DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington Va.
MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon, everyone.
I have nothing to start with, so let's get down to it. Lita. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. Afghanistan. With this extension of the two Marine units and the decision to send less than 200 additional enablers there, have we seen all that the Pentagon is going to do additionally for Afghanistan this year before the fighting season ends, or are there ongoing discussions about what other support could -- can be sent there?
MR. MORRELL: There are ongoing discussions about what else can be done to meet the needs of the commanders in the field. As you know, they have expressed a desire for three additional brigade combat teams. The president and the secretary have made commitments to provide additional resources to Afghanistan in 2009.
There is currently a discussion going on within this building about what more can be done and how soon can it be done.
I don't know if it's going to fit in the timetable that you just asked me about, but we are working hard to see if it can. And those discussions are under way as we speak.
Q And have there been any decisions on whether any brigades will be diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan, either at the end of the year or later -- or early next year?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, I would not want to preempt the evaluation that's being conducted right now by General Petraeus. As you know, the last surge BCT is out, and he is right now in the midst of this period of consolidation and evaluation. At some point soon he's going to make a recommendation to the secretary and to the president on the possibility of further troop drawdowns. But he is the midst of that process right now, and I don't have anything further to report on it at this time.
Q Geoff, Iran has tested yesterday a new weapon capable of sinking U.S. ships nearly 200 miles away. And this morning the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, General Mohammad Jafari, warned to close the Persian gulf of oil shipments, to oil shipments. What's the reaction of this building regarding these comments?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know, Joe. We don't usually respond to inflammatory comments from foreign officials. It's not usually a good practice to get into.
But I would say this. I don't think it's in Iran's interest to shut down the Straits of Hormuz or the Persian Gulf, or attempt to do so. They have a very weak economy at this point, which depends almost entirely on their oil revenue. So shutting down the straits and closing off the Persian Gulf would be sort of a self-defeating exercise.
That says nothing of whether or not we would tolerate such a thing to happen. But it doesn't make any sense to me from this perch.
As for their claims about their missiles, I have not seen those reports. I can't speak to the veracity of them. I would say this: that they clearly have designs on increasingly capable missile systems that we believe warrant proceeding as fast as possible with missile defense for Europe and, for that matter, with our allies in the Middle East as well.
So, you know, it is yet another example of their designs on an ambitious and threatening ballistic missile system.
Q Just to follow up, Jafari is the top of the IRG. Do you take his warning seriously?
MR. MORRELL: I think I've responded.
Q The U.S. in Iraq said they have released another number, I think 20, of foreign detainees back to their home countries -- I think some to Egypt, some to Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us a bit about what the impetus behind that release is -- (off mike) --
MR. MORRELL: Do you mean Iraqis speaking up?
Q (Off mike) -- in Iraq. And are there also plans to reduce the numbers of local Iraqi prisoners being held by the U.S. as well?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we've, Mike, been in the process of a dramatic reduction of the detainee population in Iraq. When I visited Bucca, Camp Bucca this time last year, I think we were at or near our all-time high for detainee population, which was about -- facility- wide -- facilities-wide in Iraq, I think 26,000 -- nearly 26,000 detainees. We are now down to just over 20,000 detainees in Iraq. So we've seen a net reduction of 5,000 detainees. But in all the past year we've actually released 10,000 detainees, because obviously we've captured some and released some over the course of the past year.
So we clearly are on a glide path of reducing the detainee population in Iraq, and we are doing so at a time where, because of the sort of rehabilitation programs that General Stone incorporated in Bucca and the other camps, we've seen a recidivism rate of about 1 percent among the detainees who have been released. So we are able to capture threats to the Iraqi government and the population, detain them, rehabilitate them and 99 times out of a hundred release them without them posing a future threat to anyone in country.
So that is -- we've made remarkable progress there. And I would just say it looks as though the glide path is on continuing to reduce the population because of the success we're having within these camps.
Q Is there a focus more on releasing some of the foreign nationals as opposed to the Iraqis, though, or -- ?
