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Secretary Robert Gates Enroute to Krakow

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
February 18, 2009
           SEC. GATES: (In progress) -- microphone since we’re not flying.
            MR.     : Right. This is actually nice. 
            SEC. GATES: Just very quickly, a word about the minister’s meeting. I think the two central themes are clearly going to be Afghanistan and preparations for the 60th anniversary summit in April. There are a lot of other -- I mean, it’s a full agenda. We’ve got meetings of both the NATO-Ukraine Commission and the NATO-Georgia Commission. We’ll have a session on capabilities where we’ll talk about strategic aviation initiative, the allied ground surveillance system and UK-French helicopter initiative. We’ll talk about the NATO response force and how we can do a better job on that of meeting the requirements. 
            And we’ll probably talk some about headquarters reform. I know that we are certainly very supportive of some of the proposals to give the Secretary-General more authority to move people around to manage his budget like the executive of a large organization. And there are some differences within the Alliance in terms of whether to try and keep the consensus rule only at the North Atlantic Council level and try and make the committee structure more efficient by allowing majority and minority opinions to come forward or at least be surfaced to the North Atlantic Council so things can get done more efficiently. So we’ll see how that turns out.
            But I don’t want to get hung up on the consensus issue. There are some other things that can be done on NATO reform. And then we’ll be probably talking about the nature of the declaration to be issued at the end of the 60th anniversary summit. So there’s a lot to talk about, and there will be a number of pull-asides and bilateral meetings as well.
            So why don’t I stop there.
            Yeah, Tom.
            MR.     : Do you mind sitting here so people can all -- David -- no, David -- why don’t you sit right here? Do you want to sit up here so you can hear?
            Q     (Inaudible) -- expressed concern before that to the extent the U.S. stepped forward and fulfilled the shortfall on troops for Afghanistan, that would let the pressure off the allies. With the announcement yesterday, what will you do to keep the pressure on allies to contribute? And what specifically are you looking for today from the NATO allies as far as (troop strength ?)?
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that, clearly, we would like to see plus-ups in the forces that are already there in the period before the election to bring greater security for the election and to ensure that the election can take place in a way that allows the Afghans actually to turn out and vote. So we will continue to ask the allies to provide even a short-term plus-up in their forces to provide security in the pre-election period.
            But I think really the focus of what I’m going to say is that where the allies can make a significant, longer-term contribution is particularly on the civilian side at this point. And on governance, training of the police, development -- governance first of all -- but development, training of police, rule-of-law issues, corruption, counternarcotics, I mean, these are all areas where civilian contribution can be made. And again, I return, I think that governance is the most important where we can help.
            I also think it’s more congenial for our allies in terms of their domestic constituencies that, I mean, there is a lot of talk about a comprehensive approach in Afghanistan. And we really need additional help on the civilian side. There needs to be a civilian strengthening on the civilian side as we are strengthening on the military side. And frankly, I think that it may be -- I hope that it may be easier for our allies to do that than significant troop increases, especially for the longer term. I still want to see more of them there in the pre-election period, more troops from our allies. But for the longer term, what I think we would really like to see is some significant commitments on the civilian side.
            I would also say there is a significant shortfall among the allies in providing these Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams, and especially as we expand, as the size of the Afghan national army expands. So these OMLTs, the short-fall in these OMLTs is important. And that needs to be -- the allies need to step up to the plate on that one as well.
            Q     How many (small forces ?) do you think you need for the election?
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think, you know, whatever people can provide. I don’t think anybody is going to be giving our allies specific numbers, but we’re just asking. There is a requirement out there that had been put out there by NATO in terms of, you know, just the desire to have people sign up for additional troops during that period. And frankly, the response so far has been kind of disappointing. And so my hope is that we can address this issue in the meetings.
            Q     Dick, is the NRF potentially an avenue for additional troops?
            SEC. GATES: Well, there’s frankly a disagreement in the Alliance over that. I mean, we believe the NRF ought to be deployable. And I think that it’s hard to get people to commit definitely to meet their NRF responsibilities if there’s no notion that they’ll ever be used anyplace. So it becomes a paper exercise.
            And so my view is this pre-election period in Afghanistan is a very good example of where the NRF could provide a temporary strengthening of NATO’s capabilities in support of the Afghan government and the elections.
            Q     Mr. Secretary, as someone who advised both the previous administration and the current one, what difference do you think the addition of the troops announced yesterday will do for the U.S. mission going forward that the previous administration with its troop commitments wasn’t able to do?
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think the big difference -- and General McKiernan probably went into this in great detail today; I don’t know -- but I think the big difference is that the additional numbers, particularly in RC South, will allow us to remain in the field and help protect the population in a better way than when we would sort of come out, do an operation and then go back to a base. And so I think that these additional numbers give us a better chance to provide the kind of security for the population that is necessary, frankly, for economic development and for governance to take hold and so on. So I think this plus-up is really a piece of that. 
            Q     Was it purely a question of adding troops or of changing strategy?
            SEC. GATES: I think the president made very clear in his remarks yesterday or in the statement that these decisions do not prejudge the outcome of the strategic review. And so how this goes as we look to the future, I think, depends very much on the outcome of the strategic review.
