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DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
April 28, 2009

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon, guys.  It's good to see you again. It's been a while.  Travel has kept me from the podium.  I'm happy to be back. 

 

                And I have nothing in particular to start with, so let's have at it.  Ann? 

 

                Q     On the Air Force One -- or not Air Force One -- flight up the Hudson yesterday, have you been able to determine how high within the Pentagon a notification or approval of the flight ahead of time went, and what -- whether there are any further such promotional flights scheduled? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I doubt very much -- (chuckles) -- there are further such promotional flights scheduled, certainly not over Lower Manhattan.  I have not endeavored, Ann, frankly, to find out how -- how many people within this organization, this vast organization, had some kind of advance notice about this unfortunate flight.  But I obviously did check with the secretary.  He did not know in advance about this -- this flying photo op.  But once he found out, suffice it to say he was surprised and -- and not very pleased. 

 

                Q     Is he doing anything about it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think that the White House -- in particular, the White House Military Office -- has taken full responsibility for this.  I think there was a statement released by the director yesterday, acknowledging the error of their ways in this instance.  And I think that this is a matter that they are -- they are dealing with.  So I don't think it's incumbent upon the secretary to take any action. 

 

                Q     Geoff, this is being described as a training mission, in which the photo op was seen as an opportunity to sort of piggyback on a training -- you're calling it a flying photo op.  Was this indeed a training mission, or simply an attempt to get -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I would -- yeah, Mick, I think that the White House is best able to speak to the particulars of the mission that they -- that they authorized and undertook yesterday.  I think you are correct in the sense that they have said, I believe, that it was first and foremost a training mission, and that they decided to take advantage of -- by conducting these photos simultaneously. 

 

                But for the specifics of the mission that they authorized, I'd refer you to -- to the White House Press Office.  I mean, they've been very forthright about -- from the earliest stages, about taking ownership for this.  I mean, as you -- as you know, the White House Military Office is outside of our chain of command. 

 

                It reports, I believe, to one of the deputy chiefs of staff at the White House.   

 

                Obviously, we have many personnel who work there.  Obviously, the aircraft are U.S. Air Force -- is a U.S. Air Force aircraft.  So we were involved in this.  There clearly were people in this building who had some sort of advance notification about this.   

 

                In retrospect, would we have liked somebody to raise their hand and say, "This is not a good idea"?  Absolutely.  We would have preferred that.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.   

 

                I think the White House has taken full responsibility for the mission, and I'd refer you to them in terms of what other -- what recourse is going to take place in the wake of that -- of that -- you know, mishandled, misguided mission. 

 

                Q     And from a military standpoint, was there any reason whatsoever to keep the mission secret for, quote, "security," unquote, reasons? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not that I know of, Mick.  I mean, I clearly -- it seems as though the breakdown here was fundamentally about informing the public what was going on.  I think that they had taken many lengths to make sure the appropriate authorities were informed in advance, but for some reason they stopped short of prenotifying the people of New York.  And that was clearly a mistake. 

 

                But again -- 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- do know the -- this was -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is something they can speak to with more specificity than I can. 

 

                Q     But as far as you know, there was no legitimate security reason? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not that I know of. 

 

                Q     Okay. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not that I know of. 

 

                Okay, are we done with this?  Yes?  All -- yes, okay. 

 

                Luis, what's next? 

 

                Q     On the same topic, do you have any estimate of how much this training mission cost? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't.  I think -- 

 

                Q     And -- well, what are the actual benefits of having a photo op like this for the Air Force or for other services? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- again, I don't know the answer to either of those questions.  I think they will -- the Air Force is prepared to tell you, as I -- they have at any other time you query them on this subject, how much it costs to fly the aircraft that is popularly known as Air Force One.  So I think they can provide you with the actual per-hour cost basis.   

 

                And I don't know -- what was your other question -- about the training mission, the purpose of the training mission? 