MR. MORRELL: No. I mean, obviously the vast majority of those who are within these detention facilities are Iraqis, but I think we are equal opportunity in our desire to rehab and release. We certainly do not want to get into the business of warehousing for extended periods of time people who don't require long-term detention. And what we find is that we are doing a better job of vetting people who are not real threats on the battlefield.
When we initiated this effort, what we found is that we were rounding up a lot of people and detaining a lot of people who perhaps could have been vetted in an earlier process and not be taken to these large institutions. So we're doing a better job at the front end, and we're doing a better job once we're in the institutions, of rehabilitating people.
Q If I could just push one more question.
MR. MORRELL: Perhaps I'm not understanding your question.
Q No, no, no. That's fine. It's an additional question. And the agreements between the countries of the foreign nationals, are they similar to what's the agreements for the folks that are in Guantanamo, in terms of continued holding or when you release them back?
MR. MORRELL: I wouldn't necessarily compare the two of them, because I don't know the arrangements that MNF-I has reached in terms of releasing these detainees to their home countries. I would presume that we -- in order to release these people, we either deem them no longer to be a threat, and we think they can leave and it's perhaps best for them to go back to their home country if they were illegally in Iraq; or if it's a case where they are still a threat but we are confident that the home country will detain them while they are still a threat, we make such arrangements. I am not familiar with the intricacies of how MNF-I is working the return of detainees to their host countries.
Yeah? Yeah, Jennifer?
Q Geoff, Bruce Ivins reportedly sent an e-mail from his Army e-mail account in which he implicated one of the other scientists at Fort Detrick for producing a powdered form of anthrax for DARPA. Did DARPA ever request a powdered form of anthrax in the '90s that would have been created on Fort Detrick?
MR. MORRELL: A, I'm not familiar with it. B, I think it's a matter that's under investigation by the Department of Justice and I'd refer you there. I really have nothing on that case whatsoever. I'm sorry.
Q Geoff, on the issue of more troops for Afghanistan, does that depend on conditions in Iraq? In other words, can you only send more troops to Afghanistan if they're freed up from Iraq? And if not, why would it take six months or longer to figure out if you have enough troops to send to Afghanistan? Because as I recall, this issue of Afghanistan desperately needing more troops came up, I believe, before the Bucharest summit, which was in March, I think.
MR. MORRELL: Well, you characterize it as Afghanistan desperately needing more troops. I would take issue with the characterization that there's anything desperate about the situation in Afghanistan, anything urgent or precarious about the situation in Afghanistan. What we have, David, is a situation where the commanders would like additional forces and we are working to provide them with the additional forces they would like.
As for why it takes some amount of time, we have a variety of commitments around the world. There are more theaters in which we are operating than Afghanistan and Iraq. We have force commitments across the globe and threats and contingencies we need to be situated for beyond just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We are making choices based upon the risks we are willing to assume in various parts of the world to meet the needs of the commanders. I know much has been made of sort of the correlation between forces coming down in Iraq and going up in Afghanistan. And while that certainly would seem to be the most natural transaction to take place, the truth is, you know, we're 2.5 -- nearly -- million strong around the world. We have the means to draw forces elsewhere, whether it be through Reserves or Guard or drawing down from other places around the world where we have commitments.
Now, all those things are taken into consideration when the chiefs meet and discuss how best to fill the needs of the commanders in Afghanistan. But I'm not going to sit up here today and speculate on where those forces will come from and when they'll be there. All I can tell you is, there is a concerted effort by this building to figure out what more can be done. And as the secretary said, he would like it done sooner rather than later.
Q Is there an assumption in the building that nothing needs to be done before the winter, because fighting season is over?
MR. MORRELL: No. I mean, clearly there is a traditional fighting season. But I think it would be mistaken for people out there to think that come the winter, come the time when the snows start to impede travel, that everybody lays down their weapons and goes home and sits by the fire.