            Q     Does your emphasis on the civilian side with the NATO allies mean that you’ve essentially decided that it’s just not doable to get them to increase troop levels, particularly over the long term?
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think the likelihood of getting the allies to commit significant numbers of additional troops is not very great. I mean, the fact is, over the -- I mean, to give credit where credit is due, the allies have increased the number of non-U.S. Troops by about 15,000 over the last year or so. So it’s not like nothing has happened, or that there’s been no response. And our allies have essentially fulfilled the commitments that they have made. The question is whether additional commitments beyond that can be made, and I think there will be some, but I don’t think they will be big numbers.
            Q     Do you (foresee ?) anything that would change that dynamic?
            SEC. GATES: Probably not.
            Q     Today General McKiernan talked about a three-to-five-year horizon for the sort of U.S. plus-up of troops. Is that the sort of horizon you’re working with? Is that what you’re talking to the allies about in terms of a civilian commitment? What do you see in terms of how long this increase in forces will be needed?
            SEC. GATES: Well, again, I think that really depends on the outcome of the strategic review and the president’s decisions following the completion of the review. So I think those are all kind of open-ended questions until the review is done.
            Q     Do the additional troops for Afghanistan also fall into that category, or do you consider that the fourth brigade that General McKiernan wanted is still approved as far as your -- (inaudible)?
            SEC. GATES: I lose track of how many brigades and what. Which brigade are you talking about? The Strykers?
            Q     Well, you asked for four brigades, and you got one from the Bush administration, now two more or two equivalents. And so he indicated today that he --
            SEC. GATES: Well, he’s also got a combat aviation brigade and --
            Q     Right. We’re talking about a ground maneuver brigade. He also said something about a training brigade.
            MR.     : Training brigade.
            SEC. GATES: The training brigade is in abeyance until the completion of the strategic review. And I’ll make no recommendations with respect to that until after the review is done.
            Q     So you consider that the long-standing request from General McKiernan has now been responded to, this is what he’s getting for now?
            SEC. GATES: No, he has that outstanding request for that training brigade, and it’s there. But it is not necessary to make a decision or a recommendation on that before the completion of the strategic review. And I see no reason to do so.
            Q     He also mentioned that he wanted, in addition to the training brigade, he mentioned either another BCT or a Marine regimental combat unit that would -- (inaudible) -- (early next year ?).
            SEC. GATES: I think that was new to me.
            Q     Sir, General Conway made it clear that if Marines are to go massively to Afghanistan, which is, I mean, apparently the case with 8,000 more Marines by this summer, he’s going to need to, you know, to pull out some Marines from the Anbar province.
            SEC. GATES: Who said that?
            Q     General Conway. So have talks started in this regard? Is there talks about actually starting to pulling out some Marines from the Anbar province to let them go to Afghanistan?
            SEC. GATES: Well, I think that there was mention in the press this morning about the fact that both of these units, the Marines and the Stryker brigade, are being re-missioned from Iraq. Yeah. 
      Q     (Inaudible) -- but maybe they (cleaned ?) out some more? Because there are still like 20,000 Marines there. 
       SEC. GATES: Well, there --
       Q     So do you think that's -- I mean, just the fact that they're re-missioned is -- it means that they're --
       SEC. GATES: Well, that means that there are 8,000 Marines that are going to presumably at some point come home from Anbar that are not going to be replaced.
       Q     On NATO or allied contributions, have you given any more thought to non-NATO contributions, particularly on the civilian side? If NATO can't step up, are there other American allies in other parts of the world that --
       SEC. GATES: Absolutely. And I would say there is another area that is very important, and that is financial support for the expansion of the Afghan National Army. The Afghan government cannot afford to sustain an army -- on its own cannot afford to sustain an army of 134,000 people or more than that, potentially. And so they're going to require international help for some period of time to do that -- at least as long as they face an active insurgency. And so I think that the notion of other allies who cannot commit troops for whatever reason, not only making a contribution on the civilian side but also contributing to the trust fund to support the expansion of the Afghan National Army is really important. And I think we will be looking at people -- and in fact we've made some asks along those lines to non-NATO allies.
       Q     (Inaudible.)
       SEC. GATES: Well, we've talked to the Japanese; we've talked to the South Koreans; we've talked to a number of people -- the Gulf states. 
       Q     Mr. Secretary, what role does Ambassador Kai Eide play in this whole strategic review? I mean, he was the guy who really is supposed to be putting together the civilian support to govern -- (inaudible) -- the economy.
       SEC. GATES: I think clearly there is an interest in making sure that Ambassador Eide is involved in this, that we get his input. I mean, at a certain point we do -- because we are an alliance in Afghanistan, we will complete our strategic review, but that's why we're reaching out to our allies and to Kai Eide and to non-NATO partners who are working with us in Afghanistan, to get their input in the review. It's why we want the Afghans and the Pakistanis to be involved in the review and get their input, so that what we have really represents a broad view of the way ahead in Afghanistan. And I mean, I -- it seems to me that Kai Eide is the central coordinating figure on the civilian side of this campaign in Afghanistan for -- under the auspices of the United Nations, and anything we can do to help him and to help strengthen him, we will do. And I think frankly that our -- the expressions of concern by a number of people and a number of countries that he was not being adequately resourced by the United Nations has helped light a fire in New York and get him more people and more resources to do the job that he needs to do. 