 

                Q     Well, what is the purpose of having such a photo op? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know.  Again, it was commissioned by the White House Military Office.  I don't know what their rationale for -- was -- wanting a photo op.  I mean, I think we've all seen photo ops of Air Force One over American icons -- you know, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, whatever it may be.  This was just an unfortunate, it seems to me, choice of locations, especially without prenotification of the people of New York. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Pakistan. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Great. 

 

                Q     Oh, can I -- could I ask one more -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I never thought I would embrace Pakistan questions so quickly.  (Laughter.) 

 

                Q     Could I follow up on this photo-op business? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I should say no, but I will say yes, Mick. 

 

                Q     It was also reported that there was a plan to do a similar photo op over Washington, D.C. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You know, I know --  

 

                Q     Was that to take advantage of a training mission, or strictly a photo op?  There seems to be a graying of the definitions here between training mission and photo op. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'd heard those same rumors about a follow-on mission or photo op over the nation's capital.  I think it's safe to say that won't be happening.  But I don't know, again, the rationale behind it, whether from a training perspective or from a publicity perspective.   

 

                So I'd ask you to again talk to my colleagues over at the White House. 

 

                Q     And one more follow-up, to Luis's question:  Luis phrased it that for the benefit of the Air Force -- to whose benefit was this photo op intended?  For the Air Force, or the White House? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I frankly -- 

 

                Q     It was a White House idea -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I frankly don't know.  It was -- this originated in the White House Military Office, so I am assuming it was at the behest of the White House, and it was their idea or something they wanted to take place.  I have no indication from the Air Force that this was something that they had commissioned.  So again, I think the best people to speak to the motivation behind this mission would be the White House Military Office.  I understand they don't have a public affairs component, but the White House Press Office is obviously handling these questions for you. 

 

                Okay, we're back to -- you -- on this? 

 

                Q     No. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  No, I called on Julian, and then we'll -- we got lots of time.  All right. 

 

                Q     All right.  So the Pakistani army made some move against the Taliban Tuesday, today.  Wanted your reaction.  Was this something that the Defense Department had pushed for?  What more should we expect out of Pakistan in terms of beating back the militants? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think that -- I think you had heard from Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates and others very real concern expressed about the further erosion of the security situation in Pakistan over the past few weeks. 

 

                And they and others in this building were clearly pleased to see the Pakistan military take the initiative over the past couple of days and push back against the militants who had been encroaching ever further towards Islamabad. 

 

                So we think that the military operations that are under way in Buner and Dir districts are exactly the appropriate response to the offensive operations by the Taliban and other militants over the past few weeks.  We are very much encouraging of those efforts and stand ready to help them in any which way that we could. 

 

                And I think the proof -- I mean, the test of all of these Pakistani military options -- operations, because we've seen them from time to time in the past, is always their sustainability.  And so we are hopeful and encouraging of the Pakistani military that they are able to sustain these operations against the militants and to stem this encroachment on the more populated areas of Pakistan. 

 

                Q     You mentioned that we, the United States, is ready to assist and help.  What kind of new initiatives, I mean, are you ready to offer the Pakistanis on their counterinsurgency efforts?  I mean, are we going to see helicopters go there?  Are we going to see night- vision goggles?  What -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I'm not going to speak to particular new initiatives.  I mean, I think we've made it clear for a long, long time that we are ready, willing and able to do more than we are doing, which is a lot, but we certainly have the capacity to do more. 

 

                And the fundamental obstacle to this historically has been a comfort level on the part of the Pakistani government.  They, obviously, based upon these military operations, recognize the activities in Swat and Buner and Dir as a real threat to them.  And so as long as there is that recognition and appropriate action in response, we are pleased and ready to -- ready to help in additional ways. 

 

                I'm not going to go through a litany of the ways which we could or have offered to help, or that they may or may not be willing to now accept.  But I will also refer you -- I think today Michele Flournoy is up? 

 

                STAFF:  Tomorrow. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Tomorrow Michele Flournoy, our undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is going to testify on the Hill.  That comes on the heels of General Petraeus testifying last week about the Pakistani counterinsurgency fund that we -- that he has been -- that we have been advocating for, actually.  I think it's called the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund. 

