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DoD News Briefing with Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
February 05, 2008 12:30 PM EDT
            MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. It must be Super Tuesday. (Laughs.) Thank you all for coming though today. I appreciate it.   
 
            Before taking your questions, I'd like to spend a couple of minutes just briefly reviewing a few items on the secretary's schedule for the remainder of this week. Tomorrow morning, as some of you may know, he heads up to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about President Bush's 2009 Defense budget request. Later that afternoon, he will move to the other side of the Capitol, where he will appear before the House Armed Services Committee on the same subject.   
 
            In all, he will spend nearly seven hours Wednesday answering members' questions about the proposed $585 billion base and supplemental budgets for the next fiscal year. He will also once again press the Congress to appropriate the $102 billion still needed to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest of this fiscal year. Until the department receives that long overdue funding, it will be very difficult to provide Congress with a more complete picture of how much more will be needed in fiscal year '09 to fund the global war on terror.   
 
            At the conclusion of his testimony tomorrow evening, the secretary will travel to Vilnius, Lithuania, where he will participate in an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers. Over two days there, the 26 NATO ministers will discuss a wide range of pressing security matters, including the alliance's mission in Kosovo, European missile defense, relations with Russia and, of course, the war in Afghanistan. The secretary will take the opportunity to personally explain to his colleagues why he is sending another 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan next month. And he will urge them to do their part to make sure all of the commanders' outstanding military requirements are finally fulfilled there.   
 
            Success in Afghanistan is essential, not just to our security here but Europe's as well. And Secretary Gates will stress that over the weekend in Germany, where he will participate in the 44th annual Munich Conference on Security Policy. He addresses the Wehrkunde gathering Sunday morning, before returning to Washington.   
 
            And with that bit of housekeeping out of the way, I'd be happy to take your questions.   
 
            Q     Geoff, last week, General Renuart said that the commanders in Afghanistan needed more ISR capabilities. Considering the strike that the Predator made on Libi last week also, is this something that the secretary plans to discuss with the NATO allies? And can you talk a little bit about whether or not the U.S. is thinking about providing more UAV-type assets for their satellite systems?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Lita, without acknowledging any sort of premise to your question with regards to the attack that killed Libi, I will say this about the demand for ISR in Afghanistan -- and Iraq, for that matter. It has never been higher. And the secretary is doing everything within his power to make sure that the commanders on the ground have as many intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets as humanly possible. 
 
            There has been a dramatic increase over the past year in the number of CAPs -- Combat Air Patrols -- that we have up over both AORs. And that is -- while it was probably at first motivated by the same kinds of things that caused the secretary to develop the MRAP program -- by that I'm speaking of force protection issues. We saw, at the beginning of the secretary's term, IED attacks, casualties among our troops were extraordinarily high, and the secretary set about trying to figure out ways to protect our troops. One was developing a vehicle that could protect them as they get around on the ground, the other was to get more UAVs up in the air so that we can see IEDs when they are being planted.   
 
            So while this program was initially motivated probably from a force protection standpoint, it has developed into a very valuable asset for commanders on the ground as they go about their offensive operations against our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
 
            Q     Are there plans by the U.S. to send more to do -- either provide more Predator or Global Hawk or any -- (inaudible)? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I can tell you this. We are constantly pushing the system to get as many of those assets to theater as possible. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of Combat Air Patrols that we have provided in just the year, really, since the secretary has been in office. I think it has jumped -- and this is from the top of my head -- but I think we had 12 Combat Air Patrols at one point; there are now, I believe, over 20 operating over both those AORs.   
 
            So there has been a dramatic increase in the capability we have to observe the enemy in action and go after them from the sky. 
 
            Okay?   
 
            Q     Geoff? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Al arrives late but he gets an early question. 
 
            Q     I'll do that from now on.   
 
            With the secretary's comments that were published in the Los Angeles Times, with the publication of his letter to the German minister of Defense, is he concerned about the reception that he may get in Lithuania? Does he feel that he has some fence mending to do? And could those two things make it more difficult to achieve the goals that you laid out in terms of more assets for Afghanistan? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: First of all, I'm not so sure that his letters to the 25 other NATO defense ministers have been published. I think people have spoken about their contents, and we've acknowledged that he did -- in the wake of our announcing that we are sending 3,200 additional Marines to Afghanistan, the secretary chose to send letters to each of his counterparts in NATO explaining why we were doing that, and for some of them he asked specifically for backfill when that mission ends for the Marines, which will likely be at the end of this year.   
 
