on any program. And I'm not going to diverge from that on the F-22. I mean, I will say this: That we have had and continue to have consultations, discussions, with interested members of Congress about that program and we certainly welcome their input. 
 
            Q     Are you going to potentially seek an expansion of the current F-22? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think I'm going to leave it as just where I put it, which is we just don't talk about those internal matters. 
 
            Q     Just a follow up on something you said earlier: Are you saying defense officials are thinking about curtailing MRAP orders beyond the 8,800 that are already on order? I believe you were saying that they were possibly going to parry that down? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think what I said is that the Marines have made a decision that they don't need the 3,700, I think, that they originally requested. And I think they've revised that down some 1,400 vehicles. That, I think -- as you may have learned while we were away -- has been approved by the secretary, after there was consultation with General Petraeus and Admiral Fallon about what they thought of the idea. They seemed to have no problems with it. So if it wasn't a problem to the commanding general and the combatant commander, it's not a problem for the secretary. But that's the only sort of formal request by any of the services thus far to adjust their MRAP at all. 
 
            Q     Talking about your answer to Jennifer's question when you were talking about the 8,800 --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't think orders that we have right now are at all -- anything we have on order right now, or perhaps even the next order that we're planning on placing, is impacted by Marine revision downward. And certainly, we have not gotten a formal request from the Army as to what they want to do. So those orders are not impacted. 
 
            Ann. 
 
            Q     Geoff, you said that the secretary has some clear idea what's wrong with the Afghan strategy and shared some of them. Could you elaborate on that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: You heard him yesterday. I don't think -- I mean, you wrote a long piece on it and you certainly heard his ideas yesterday. I think he spoke for himself quite well on this matter and he'll speak of it more with his counterparts when we get to Scotland. But I think they were obvious. 
 
            Q     Now, in connection with the possible furloughs, do you know when the decision will be made who to furlough? And will DOD make that decision or will it be the Army and Marines? And is there anything new on this? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: We are in the midst of still trying to figure out the full impact of the Congress not acting on the global war on terror supplemental. I can assure you there are hundreds of people -- lawyers, human resource professionals and others -- trying to figure out exactly what the impact will be when come mid-February for the Army, mid-March for the Marines, we literally run out of money. And so there is an enormous undertaking going on right now to figure out who, how many and where people will have to be furloughed from if, indeed, there's not action very soon by the Congress. 
 
            We are in, I should mention, really unchartered waters. This is unprecedented. We have never been in a situation at wartime where our troops have, as they are right now, been unfunded by the Congress -- not even in Vietnam, at the height of that conflict with demonstrations in the streets and so forth, did Congress not fund the war effort. I know we had a case in 1995, you know, when the government shutdown and which there was a break in funding, obviously, but we were not at war then. So we are really in a difficult situation and there are many, many people trying to figure out what the full impact will be. And all we continue to do is really urge the Congress to realize how dire the situation is and act as quickly as possible to pass a budget the president can and will sign. 
 
            The last thing we want is for -- I mean, can you envision this: troops coming back from 15-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, arriving home to bases that are basically shuttered -- except for, you know, security services and maybe the infirmary. That's not the welcome home our troops deserve and we are working hard to impress upon Congress that this is a very serious situation and we need help as soon as possible. 
 
            Q     But to follow up -- who will decide who will be furloughed? Will it be DOD or the branches? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, the branches -- the secretary has tasked the service secretaries to go down into their departments and figure out who is impacted when we run out of money. Those people who are paid from operation and maintenance funds will no longer be able to be paid. We will run out of that money in mid-February for the Army and mid-March for the Marines. And anybody who is paid by O&M can no longer be -- can no longer be on the dole. And therefore, they are right now trying to figure out exactly who and how many those people are. 
 
            Q     Have any of the unions been notified yet or have anyone --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: There has not been formal notification yet as to -- you know, we are still trying to figure out who this would apply to.   
 
            Q     Would Secretary England, -- he'd write those letters, right, and they'd have to essentially go out next week, right?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think it depends on -- well, I think this is -- would happen, will have to happen soon, it could happen within the next couple days, may bleed into next week, but we are clearly getting into the time where, because of contractual obligations, we need to notify people 45 to 60 days in advance of when they could potentially be furloughed.   
 
            Q     But some people could get furlough notices this week.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Some people could -- we could make it -- it could happen, it could happen very soon. It could happen very soon. 
 
            Q     On the Afghanistan strategy again, real quick. The Secretary yesterday indicated -- excuse me, more specifically that he was concerned about the lack of a counternarcotics strategy. Is your sense that his concern is with the U.S. State Department, or with NATO when it comes to being hamstrung that way?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: No. I mean, I think that, you know -- I think that, with regards to counternarcotics, it is obviously the poppy problem in Afghanistan is a real one; 90 percent of the world's poppy is produced there. Almost all of that, or much of that goes to Europe so it's a -- clearly a European problem as well. And we all need to collectively come up with a strategy that works, and works better than the one we have right now.   
 
            Among the strategy that's being advocated, particularly by this government, is aerial eradication. But that is something that right now is abhorrent to the Afghan government. The Karzai government just is not of the mind, at this point, that that is something they wish to do.   
 
            So whatever we do, and if we are able to persuade the Afghan government that aerial eradication may be the best way to combat this problem, the secretary's of the belief that you got to be in there -- almost as soon as spray hits the ground, or you manually you know, pull poppies from the ground -- with money and seeds for another crop so that these farmers can have an alternative lifestyle -- livelihood rather.   
 
            And if you don't have that, he believes this just creates a breeding-ground for Taliban recruits. So there is a -- there is a real concern on the secretary's part that there be a -- with the counternarcotics effort, that we, sort of, couple it with an effort to, sort of, provide economic assistance to these farmers.   
 
            Q     The State Department agrees with the aerial eradication, I mean --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think you'd have to ask the State Department. My understanding is that there are those in our government who are very much advocates for aerial eradication of poppy plants and poppy farms in Afghanistan.   
 
            Q     But everything you just said about Afghanistan is what's been said for years by the State Department -- we need eradication, we need interdiction, we need economic development, we need education, we need a justice system -- and every year there's a record crop. Why will anything change?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, there has -- we have had a record crop, but we've also had a number of provinces that have zero poppy production right now. So it's not as if progress isn't being made in some places in Afghanistan. There is considerable progress being made in certain provinces. There are -- the problem persists in other ones.   
 
            The effort right now is to try to figure out a way in which you can, sort of, have more provinces improving on that scale and turning their back on poppy production. And you're not going to have that, I don't believe, until you have greater stability, greater -- until you have a counterinsurgency effort which is making the country more stable and prime for economic development.   And that's what we're working on right now. That's why the NATO effort is so important. We want to be fully manned so we can have an effective counterinsurgency effort to create the conditions for economic development and stability in the country.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: This is the last one.  
 
            Tony.   
 
            Q     Quick over budget question: Both the secretary and Admiral Mullen have talked about the need for the overall Defense budget to increase from 3.3 percent to 4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. What success have you had thus far with the White House? Are you getting indications that they are going to approve that bump-up with you on --  
 
            (Cross talk.)  
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think my -- the answer I had to Luis applies to you as well. I'm not going to get into the discussions we have internally, or with the White House about budget matters. I just don't think it's appropriate.   
 
            Q     But generally, are you getting positive feedback?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to talk about our discussions with the White House. I don't think it's appropriate.   
 
            Thanks, Tony.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2007, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.