 

                So we are clearly looking for ways to be able to provide more targeted aid to the Pakistani military.  You mentioned night-vision goggles.  Certainly certain supplies, equipment that would aid in their COIN capabilities, are things that we wish to be able to provide to the Pakistani military, in addition to the coalition support funds and the other, you know, military support that we provide. 

 

                Q     And just a last follow up.  Do you think that the recent advances by the Taliban make the Pakistani government more willing to accept a broader array of U.S. help?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know, Julian, that I'm able to answer that at this time.  I mean, I think that -- I think that -- that the -- that these rather aggressive operations that are now under way in response to the offensive from the Taliban is a clear recognition of the threat posed by that offensive.  And we hope that they can sustain those operations. 

 

                And you know, let's -- I feel it's always important to remind people of the fact that, you know, 3,000 Pakistani military troops have been killed or injured, in operations, on the western border of Pakistan.   

 

                They have been involved in this fight.  But the key is to sustain these operations at this tempo and to keep the militants on their heels and ultimately defeat them.   

 

                Yeah, Andrew.   

 

                Q     Geoff, does that mean that you think these operations should also continue into Swat, that they shouldn't be confined to these districts, that ultimately that agreement that they reached, with the Taliban there, is null and void?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's ultimately a judgment that they're going to have to make militarily and politically.   

 

                I think we've made no secret of the fact that we've never been a big fan of these agreements or deals that they have reached, with militants, in certain parts of the FATA.   

 

                And so whether or not they've come to a recognition that agreement is no longer sustainable or perhaps worth the paper that it's written on is something you'd have to ask them.   

 

                But clearly we saw, in the wake of the Swat agreement, this offensive towards Islamabad.  So we recognize -- well, is there a correlation between the two?  There certainly seems to be.  But ultimately I suppose they're the ones that are going to have to make that determination.   

 

                Yeah, Ann.   

 

                And then Dan, I'm sorry.  You should sit up here, Dan.   

 

                (Cross talk.)   

 

                Ann.   

 

                Q     Various military leaders have expressed some surprise, some degree of surprise, at the speed of this Taliban offensive, as you described it?  I mean, what is being noted in terms of, are they becoming more organized?   

 

                Are they looking more like some sort of organized military force that's moving?  Are they using different kinds of equipment?  I mean, what's the analysis, in the building, of what has allowed them to do this?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You know, I don't know that I've heard a great deal of military analysis about it.  I think clearly we've seen a pattern, Ann, in which when there is a lack of pressure put on the militants, in this part of Pakistan, they have shown an ability to reconstitute and to oftentimes train for future missions.   

 

                So whether it be to rest up, resupply, reconstitute, retrain and then undertake missions, is what has been the pattern, whenever there has been pressure taken off by the Pakistani military.   

 

                And so I think, you know, that's one of the fundamental problems with agreements that are reached.  If they were enforceable, and if they were -- if they actually did lead to a change in behavior on the part of the militants, I suppose they would be worth pursuing.  But instead, I think what we've seen in the past has been an attempt by the militants to use such stand-downs or agreements or pauses to reconstitute and relaunch aggressive military operations. 

 

                I think none have been -- none has been as aggressive as those that we've seen lately, in terms of moving east towards Islamabad, but we have seen this pattern before. 

 

                Yeah, Bryan -- no, no, I'm sorry, Dan.  Excuse me. 

 

                Q     On Pakistan, given -- even given these latest military operations by the Pakistani military, the situation has clearly deteriorated in pretty dramatic fashion almost on a daily basis.  Does that mean that the strategy in Afghanistan still holds, for the U.S. mission, if the circumstances are changing so markedly in Pakistan?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think it changes the strategy.  I think it reconfirms the strategy, which is that it requires, on the -- at least on -- the Pakistan side of the strategy requires, really, as the secretary has said time and time again, sustained engagement.  We have to reinforce constantly to the Pakistani government and its military that we are there for the long -- for the long run.  We are going to be there to support them, just as we're going to be there to support the Afghan government, to make sure that this does not become a platform from which to launch attacks on the American people, on our allies in Europe or on the innocent civilians of Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

 

                So I think this is more evidence of the need to sustain our commitment to the efforts of the Pakistani government and military and the efforts of the -- of the Afghan government and military. 