The truth of the matter is, what we've seen historically has been less fighting by the Taliban and by the insurgents, in the winter, but a great deal of preparation being undertaken for the next so-called fighting season.
So we will not rest on our laurels, during the winter months, but instead go about trying to figure out how to disrupt the planning process that's under way, in the winter months, so that we can inhibit the insurgents' ability to attack come next spring.
And the truth of the matter is, it's really not a spring offensive either. The spring is predominantly dedicated unfortunately to cultivating the poppy crop.
So the summer is when most of the fighting is taking place. But we are working year-round to try to inhibit the insurgents' abilities. And while you will see less traditional fighting during the winter months, it does not mean we are by any means complacent. We are taking it to them and trying to disrupt the planning apparatus.
Q In Pakistan, are you seeing any change or any improvement, in terms of what the Pakistanis are doing to disrupt militant groups in the FATA?
MR. MORRELL: Since I spoke to you last week.
Q Well, since these complaints have been made over the past week, that they weren't doing enough, that Pakistan may have been helping them?
MR. MORRELL: Whose complaints.
Q Well, reportedly --
MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to get into reports of communications.
Q Well, certainly there have been --
MR. MORRELL: Let me tell you this. I mean, we've complained about it to some degree from here. I mean, I've got nothing new, Jim, in terms of what I told you last week versus what I can tell you this week.
I would reiterate that we have seen and continue to see Pakistani military operations in the FATA. And we are pleased to see that.
But as we have said before, this needs to be a concerted and consistent effort to go after the militants to prevent them from either creating training grounds and safe havens within Pakistan or going into Afghanistan and causing trouble there.
So there clearly are increased military operations. We've seen that. We are pleased by it. We need to continue to see it, and we need to see probably even more robust efforts on the Paks' part.
Q May I follow?
MR. MORRELL: Let me just finish up here. We'll come back to you, I promise.
Q Geoff, now that the Hamdan case has gone to the jury, the first military commission case to go to trial, what's the evaluation of how it went? And are any changes being considered? Any response to some of the criticism regarding the defendant's rights?
MR. MORRELL: I am not aware, Al, of any internal evaluation that's under way. I mean, obviously this is the first case that's gone to trial. We're clearly pleased by that. We're -- we think that you've seen a fair and transparent process in which journalists were on hand, allowed to see the process, in which the defendant was offered a vigorous defense by his counsel, in which the prosecutor was able to make his case. And we will see what the ultimate verdict is on this.
But it was -- we were -- it was a good first effort, or so it seems at this point. And we hope it is the beginning of at least 20 additional trials that will hopefully take place sooner than later down there.
Q You're talking about 20 additional trials, more or less. What happens to the rest of the detainees? Is there a plan for them?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we've talked about it at length, Al. I mean, many of these detainees we believe at some point can be repatriated to their home countries and incarcerated there, or -- and then there are a certain number of detainees who are -- will simply not be able to be tried, in all likelihood, given the security threat they pose. But we are clearly trying to work to reduce the detainee population in Guantanamo, to initiate these trials so that people are given a -- given their day in court, and we can at the same time provide a system that protects the American people from some very, very dangerous characters out there.
Q Do you have an approximate number for those who can't be tried and also can't be released?
MR. MORRELL: No. You can go back -- I mean, you and I can sit down afterwards here and look at the -- we can do the math on the total population, which I think is about 250 or so. And you repatriate another 100 of those; you're down to 150. And we're going to try at least 20 more in the near term. We can go through the math and figure it out. But I think, you know, there is still a significant population within Guantanamo who will likely never be released because of the threat they pose to the world, for that matter.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q A quick follow-up on Hamdan there, on what you were saying on the trial. To critics who say -- what do you all say to critics who say that even though he goes through the trial, depending what the jury says, if he's guilty or not guilty -- if he's not guilty, he still stays in prison. How do you respond to that being what's considered a fair trial?