            So we have made no bones about the fact that we have really pushed ourselves to find the resources -- at least some of the resources that the commanders are calling for, and we are in turn pushing our allies to see what more they can do. And those letters were an attempt by the secretary to articulate specific requests from our NATO partners. 
 
            With regards to the reception he'll receive in NATO, the secretary has an excellent working relationship with,  I  believe, every defense minister in the alliance. He looks forward to arriving in Vilnius tomorrow evening, or actually Thursday morning, and getting down to business. There's a lot -- you know, obviously, as I mentioned, this conference is not going to solely focus on Afghanistan, but we're not naive, either, and we understand that Afghanistan will probably dominate much of the chatter in Vilnius.   
 
            It will also be a large part of the business that goes on. I think there are at least two sessions that are dedicated towards -- exclusively to Afghanistan, and frankly, that's to our liking because we have a lot that we think needs to be done there in terms of additional forces being allocated by our partners to the mission. 
 
            Q     But this has obviously been a difficult process for a long time. Do you see or does the secretary see any prospect for significant progress toward getting those forces, whether it's the additional 3,500 or whether it's the backfill for the Marines? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I think -- I don't think the secretary or I is in the business of prognosticating as to what we're going to -- what is going to happen at an informal NATO defense ministerial. It is clearly our hope that we will be able to impress upon our coalition partners, our NATO allies the importance of this mission and the importance of completely filling -- fulfilling the outstanding requirements for forces in theater. We have gone a long way to do so with these 3,200 Marines. We're still short about 4,000 forces, and we still need forces to backfill when our Marines leave. So we will be asking, as he has done in those letters, troop-contributing nations to see what more they can do.   
 
            The secretary has also made it clear, Al, that there are some countries who it is just politically untenable to ask of them to produce combat forces. With those countries, we are looking for other ways they can creatively contribute to this cause. I will say I think it's interesting -- I notice in one of your reports yesterday -- not yours, Al -- but the Polish foreign minister was quoted as saying that members -- NATO members were not committing enough troops to Afghanistan, and then said there should be no room for free riding within the alliance.   
 
            I think there is an understanding among many of the troop- contributing nations that there is a real danger of becoming a two- tiered alliance, nations who fight and those who don't. And so you will hear the secretary talk about this, probably in Vilnius and certainly in Munich, about the need for the alliance collectively to confront what is a threat not just to the United States, but to Europe as well.   
 
            Yeah? 
 
            Q     Mr. Morrell, Iran apparently launched a satellite Monday, and our State Department said that it could present the same kind of capabilities and technologies that one would employ for long-range ballistic missiles. How does that dovetail into the need for those anti-ballistic missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic? And will that be something on the agenda in Lithuania? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Missile defense, as I mentioned, is the topic for at least one of the meetings in Vilnius. So I would imagine that that will likely come up in that context. I mean, from our perspective, as you heard from my colleague at the State Department yesterday, this is unhelpful. Hopefully, it's helpful towards -- in the sense of getting our friends in Europe to realize -- and the Russians, for that matter -- to realize the threat posed by Iran's long-range ballistic missile program. 
 
            And as they advance in that program, Europe becomes more and more threatened by it, and to us it makes all the more clear the need for a missile defense program to protect our allies in Europe, as well as ourselves.   
 
            So hopefully this will impress upon the Poles and Czechs and all of Europe that we need to proceed with our negotiations as quickly as possible. We, I should point out, have been making progress on all fronts. Ever since the secretary had his meeting with his Polish counterpart, I think a couple weeks ago, we -- our talks continue, and progress has been made. I think the -- well, I'll leave it there. Talks continue and progress has been made. 
 
            Q     Thank you,  sir. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah.   
 
            Bill? 
 
            Q     Geoff, to follow, on the budget, yesterday we were told that because of the lack of the remaining $102.5 billion requested for GWOT funding, that Army manpower accounts will start being affected in June and that operating accounts will start being affected in July. And then there's a list of things here that -- soldiers wouldn't be paid past June. But there's a list of other things here that could be affected -- training and equipping of Iraq and Afghanistan security forces, equipping of force protection, coalition forces without U.S. support and so forth.  
 