 

                Yeah, Barbara. 

 

                Q     You were talking a minute ago about --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- you -- everybody has me thrown off with these new seats. 

 

                Q     (Laughs.)  You were talking a minute ago about how these agreements have not worked out in the past, but yet you have hope, you  said, about this one.  What gives you guys hope?  And do you have anything -- no disrespect -- do you have anything but hope?  Is there anything -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that I have hope about -- I don't think I expressed hope about the Swat agreement, did I? 

 

                Q     Well, hope that the Pakistani offensive --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  About the operations? 

 

                Q     Yeah -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     -- that the Pakistani offensive would be sustained.  And, of course, they haven't been in the past.  So what single thing is different about this one that gives you guys hope?  Why should anybody sort of be hopeful about this one? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know, Barbara, that I have specific things to point to that say x, y or z make us more hopeful about this.  I think our hope is that the -- that the encroachment of the militants ever closer to Islamabad is yet another wake-up call that this is a very real threat not just to us and not just to our allies in Europe, but to the government and the people of Pakistan.  And it seems that, based upon the swift and very aggressive military response by the Pakistani military, that there seems to be additional recognition of that threat. 

 

                But I couldn't honestly stand up here and tell you that we have any indication whether this will be sustained over the long term.  It is our hope that it will be, and we are willing to do what is necessary and what is agreeable to the "Paks" to try to help them sustain this offensive and help them keep this momentum to keep the militants and the Taliban and the terrorists there off -- off the offensive. 

 

                Q     To follow up on -- (off mike) -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me just -- okay. 

 

                Q     -- Since the Taliban already started to withdraw from Buner last week -- a very public display of that -- and if the Pakistani military is not willing to pursue the Taliban into Swat, won't this come off simply as a symbolic show of force, perhaps to placate the United States, to show that they're trying to do something? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think, Jim, that's why I've been very cautious about our -- how I would characterize this.  I mean, I think we are hopeful that it can be sustained, and we are ready to help them do so, if they are amenable to that.  But again, all of these operations are ultimately judged by not just how effective they may be in the short term, but how effective they are in ultimately stemming this tide from the Taliban. 

 

                Q     So it's containment, essentially?  Contain them in Swat, and that's -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I'm not -- I don't -- frankly, I don't know what the Pakistani military strategy is going to be ultimately with Swat.  All I can speak to is the fact that they're clearly on the offensive right now in Buner and Dir.  And our hope is, obviously, that those operations can be sustained and ultimately the Taliban can be defeated. 

 

                Brian? 

 

                Q     On the point about being willing and able to provide more assistance to the Pakistani military, can you say whether or not there is anything different going on, either in the department or Central Command, to figure out what at this point they may need more of, what kinds of capabilities? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Sure.  Absolutely. 

 

                Q     And can you talk a little bit about that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I can't.  I mean, let me -- I've talked in some -- in some generic terms about it, but I think that, you know, obviously, it's -- trust me when I tell you that Central Command is very engaged in trying to determine -- well, I shouldn't just say Central Command. 

 

                I mean, you see it in the very high-profile trips that the chairman takes to meet with his counterparts in -- his counterpart in Pakistan.  And it takes place at many levels beneath that.  Clearly Central Command is tasked with dealing with this issue, and I know, in talking to General Petraeus, that he is very engaged in trying to figure out -- that's why he's such an advocate for this counterinsurgency fund -- in trying to figure out how we can help them in very targeted ways be much more effective in their training and their operations against insurgents.   

 

                So whether it be equipment -- there is constant analysis done on that -- whether it be night vision goggles or airlift support or intelligence platforms, all those things are constantly being evaluated.  And if the Congress were to approve the $400 million that is asked for in FY '09 supplemental, the second tranche that's up now before the Congress, obviously that money will be used for things of that nature.  

