GEN. SHERLOCK: Good afternoon. I have a few comments and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
Last week and this week, the U.S. hosted a series of high-level defense group talks with members of the Turkish General Staff and a counterpart visit with Turkey's vice chief of defense, General Saygun, as part of our ongoing military-to-military dialogue. The tone of the meetings was very positive, and a wide variety of topics were discussed, including counterterrorism cooperation, information sharing, military modernization, expanding military-to-military discussions between Turkey and Iraq, and security initiatives for the region.
As you know, Turkey is a key NATO ally and also an ally in the war on terror. We appreciated this opportunity to host senior military leaders from Turkey and continue to build on our long- standing relationship.
This morning the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, departed for a brief visit to Pakistan to meet with our ambassador, Anne Patterson, and Pakistani senior military leaders. He's going principally to build on relationships with his counterparts and to gain a better understanding of Pakistan's security challenges, which ultimately improve our vital cooperative efforts in fighting terrorists that threaten the stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The chairman will also hold a press conference on Saturday, which your colleagues may wish to attend.
I'd like to extend our thoughts and prayers to those affected by the severe storms and tornadoes that hit several states yesterday. DOD's role is to support civilian first responders and aid them in their efforts when asked. Local state and DOD officials, in concert with the National Guard, will be responders to that -- the DOD part, if asked, and we're prepared to respond to any of their needs.
I'd also like to extend our condolences to the families -- to the family and friends of long-time ABC News reporter John McWethy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time.
Finally, I'd like to ask each of you to keep the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are deployed around the world and around the nation, many of whom are in harm's way, in your thoughts.
And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q General, Secretary Gates suggested the other day that a lot of the increase in violence and in attacks and deaths that the military saw in Iraq was due to EFPs over the last month, month and a half or so. Can you say whether or not this gives you any more indication as to whether Iran has made a political decision to stop flowing weapons in, and that thoughts by the military that that was possibly so may have been wrong at this point?
GEN. SHERLOCK: If I understand your question correctly, you're saying that there is an increase in the number of EFPs? What we're seeing is there is a use of EFPs, and that al Qaeda and many of the terror groups have shifted their tactics again towards EFPs, and in many cases, suicide bombers. Those types of weapons, and specifically EFPs, we did see indications that those were parts and had originated in Iran. The amount of flow, I can't tell you as to whether that's increased or decreased. Iran has said that they would reduce the flow of sophisticated weaponry to different insurgent groups. We certainly welcome that and would look to any trends that indicate that in the future.
Q But as recently as a month or two ago, some military leaders suggested that they had seen some signs that that flow of weaponry has slowed and that there was a discussion that perhaps Iran was doing this deliberately. I'm wondering if the increase suggests that that was wrong?
GEN. SHERLOCK: That -- I can't really answer that. That would be something that the commanders on the ground should answer, and I'd refer that to either MNF-I or to ISAF in Afghanistan for answers on that.
Q General, I would like to ask you about what Assistant Secretary of Defense Mike Vickers said yesterday, that the U.S. Special Operations could assist the Pakistani Army via joint operation in the tribal area. Do you have any information on that? And what would be the role for the U.S. military in this kind of operations?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, Pakistan is a key ally. They have been a very key ally in the war on terror, certainly. We have a wide variety of discussions with Pakistan. As I've said, the chairman is en route there for discussions this weekend.
We also have a senior Defense representative in Pakistan. We have a constant dialogue and work with their military and with their government officials every day to share information, to offer our assistance where necessary.
Certainly our Special Operations Forces would be able to assist to grow capacity for the Pakistanis or assist the Pakistanis, whatever they would ask for. So at this point, you know, our goal is to look at Pakistan, to help them grow in capacity, and to assist where they would request us to assist.
Q So -- excuse me -- just to follow up, what -- I understand that U.S. military can be involved on the ground inside the tribal areas?
GEN. SHERLOCK: No, that's not what I said. What I said was that where Pakistan would like us to assist them, in our continuing dialogue, we would be happy to help them.
Q To go back to something that you said in answer to Lolita's question about al Qaeda, while you said that al Qaeda was using EFPs now, can you tell me if you know that Iran is supplying EFP material to al Qaeda?
GEN. SHERLOCK: No, I don't know that. Where the EFP technology comes from -- much of the EFP technology that we have seen -- we can point to origins inside of Iran. Whether Iran is consciously supplying those to al Qaeda, where al Qaeda is getting those from, I can't say directly.
Q Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mullen yesterday said that the military option -- combatting the PKK, military option is not the only solution. There must be a long-term solution to the problem. Was this issue discussed in the high-level Defense meeting with Turkish General --
GEN. SHERLOCK: Yes, General Saygun was very consistent in many of his messages and in our discussions when he was here this week and last week. First and foremost, the decision to strike against PKK terrorist targets is a Turkish decision. The PKK is a terrorist organization that are largely made up of Kurdish people from Turkey -- Turkish citizens of Kurdish descent who have migrated into northern Iraq and are using areas as safe havens to try to strike different targets both in northern Iraq and in Turkey.