MR. MORRELL: Well, he would be -- even if he were acquitted of the charges that are before him, he would still be considered an enemy combatant and therefore would continue to be subjected to -- subject to continued detention. Of course, that said, he would also have the opportunity to go before the administrative review board and they could determine whether he is a suitable candidate for release or transfer. But in the near term, at least, we would consider him an enemy combatant and still a danger and would likely still be detained for some period of time thereafter.
But he could, of course, then challenge his enemy combatant status through the courts as well. And for more on that -- I think on the particulars of the legal process, I'd refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q I have a question on the tanker, the re-bid issue. What's the latest on it in terms of when a potential draft RFP could come out?
MR. MORRELL: I think -- you know, I think when John Young spoke to you all last month from up here he talked about his desire to have something out in early August. I think things are on course for that. I think you should be looking for something very soon, in all likelihood this week, with regards to a new request for proposal from the competing contractors. And this will give industry a chance to review and comment back to the department, as you know, Tony.
So it's our desire to complete this entire -- the source selection by the end of the year.
So we're rushing -- not rushing. We're doing this in a deliberate fashion but in -- as quickly as possible to get the Request for Proposals out there, get the comment and review back from the contractors, and then hopefully make a source selection by the end of the year. Because as you've heard me time and time again say, a new tanker is urgently needed for our warfighters, and so we are trying to move along as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.
Q One follow-up. If each company can protest a draft RFP to the General Accounting Office and literally tie this up, is the Pentagon taking any special steps to ensure -- or minimize that potential?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think -- I wouldn't -- I don't think we're taking any special steps. I think we are taking a deliberative, thorough route to try to make sure we are doing this in the fairest way possible, but that also provides our warfighter with the equipment it needs and the taxpayer with the value it demands. So that's what we're focused on.
Q Can I go back to the trial quickly?
MR. MORRELL: Sure.
Q Has there been any effect of the Supreme Court decision that detainees are allowed to appeal their detention? Has that had any effect on the detainees that you have lined up, these 20 detainees you're talking about, or any in the future? Has that already had an effect?
MR. MORRELL: The effect that the Boumediene decision has had is on sort of the interagency efforts within this government to try to figure out how it impacts -- how it impacts habeas for these guys in the future, and how -- and so there is an effort under way within the government to determine the impact, and whether there needs to be an additional legislative remedy to this, and, if so, how ambitious should it be. And so those are the kinds of discussions that are taking place among the various constituencies in this government.
But in terms of the day-to-day business that we conduct down in Guantanamo, at this point it has not had an immediate impact. Okay?
Q I had this question, Geoff, about the -- on Afghanistan and the FATA. What I was saying, that how do you compare the progress in Afghanistan comparing the last seven years and today?
And second, as far as those -- The New York Times story has been going around for some time now, but it was not news for me because I have been saying always that as far as the U.S. intelligence and U.S. military was concerned in Afghanistan, it was misled by somebody and they were not given the correct information as far as ISI and the Pakistan military was concerned.
What I'm asking is, now because equipment you have given to Pakistan, like night goggles and all that, they were given to the terrorists or to -- because before you went there, they knew that you were coming there. That means somebody was not with you or somebody was misleading you.
So what kind of assurance do you think could the prime minister give this time that ISI will be with you now in the future, that you will not -- or U.S. military will not -- your intelligence will not be misled and you have -- you will get them?
MR. MORRELL: I think I get it. I'm going to disappoint you by telling you I'm just not going to get into conversations the prime minister and the president had, the prime minister and the secretary had. These are privileged conversations. And I'm going to leave it at that.
I mean, clearly we view Pakistan as a key ally in the war on terror. And we -- although we have shared with you some of our misgivings about how aggressive they have been recently in the FATA, although as I just told Jim, I think we've seen some recent examples of the fact that there are more operations under way, they remain a key ally in this global war on terror. We need their assistance. They're a sovereign nation which happens to have a lawless area along the border with Afghanistan in which we have seen far too many militants operate. And so together, we are trying to confront a threat that is shared by both of us.
With regards to the Pakistani intelligence services, I think that's been historically an issue in that country. There are signs that it remains so. And we -- our two governments are working to deal with those problems.