 

                I think there's another $700 million that is -- will likely be in the FY '10 or that is in the FY '10 OCO.  So you know, that's $1.1 billion that we are trying to get appropriated and used in a very targeted sense to help the Pakistanis with their counterinsurgency efforts. 

 

                Q     A quick follow-up on that. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Do you know if that -- as that process goes forward, whether it is also based on some assessment of where the Taliban is getting their weapons?  There have been some suggestions that some of their capabilities actually come from Pakistan's government; that there could be some leakage from within elements of the Pakistani military, for example, that is helping, maybe indirectly, to arm the Taliban. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I've never -- I have never heard those suggestions. I mean, obviously there have been suggestions about historical ties between intelligence service -- the intelligence service and the Taliban.  I think the secretary's spoken to that on a few occasions. And it is our hope that by again showing a commitment and trying to demonstrate our commitment to be an ally in support of the Pakistani government and people in the long term, that their -- that the -- that those elements in the intelligence services which retain a -- contacts  with the Taliban will feel less of a need to have that hedge against the possible eventuality of us leaving again, as we did after the fall -- the collapse of the Soviet Union and Pakistan's nuclear pursuits that led to the Pressler amendment, that froze us out for about a dozen years. 

 

                Q     Geoff? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yup, Joe? 

 

                Q     Do you have any information if Saudi Arabia is playing any role in dealing with the Taliban in the Swat Valley? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't, Joe.  I don't.  I don't.  I mean, I was interested to read Turki -- Prince Turki Faisal's comments in The Washington Times today, but I don't think he spoke to that. 

 

                Yeah.  Yeah, Al? 

 

                Q     Geoff, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts and the secretary's thoughts, if you know them, on the changes in this department and in U.S. national security policy during the first hundred days of the Obama administration. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Hmm.  Changes.  

 

                Q     Accomplishments. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think there's been quite a few accomplishments, in terms of -- I mean, we've charted out a way ahead in both Iraq and Afghanistan, or in Afghanistan-Pakistan.  I mean, both those were very big tasks that had to be dealt with very, very early on in the new administration, so there was an intensive effort very early on to sort of focus on Iraq and then separately focus on Afghanistan-Pakistan. 

 

                And the president was able to find what I think everybody believes to be the sweet spot in terms of the appropriate drawdown timeline of our combat forces in Iraq, so that basically 19 months after he's taken office, all combat brigades will be out of Iraq and we'll be left with a residual force of 30(,000) to 50,000 troops. 

 

                That was a tough decision and one that was accomplished after significant deliberations and consultations with the field commander, with the regional commander, with the chiefs, with the secretary, with the chairman.  And so I think we have a good -- we have a good roadmap now to follow in terms of the next couple years in Iraq. 

 

                In regards to Afghanistan-Pakistan, in some ways, you know, obviously, based upon the difference in the security situation in those two places, much harder.  And I think that review is a very comprehensive one that looks at the security side, the development side, the governance side, and -- and lays out, again, what we believe to be a much more specific and tangible way forward in terms of what we need to do in the near term in both those countries. 

 

                And right now we're in the process -- the national security folks are now working on the specific benchmarks that will ultimately gauge whether or not we are successful in that way ahead in -- in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I think they've -- they're making good progress there, and I think they should have something shortly to share with -- with everybody and for us to start measuring our accomplishments. 

 

                So I think determining the course for the U.S. military and the rest of the elements of the United States government for -- in Iraq and Afghanistan within the first -- really, I think that took place within the first 60, 70 days was a pretty significant accomplishment. 

 

                Okay, let me just do Tony.  And I'll come to you.   

 

                (Cross talk.)   

 

                Q     Now that Ashton Carter has been confirmed and in office, what's the way ahead on the tanker competition?  Will his confirmation accelerate that process?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, obviously tanker replacement is just one of many things that he's going to be dealing with, especially as we're still in the midst of the '10 budget, the QDR, the '11 budget and so forth.  But obviously that is a big priority, for the secretary, for the Air Force.  It is going to be squarely on him to help manage that process.   

