Media Availability with Secretary Gates During Visit to Ft. Lewis, Washington
SEC. GATES: Good morning.
I’ve had a great visit to McChord Air Force Base, Ft. Lewis. I received extensive briefings at McChord on the missions over there. I spent about three hours talking to NCOs and their wives. I spent about an hour at McChord having lunch with Air Force NCOs, then spent about an hour with Ranger battalion NCOs, and then about an hour with the spouses of soldiers assigned here at Ft. Lewis, then visited some of our wounded warriors at Madigan Hospital. I also got the opportunity to congratulate a couple of brand-new mothers and have my picture taken with babies that were less than 24 hours old – which is the happy side of the visit to the hospital, I suppose. Then this morning, as you’ve seen, extensive briefings on the Stryker Brigade, its mission, new ways of doing business that they’re mastering.
It’s been very useful. The conversations with the NCOs and their wives are always instructive for me and always impress me with their dedication and their commitment. And I think even more significant than the dedication and commitment of the soldiers is the commitment of their families and their spouses. And I was – I was really just amazingly impressed with the firm support of these wives for what their husbands were doing, and their affection for the Army, and their commitment to the success of their husbands.
So it’s been a great visit. Be happy to take a few questions.
Q The redeployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln to the Arabian Sea, what’s the military significance of that? Do you expect it to be short term or long term?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think it’s really probably principally – General Dempsey is the acting commander of Central Command. I think he made a decision in terms of the assets that are available to him in terms of where they could be most useful, and I think he felt that providing some additional combat support in Afghanistan was something he could do without any cost to the mission in Iraq.
Q Does that signal an escalation, then, of the effort in Afghanistan over Iraq, then?
SEC. GATES: No, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I think it’s – there’s – we have clearly seen an increase in violence in Afghanistan. At the same time, we’ve seen a reduction in violence and casualties in Iraq. And I think it’s just part of our commitment to ensure that we have the resources available to be successful in Afghanistan over the long haul.
Q Secretary Gates, you –
Q Secretary Gates, the GAO has strongly – (off mike).
SEC. GATES: Well, I take the report from the Government Accountability Office very seriously, and particularly their identification of some deficiencies in the contract process. And I expect to announce the way forward very soon.
Q Do you still want the Air Force to be in charge of that decision, or would you like to take more control of it?
SEC. GATES: I’ll make those announcements very soon.
Q To clarify, “very soon” in days means?
SEC. GATES: Very soon.
Q On Afghanistan, Mr. Secretary. When the chairman was here -- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was here last week, he talked about needing more brigades in Afghanistan. We have Stryker Brigades at Ft. Lewis. Has there been any request to you, or are you guys doing any consideration, of sending Stryker Brigades to Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: Nothing like that has been brought to me at this point. Whether it happens in the future I don’t know.
STAFF: Let’s take a couple more, please.
Q To you expect to fully fund the Multi-gun system – (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: I’ll have to take a look at it and see what the recommendations from the Army are from the controller in the department, the deputy secretary. They are tracking these things very closely. And as I say, it hasn’t come to my desk yet, so I don’t know.
Q Do you –
Q Secretary –
STAFF: Back here.
Q There’s a chemical weapons depot in Oregon, and there is some concern from the Oregon congressional delegation about the interstate transport of chemical weapons from past eras in terms of speeding up the deadline to get rid of that stuff, to destroy it. What’s your position on moving that stuff interstate?
SEC. GATES: Well, this isn’t an issue that’s actually come to my attention at this point. And you know, we have to – we have to take care of this stuff and get rid of it someplace, and nobody wants it in their backyard. But it has to be done.
So as I say, the issue hasn’t come to me in terms of any decisions. I haven’t heard directly from any of the Oregon delegation on it at this point. We’ll take a look at it.
Q What do you tell these troops and what do you tell the incoming Defense Secretary about the timetable for Iraq? Prime Minister Maliki’s talked about a timetable. What can you tell them and what can you tell us about it?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think we’re all ready – I often get asked, what is the – what is the end state look like in Iraq for the United States. And I would say we are already well into a transition of mission that really began with the withdrawal of the first surge brigade last December. And what it looks like are provinces where there is no coalition presence whatsoever, and there are now something like eight or 10 of those in Iraq. There are others where, as in the offensive in Basra, where we’re there in a support role and the Iraqi security forces are out in front.
So we have a process ongoing. And as the Iraqi security forces get stronger and get better, then we will be able to continue drawing down our troops in the future. And I think that this transition of control and of responsibility, primary responsibility for security is a process that’s already well under way and based on everything that I’m hearing will be able to continue. However long that takes really will depend on the situation on the ground. Things are going very well at this point.
Q Are you interested in a one year agreement as Prime Minister Maliki has indicated, that he, that they’ve been unable to reach a multi-year agreement for the U.S. forces. Would you support trying to reach a shorter term agreement with the Iraqi government?
SEC. GATES: Ambassador Crocker is in charge of those negotiations. I’m principally concerned with having an agreement that will allow our forces to continue to do their job and to support the Iraqi government.
Thank you all very much.
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