Where we are working with the Turkish General Staff and with the government of Turkey is first and foremost to open a dialogue between the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq, because this is a problem that affects both nations. And both nations have declared the PKK a terrorist organization, as has the United States. We believe that this is an issue that can best be solved when both countries work on the issue together.
With regard to the military solution versus other solutions, there are things that the military can do very well, and there are things that the military can't do very well.
A long-term solution to the PKK will involve social issues, information issues, economic issues and governmental issues, all of which need to be addressed by the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. SHERLOCK: It was discussed. General Saygun also acknowledges that. He acknowledges that the government of Turkey and the government of Iraq need to work a variety of issues. He has expanded his military-to-military dialogue with the Iraqi military. He visited his counterpart in Baghdad last month -- General Abadi. He's in the process of inviting General Abadi on a return visit to Ankara. And so we encourage that dialogue to take place wherever we can.
Q General, yesterday, Chairman Mullen was before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he was asked whether if there is indeed a pause in the drawdown in July, whether that might affect the ability of the U.S. to bring its troops, at least, the Army to bring its troop deployments from 15 months down to 12 months. And he indicated that, the chairman seemed to indicate that there had been some discussion about that among the Joint Chiefs. I'm wondering if you could just kind of relate to us some of those talking points, what you all are considering as you look at the pros and cons of doing that.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, as Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen said last week, a discussion of a potential pause hasn't reached them yet. There have been discussions among the Joint Chiefs on how to reduce the time deployed versus the time at home for all forces, especially the Army and the Marine Corps.
The goal is to have, for every year deployed for the Army, to have two years back home for the active forces, or 14 months back home for 7 months deployed for the Marine Corps. Both services are working those issues very hard and coming up with a variety of ways to try to reduce the amount of time deployed versus the amount of time at home. All those discussions are occurring. Those will continue to occur over the next several months.
One of the methods that they're using to address that is that both the Army and the Marine Corps are in the process of growing their forces to be able to rebalance their force structure, in a way that provides them more forces to deploy.
That can reduce that amount of time deployed versus the amount of time at home. Again, all of that is in discussion. All of that is in development. And as that starts to become clearer, and they start to have further discussions, we'll be able to provide more information.
Q Could you tell us, if indeed that happens, have the Joint Chiefs looked at the possibility that 15-month deployments could continue for the foreseeable future, along with a continuation of a troop strength of 15 combat brigades on the ground in Iraq?
GEN. SHERLOCK: What happens in the future is, you know, has yet to be determined. I know that a variety of discussions are going on. It is everyone's goal to get the rotation down to one year deployed for the Army and 7 months deployed for the Marine Corps, and then build towards two years at home for the Army and 14 months at home for the Marine Corps.
To my knowledge, there's been no discussion of continuing a 15- month deployment. Again, as the situation changes on the ground, you may have to address that issue in the future. But it's not an option right now that's being discussed.
Q (Off mike) -- plans to go down to 12 at some point beyond a -- even if the drawdown is frozen --
GEN. SHERLOCK: Actually I didn't say that.
There are discussions of continuing the drawdown that's on the current course. Both the Marine Corps and the Army are working to reduce their time deployed versus their time at home, to be able to get to a one-increment-deployed and two-increments-back kind of a rotation schedule.
Those are all discussions that are going on, and the methods with which we get there, and the services get there, are being worked by the individual services. All of that has yet to be decided, but that's an issue that the services are working very hard.
Q I'd like to go back to Pakistan.
About the chairman's visit to Pakistan, is he going to discuss the U.S. military assistance to the Pakistani army? Is he going to meet Musharraf? And, if you can, give us some details about the U.S. military assistance for the Pakistani army.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, the chairman's schedule has yet to be completely set. He is scheduled to meet with the army chief of staff and a variety of senior military officials in Pakistan. The goal of this visit is to better understand the Pakistani situation and the security situation, to build on ongoing relationships that we've had with Pakistan for a number of years, and certainly over the course of the last five years, and to also see if there are areas where we can be of assistance to help grow Pakistani capabilities and capacity.
Again, we have a long-standing relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan has been a key ally in the war on terror. They've deployed over 100,000 army and frontier corps forces in the course of the war on terror. They've lost over 1,000 soldiers in the course of the war on terror over the last five years. They've also captured more high- value al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. And so they've been a key contributor.
Where we can have discussions with them -- that focus on what their needs are, what their capacity is, and how we may be of assistance -- is the goal of this trip.
Yes, let me get back to you.
Q Sure, General.