 

                I think that the secretary, as you've seen, I think, in some press accounts from last week and his engagements on the Hill, before the confirmation of Dr. Carter, made it -- you know, reiterated his commitment to a fair and transparent bidding process.  Frankly that's no different than how we've tried to do all these bidding processes in the past.   

 

                Obviously we've had varying degrees of success particularly with the tanker.  We've had two failed attempts at this.  And we hope and are confident that the third, you know, with Dr. Carter's assistance, will be successful this time.   

 

                But in terms of a timeline, Tony, I think that this is something that, I think, the secretary has talked about, you know, having RFPs go out in, I think, in the summertime and hopefully get something back in about a year or be able to perhaps even award something within about a year's time.   

 

                But I don't think we're -- I think we're just in the -- I think there's been a lot of work done in terms of foundationally about this. But I think specifically we haven't been able to move out yet.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.)   

 

                What steps has the general counsel taken, to make sure that Mr. Carter doesn't inadvertently make decisions that affect his former defense contractor consultants?  He wasn't a lobbyist.  But he had a number of consultant clients.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, and that's the key distinction.  He was not a lobbyist.  So it's different than, for example, the deputy secretary. I'd look those up for you before -- I do have them handy.  I can go through the litany of them, if you want, back in the office.   

 

                But I think, I mean, fundamentally the person tasked in this building is the general counsel, to make judgments ultimately about whether -- if Dr. Carter feels as though he may be in a position where he -- it could be perceived that he is not completely -- cannot be completely fair in his rendering of judgments, on specific programs, that he has an obligation to go to the general counsel -- (inaudible) -- to make a determination, about whether or not it would be appropriate for him to engage, on that specific matter.   

 

                But we do have a few steps, and I can go through them with you. 

 

                Okay.  A couple -- let me -- yeah -- yes, I promised you -- yeah. 

 

                Q     Thank you, Geoff.  On North Korea, it is reported if and when South Korea participates -- PSI, then North Korea will regard it as an act of war.  What is your comment? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm sorry -- if they participate in the PSI? 

 

                Q     Yeah. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  For -- help me out.  PSI? 

 

                Q     PSI, the -- 

 

                Q     Proliferation Security Initiative. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, proliferation  [inaudible].  Thank you guys.  You guys are all into your lingo. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- then North Korea will regard it an act -- as an act of war?  What is your comment? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know that I have, frankly, a comment. I have not been -- have not been focused on it.  But let me take a look and I'll get back to you.  How about that?   

 

                Q     Thank you. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay. 

 

                Everybody all of a sudden has last-minute questions.  Chris. 

 

                Q     What's -- what has been asked of this office in terms of the swine flu outbreak, in terms of contingency planning?  And where does that stand right now? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that our first and foremost obligation, Chris, is to make sure that we protect the force:  The country at all times requires a healthy and capable fighting force.  And so we have contingencies in place to make sure that we have enough antibiotics [sic -antiviral] on hand to treat all of the members of our military so that they can maintain their health should they be called upon to help out in the case of a national emergency.  So that's where the first and foremost focus is. 

 

                Beyond that, whether or not there will be a need for NORTHCOM, for example.  If there were -- if this were to evolve into something that really were of national consequence, there are -- NORTHCOM has contingency plans that they've been working on -- you know, frankly, for years -- that they, I think, are poised, should it become necessary, to embark on.  But I think we're quite a ways from that being necessary. 

 

                Q     I guess my only follow-up is, I understand if, in a battle, you don't want to outlay your battle plans because you don't want to tell the enemy what you're doing.  But in this case, the only enemy is a virus. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     The virus doesn't care -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     So I -- why --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think -- I think you -- 

 

                Q     What -- how does it hurt to say what you're doing? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You also don't want to alarm -- I don't think you want to alarm the public, either.  But in terms -- I don't think there's any -- I don't know that these are terribly close-hold, but I'd have to check on precisely what it is that NORTHCOM has as part of their contingency, should there be a pandemic that required sort of that kind of response from the United States military.  But I don't have it offhand.   