Q Just a quick follow-up, as far as giving assistance, including billions of dollars and military assistance.
But U.S. in Pakistan is really very low, I mean, as far as only 7, 8 percent that view that the U.S. -- that like the United States to be there, or U.S. image in Pakistan.
MR. MORRELL: You're saying despite the fact we've given billions of dollars -- and I would take issue with the fact that we've given it. We've reimbursed the Pakistanis billions of dollars for operations they've conducted on our behalf within their borders -- we remain unpopular in Pakistan? Well, that's a -- that's a sad reality, if that's the case. And it's something that this government is working hard to try to remedy.
I mean, obviously, we do a great deal of good around the world, particularly in Pakistan, in which the government there has been -- is more immediately impacted by the threats that exist in the FATA than we are. We saw that, you know, with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. And so I would hope the Pakistanis would realize that we are their ally against this mutual threat, but we obviously -- and you've heard the secretary talk about it. We need to do a better job, this government does, in communicating all the good we do around the world, including in Pakistan.
STAFF: (Off mike) -- we'll do these three.
Q Geoff, just a quick follow-up on the Ivins stuff. I know you don't have anything on the investigation, but can you say whether or not the secretary has been briefed by anyone regarding --
MR. MORRELL: I don't believe he has.
Q And have there been any concerns expressed by him about security clearances and whether or not there should be any review of what and how security clearances are either given or maintained there?
MR. MORRELL: Is this this issue that he had a -- retained a security --
Q Had a security --
MR. MORRELL: Without talking to this specific case -- I don't know the details of this specific case. But obviously if we were to in the course of an investigation, if we were to yank a security clearance, that would certainly send off on alarm to the target of an investigation that there was something going on. So we take precautions below the radar when there is someone who is under investigation and they still retain a security clearance. But yanking the clearance would probably only draw attention to the fact that there is a criminal investigation under way and would, in all likelihood, jeopardize that investigation.
Q And he hasn't been briefed. Is that what you --
MR. MORRELL: No, has not been briefed, as far as I know.
Q Geoff, there was a report this year that small teams of Special Forces trainers were going to be sent to Pakistan to train the Frontier Corps and the Pakistani government was denying them entry.
Has that changed? Are those trainers now -- have they been allowed into Pakistan to train the frontier corps?
MR. MORRELL: I mean, you know, we always -- we don't normally talk about Special Operations forces. But we have spoken publicly about the fact that there has been a training mission in Pakistan for quite some time.
Very, very small numbers of U.S. Special Forces are operating in a training capacity in Pakistan, not out on joint missions but on a fixed site training Pakistani forces, at the invitation of the Pakistani government. But this has been going on for some time. People have spoken about it quite often.
You're talking about something more recent than that.
Q (Off mike) -- who were going to go in specifically to train the frontier corps.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I'm not aware of an effort to beef up the numbers that we have. But I'll certainly look into it for you.
Q Geoff, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists are pushing back on Secretary Gates's -- (off mike) -- $50 million go to the Minerva research initiative. They're suggesting that these social scientists would be in the pocket of the Pentagon.
Is there any decision being made to change that program?
MR. MORRELL: Not that I'm aware of.
I mean, listen, of all the people who you should trust, to execute this program properly, it would be Secretary Gates. I mean, he has spent, you know, as much of his life in academia as he has spent in government and has a great deal of -- I'm talking about in school, Peter, not just running Texas A&M. But obviously he has a great deal of respect, for academics and the need for their work to not at all be tainted by undue outside influence, that kind of thing.
But I will tell you this. He is a strong believer in the notion that social scientists can help us in our efforts, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, elsewhere; help us gain a better understanding of the culture and make adjustments to how we do things, according to their advice.
And so I think the program is one he believes in. But I also think it's one that those, who have concerns about it, should have confidence that they have, at the helm of this organization, someone who has a great deal of respect, for academics, and would not do anything that would in any way undermine their integrity.
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