Just if indeed President Bush decides upon a freeze of the drawdown in July for the time being, for the foreseeable future, based on the recommendations of Petraeus and Crocker, is there -- have the Joint Chiefs discussed the possibility of additional National Guard and Reserve forces being called up?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, that's a hypothetical. We haven't seen what Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus are going to recommend, and so I'd like to wait until they come back with their assessment, probably in early April, and make that recommendation to the president. The chairman, the commander of Central Command, the Joint Chiefs will also have assessments that they will present to the president. All of that will be discussed and whatever occurs in the future, again, we need to leave to the future. Right now, we are still on track to go through the reduction of the surge forces on schedule, and beyond that, I'd like to leave that for further discussion.
Q You can't tell us whether the Joint Chiefs are actually discussing -- whether that's a point of discussion?
GEN. SHERLOCK: That is a hypothetical situation that we need to leave until we see what General Petraeus, what Ambassador Crocker come back and recommend. We also need to wait for the assessment from Admiral Fallon. We need to wait for the assessments of the Joint Chiefs and the chairman. And after those assessments are provided, there will be an open discussion amongst all the leadership and recommendations that will get made we have to wait for before we can make a guess of what will happen after July.
Q Can you give us some details on the flow of foreign fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan in recent weeks as the security situation in Pakistan has deteriorated? I know that Secretary Gates yesterday on the Hill said that a lot of the foreign fighters seem to be looking back toward Pakistan now rather than flowing into Afghanistan. Can you give us a little finer point on that?
GEN. SHERLOCK: There has been a lot of discussion about that back and forth. I don't have the details that I can provide you with regard to the flow of forces, whether the flow of forces is one way or the other back and forth across the border. I know that CJTF-82 and the forces in RC East are working very hard to stem that flow of forces and stem that trickle of forces that may be coming back and forth across the border. Again, let me get you a better answer to that after this.
Q Can I also then ask you about -- ask you for an up-to-date assessment on the security situation in Pakistan?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I think a lot of that is going to be discussed this weekend. I think a lot of that really is better for the Pakistanis to comment on the security situation in their country. You know, we can talk about the security situation in Afghanistan, the security situation in Iraq, but I'd really rather leave that to the Pakistanis to comment on the security situation in Pakistan.
Q Sir, except for the fact that many of the enemies of the United States are housed in Pakistan right now -- (off mike).
GEN. SHERLOCK: You know, if we knew where they were, that might be a different situation. We have been searching for a lot of the high-value al Qaeda operatives, the high-value Taliban operatives for a number of years. If we knew where they are, that might be a different set of discussions that would be going on. But again, you don't have perfect knowledge of where individuals are along those paths, so to say that they're being housed in Pakistan may or may not be completely accurate.
So after the discussions that go on this weekend, where Admiral Mullen meets with his Pakistani counterparts, where we understand, from the Pakistani perspective, what their needs are and what their security situations are, we'll probably have a better answer for you.
Q Just on that, we've been told, I guess, to date that the Pakistanis have not yet asked the United States for any specific request for military assistance, particularly regarding U.S. troops who could go in and fight with the Pakistanis and go across the border.
Have there been any requests for such assistance -- military assistance to date or is that something that the chairman is going to be talking to them about?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Well, again, what we seek to do is help build Pakistani capacity where we can and where the Pakistanis would like to us to help, then we will certainly entertain any requests for help that they make. Whether it's a specific request for forces, whether it's a specific request for training, a lot of those issues may be discussed this weekend, and I'd rather wait until after those discussions occur to comment.
Q But at this point there's no request --
GEN. SHERLOCK: I am not aware of any request, but again, a lot of those discussions are based on what the current situation is from the Pakistani perspective. And so where we can continue our long- standing relationship, where we can help them build their capacity we'll certainly look to do so.
GEN. SHERLOCK: Yes.
Q Again Pakistan. Do you have any concerns that some elements inside the Pakistani government have been supporting al Qaeda in Pakistan?
GEN. SHERLOCK: That's really a Pakistani political question, and I'd really refer that to the government of Pakistan.
Q Kind of a strange topic here, but Kosovo. Kosovar officials say they're going to declare independence in the month of February pending certain circumstances there. How is that going to affect the presence of U.S. troops there? General Craddock has spoken of how he has built contingency plans for dealing with potential violence that could erupt. How is the Joint Staff working with NATO, EUCOM in that effect, and again, how will such a change in status affect U.S. troops in Kosovo?
GEN. SHERLOCK: Louis, I really don't have anything for you on that. I'd have to refer you to General Craddock in EUCOM.
Q And is there planning under way here at the Pentagon?
GEN. SHERLOCK: I don't have anything for you on that. I'll have to look into that, or I'd refer you to EUCOM.
Okay. Thanks very much, everyone.
Q Thank you very much.
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