 

                I don't know the rationale for not sharing it, frankly, other than perhaps unnecessarily alarming the public about an eventuality that may not be necessary.  Okay? 

 

                Q     In terms of the troops, does that mean you're sending more masks, more vaccine --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  For our troops?  No.  I think we've got stockpiles of Tamiflu and -- I think we've got 7 million treatment courses of the antiviral Tamiflu.  We've got a quarter of a million treatment courses of Relenza.  So we've got stockpiles of antiviral medications that are positioned forward in the event that they are needed for our forces overseas, too. 

 

                So, I mean, this is a global -- right now, it's manifest itself as a global virus, so we, obviously, have prepositioned things so that our troops around the world will be protected.  And those groups responsible for national defense of critical infrastructure, health care providers, are divided into priority groups or tiers.  Segments of the military are included in the first tier of the national defense groups.  Segments of our DOD families are also included in the first tier of the general population group. 

 

                So there's a national response plan at which -- under which the military is at the top of that tier, and I think military families on the civilian side are also within the first tier, should it become necessary to sort of do mass treatments in the wake of this. 

 

                But, again, I think we're a long way from -- from that --  

 

                Q     Where's the Pentagon press corps in that?  (Laughter.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'll look into that. 

 

                Barbara, and then we'll do these last --  

 

                Q     Can I just circle back on Air Force One incident to make sure I understood something? 

 

                Q     No. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I knew it was too good to be true. 

 

                Q     Indeed. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay. 

 

                Q     Okay.  So do I understand this, that in this building, in the Defense Department, no further action, no further review of the -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I do not believe there is any further action or any review under way or planned. 

 

                Q     Okay.  Then my question -- with that understanding, my question is this.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I say that, Barbara, and I was -- I can assure you that -- at an informal level that there are probably -- that there are clearly people in this department who are trying to figure out ways to ensure this never happens again.  But is there a formal review that has been tasked or mandated?  Not that I know of, and not that I believe is forthcoming. 

 

                Q     Well, the reason I ask -- and I will say, why not a formal setup by the secretary, a review, since he's well known to ask for reviews of problems?  Because the -- you say that the White House Military Office is outside of the chain of command of this building. But in fact, of course, the people who serve there are active-duty military personnel if they -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not the director. 

 

                Q     Well, they're active-duty military personnel who serve in the Military Office, who could potentially face military discipline. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes, but the director is -- listen, I'm not going to get into the construct of the office and who reports to whom.  The bottom line is this mission was not ours, and it is being -- it is being -- it is being reviewed, Barbara, by the appropriate people over at the White House.  If I have anything further for you about whether there are efforts internal to this building about it, I will certainly let you know. 

 

                I think this is one of those rare cases where we can all agree it was a mistake.  It was such an obvious mistake that I think it is -- it is virtually -- virtually impossible that it will happen again.  I think everybody in the wake of this now realizes how insensitive it was and what a mistake it was not to inform the American, or -- the American people -- the people -- the residents of New York, particularly Lower Manhattan, in advance.  But again, I think this is something that you should really address with my colleagues. 

 

                Yeah, go ahead. 

 

                Q     Denial of access to the Manas Air Base north of Afghanistan, is there any progress toward an alternate route or an alternate base that we can use? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, two-fold.  I think there's actually progress in dealing with the Kyrgyz on Manas, and so I don't think we have anything to announce there yet, but I think that we are -- have been engaged in conversations with them about extending our use of that facility.  And I think we see reason for hope there, that that can be worked out. 