       Q     Mr. Secretary, General McKiernan said that he thought that there needed to be this kind of sustained commitment for three to five years. Is that what you and the president are thinking, that -- (inaudible)?
       SEC. GATES: Well, it -- the -- again, I think that remains -- the timelines and the goals remain to be seen as a result of the strategic review. 
       Q     Could I just ask you to --
       Q     Sir, this is your first trip to NATO as Defense secretary for the new Obama administration. The ministers know you; the Secretary-General knows you very well. I'm curious, can you pull back the curtain? Did the new president give you a message, something different to say? Sure, it's the same Robert M. Gates, but you're now working for a new boss. 
       SEC. GATES: Well, I think that what is new is -- I mean, the message is that it is a new administration, and the administration is prepared -- as the president's decision made clear yesterday -- is prepared to make additional commitments to Afghanistan, but there clearly will be expectations that the allies must do more as well. And I think this was the vice president's message in Munich, and it basically will be my message in Krakow.
       Q     Do you expect that NATO expansion will come up at all in any sort of forum? Maybe not formally, but -- (inaudible)?
       SEC. GATES: I don't expect it to be -- as I said at the outset, I think that Afghanistan and the 60th anniversary will be the focus. The two commissions will meet, and the commissions are really all about how do we help both countries move forward with the reform process, with entrenching democratization -- in short, all of the things that are necessary in terms of eventual membership in the Alliance. And I -- but I think other than the commission meetings themselves, in terms of how we can encourage those things, I don't expect it to be a central issue.
       MR.     : I think we'll take two more, and then we'll --
       Q     When you meet the Polish defense minister, what will you tell him about the status of the missile defense system?
       SEC. GATES: Well, I'm basically -- will say -- so you want my talking points before I ever meet with the guy? (Laughter.)
       Q     I'd be delighted. Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
       Q     If you could, please. (Laughter.)
       SEC. GATES: I think that the message will be the same message that the vice president delivered in Munich: We are concerned about the Iranian missile threat and as long as that threat exists we will continue to pursue missile defense, as long as we know it will work, as long as we can make sure it works and that it's cost effective, and we want to pursue it in partnership not only with our NATO allies but also with the Russians. And frankly my -- I am hopeful that -- with a new start that maybe there are some opportunities with the Russians that we can pursue.
       Q     How do you think that will sit with the Polish government in light of the -- (inaudible)?
       SEC. GATES: Well, it's just -- it's a fact of life. I mean, the other fact of life is that by law we cannot begin construction on either the site in the Czech Republic or in Poland until both the SOFA and the missile defense agreements are ratified by both of their parliaments. So even if we had a different policy, we couldn't do anything until they do something.
       Q     (Inaudible) -- on the Taliban truce in the Swat Valley -- how confident are you in the assurances that this will not give the Taliban greater reach? And were you aware of it ahead of time?
       SEC. GATES: Well, hope springs eternal. We have some experience with these agreements. Maybe this will buy some breathing space for the Pakistani army, but I would say we'll wait and see.
       Q     Were you aware of it ahead of time?
       SEC. GATES: To tell you the truth I can't remember. (Laughs.) I mean, I may have heard that the Pakistani government was thinking about pursuing this, but I don't remember.
       MR.     : All right, last one. (Inaudible.)
       Q     Sir, Vice President Biden -- and you touched a little bit on it -- said something about resetting the U.S.-Russian relationship. Is that something that you are going to be -- I notice there's no meeting with the Russians on the schedule I got, and there usually is that NATO-Russian meeting.
       SEC. GATES: Well, there has not I think been a NATO-Russia Council meeting since the Russians went into Georgia. 
       Q     Right
       SEC. GATES: And I think clearly probably on the sidelines there will be some discussion about the way forward with the Russians. But again, I think that needs to be -- for at least our government, that needs to be the result of a review of the relationship led by the NSC that involves the State Department and so on in terms of where we go from here, in terms of the relationship. But I -- you know, obviously, there is a desire. 
       There are Russian behaviors that are a concern to us. We also need the Russians in other areas, and so we need to work this relationship through, I think, in a constructive way that allows us to move forward. But at the same time, mindful of some of their actions that still give us a problem. And you know, I mean, just as an example, I think that the Russians are trying to have it both ways with respect to Afghanistan, in terms of Manas. And the question is, on one hand you're making positive noises about working with us in Afghanistan, and on the other hand you're working against us in terms of that air field, which is clearly important to us. So how do we go forward in that light?
       Q     Are you still hopeful that Manas will not be closed to U.S. forces?
       SEC. GATES: I think that would be a good way to put it. I am hopeful that it will not be closed.
       MR.     : Okay.
       SEC. GATES: Thank you, all.
       Q     Thanks.
       Q     Thank you.
       Q     Thank you, sir.