            Could you give us an idea or a little more detail on when those might start becoming problems? Are we looking at all of this sort of coming to a head in midsummer? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Bill, I don't want to be difficult on this one, but the best time to ask that question probably would have been to -- (chuckling) -- Tina Jonas and the admiral yesterday. I probably do not have more specificity than they could have offered, but I think we are soon going to be confronted with the same situation we found ourselves in at the end of last year, where we are having to look down the barrel of the frightening prospect of running out of O&M money, operation and maintenance money, from which we pay our forces and do lots of other things in the global war on terror.   
 
            So I'm not familiar at this point with the precise dates. I've read also the June and July dates. That makes sense to me in terms of the $70 billion bridge that we received to get this far in the new fiscal year.  
 
            But it is a problem, and we -- that is why you will hear the secretary tomorrow, when he goes to the Hill, once again press Congress to act on the outstanding balance in the global war on terror funds that we need for this year -- about $102.5 billion. And that is why you hear me once again make the case from this podium: we need that money as soon as possible, so there is not a disruption to our warfighting efforts, and not a disruption to our soldiers' lives both in the field and their families at home. So it is imperative we get that money as soon as possible. 
 
            Yeah, Justin? 
 
            Q     Geoff, I wonder if the issue of Turkey could come up in the trip. We know that bombing in the region has intensified recently in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, presumably based on U.S. intelligence.  I'm wondering, first, has the approach there changed at all? Is it still sort of stand by and wait; let them fight it out? And do you worry that by doing so, in the spring we could really see an increase in violence there? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, first of all, Justin, Turkey is obviously a member of the alliance, and their Defense minister will be in Vilnius.  
 
            I believe there is a scheduled bilateral meeting with, between the secretary and his Turkish counterpart, while we're in Vilnius, with regards to recent Turkish air strikes on PKK terrorist positions within Iraq. I think our position on that matter has not changed. We view this as a matter of self defense for the Turks and we are confident that they will continue to exercise good discretion in how they go about taking out this threat, and do so in full coordination and consultation with us.   
 
            Q     A while ago, MNC-I said they were going to take a look at the number of MRAP vehicles needed for the army in Iraq. Have you heard whether they've gotten back to JROC on exactly how many vehicles the army needs?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think, Jeff, that that is something that's on, and I shouldn't speak to the JROC calendar but I believe this is something that would be coming up this month. But I can't tell you for certain but I somehow have it in my head that this is something that was on the agenda for the month.   
 
            I wanted to come out, Jeff, for you and give you the January numbers for a production and delivery and so forth. Unfortunately we're missing one last day. The 31st of January has not been tallied yet, so hopefully tomorrow we can provide you with those numbers. But I -- from what we've seen thus far, things continue to move along well in that program, and they're getting to our troops in the numbers we need them to.   
 
            Q     And as a follow-up, any timeline for when the Defense Department plans to introduce the proposals that the president announced in the State of the Union, the preferential treatment for military spouses, the education benefits and the other things that the president talked about?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think our folks are working on that right now. You know, as I talked about earlier, these are ideas that the secretary received during his meetings with troops and spouses of deployed forces.   
 
            And he came back and said these are good ideas; they're things we should look into and see if we can figure out a way to improve the lives of our military families by implementing these. He shared them with the president. You heard them in the State of the Union last Monday.   
 
            And now the hard work is under way of how you go about implementing these programs, how you go about -- whether it requires legislation to get this done, how much money is required to stand these programs up or to expand these programs, and that is the work that's under way right now. I can't tell you with any precision, Jeff, how soon that will take place, but I'll try to keep you updated. 
 
            Okay. Yeah, Courtney. 
 
            Q     In congressional testimony this morning, General Hayden spoke about some specific interrogation techniques used by the CIA, and he mentioned that there's some congressional legislation that's under consideration right now that the Army Field Manual interrogation tactics and limitations that the Army is restricted to, that the CIA be placed under those same -- have those same restrictions imposed upon them. And he spoke about how that was ineffective and he asked Congress not to pass this legislation. 
 
            What's the Pentagon's position on this? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't think the Pentagon has a position on this. I think that our field manual applies to our troops, and that's our concern. What is required of the CIA personnel is a matter for them and for the government as a whole. But this building is concerned with our forces, and we believe our forces have the requisite guidance they need in the Army Field Manual, which, of course, prohibits torture of any kind. 
 
            Q     And General Hayden also spoke specifically about waterboarding, and he named three people who've been waterboarded in the past, for the first time in public, I believe, they've acknowledged this. Is there any reaction to that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Not from here. 
 
            Okay? Good to see you guys. Thanks for coming out. Get some sleep tonight.
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