 

                But simultaneously, I think we are, and have been for quite some time, looking for alternatives; have found a number of suitable ones,  in terms of -- in terms of passenger trans-loading to Afghanistan. Obviously, we've developed now this extensive northern distribution network for the transportation of non-lethal aid, non-human traffic, that will go, you know, through a number of the Central Asian nations. So I think we feel as though, between our, you know, Pakistani lines of communication, which obviously have had issues in the past but still -- there's still 70-plus percent of our supplies continue to flow through there -- and the establishment of this northern distribution network, that we've got many backups and alternatives. And I think, should it become necessary to find other bases to fly out of and trans-load our personnel into Afghanistan, I think we've got suitable alternatives within the region.  Okay? 

 

                Q     Are you saying you think you're close to a deal to reverse the Kyrgyz decision? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We hope we're getting closer. 

 

                Ann, quickly. 

 

                Q     Yeah, okay, well, just really a short follow-up on that. Other than monetary compensation, what else is, you know, sort of on the table that might -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not going to get into the -- I'm not going to get into the negotiations. 

 

                Q     Okay.  Okay, then I did have a question on the release of these photos and, to begin with, the secretary's concerns about possible backlash or negative implications when they are released. Can you talk about, you know, how the building is considering releasing those; maybe give us a sense of, you know, how graphic or, you know, serious these photos are and, you know, what steps might be taken to release them in a way that might limit that kind of backlash? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can tell you there is an extensive effort under way in this building and in Central Command and in Iraq and Afghanistan to -- and through the inter-agency, for that matter -- to determine the best way in which to -- to share these photos with the public. 

 

                I think that there is a court date, by which they have to be released, which I think is the end of May, I think, maybe the 28th.  And we are readying them for, you know, a release by that date.   

 

                I think it's important to put some sort of context behind these, because I think some of this gets conflated with some of the other, whether it be the OLC memos or the Levin report or things of that nature.  I think it gets conflated.   

 

                And you know, as far as I know, and I've yet to see the photos myself, you know, these photos first of all are at least three years old -- I think they date from 2001 to 2006 -- and that every incident depicted in them has been thoroughly investigated, and that any of the troops involved, who were found to be at fault, have been punished, and that whatever behavior that was involved here has been corrected and, we are confident, no longer goes on.   

 

                But I think, you know, you have to keep in mind.  I don't know, we probably in Iraq alone have picked up, you know, 100,000 if not hundreds of thousands of detainees, over the course of the operation.   

 

                Now, I'm not saying, you know, these are people who have been imprisoned and so forth.  But we have detained people, at some point or another, tens and thousands of detainees.  At one point in Camp Bucca alone, there were almost 30,000 detainees.   

 

                So over the course of the six years of that conflict, we have interacted a great deal with Iraqi detainees.  And you know, I think, it needs to be put in perspective that these ultimately represent a very small percentage, a minute percentage, of the overall interactions that our forces have had with detainees.   

 

                It does not in any way excuse the behavior that's depicted in these photos.  Some of it is appalling.  But I don't think it speaks to an overall manner of our forces dealing with Iraqis in detention settings.   

 

                So anyways, we are in the midst of fashioning how best to release them.  This was not, you know -- this is in response to an ACLU FOIA request.  It was not the -- ACLU has not uncovered by any means some sort of rogue detention operation or policy or anything of that nature.   

 

                By and large, these are people.  These are troops going about their day-to-day operations who have made mistakes.  And we have reported on, investigated, punished those who were involved.  And again this dates back at least three years and, we are confident, is not going on.   

 

                Yeah, last one.  We're going.   

 

                Q     I mean, are you concerned though that that context will not be understood, by Al Jazeera or that part of the world?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Sure, we're concerned.  Absolutely we're concerned. Absolutely.  Yes, yes, yes.  And that's why, I think, if you go look, I think, General Odierno, in fact did an interview, which will air tonight in -- I forget on which Arab language outlet.  He was in Dubai this week and conducted an hourlong interview.  And I think the last virtually quarter of it was focused on this.   

 

                He is very concerned about making sure the people of Iraq and throughout the region understand the context here and that this is -- this is history and that it no longer goes on and that it did not reflect an overall standard of behavior, for our forces, in Iraq or Afghanistan.   

 

                Okay, thank you all. 

 

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