United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
May 19, 2009
            MR. MORRELL: Good morning. Pleasure to see you all today. I have a few announcements, and then we'll be happy to take your questions. 
 
            First of all, I know many of you are interested in the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan and especially what the United States is doing to help hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis driven from their homes by recent military operations in Fatah. There is some news on that, including on the military front, but it will be announced a little later this morning from the White House. So I would urge you to have your colleagues over there pay close attention to those developments. 
 
            Of course, we will be available to answer any specific questions with -- regarding the military component after the announcement, so don't hesitate to ask. 
 
            The military obviously has a long and proud tradition of providing assistance to those in need. And coincidentally, this afternoon Secretary Gates will preside over the dedication of the Defense Humanitarian Relief Corridor. The Pentagon hallway features displays paying tribute to our greatest humanitarian missions, including immediately following the 2006 devastating earthquake in Pakistan, when we delivered 7,000 tons of medical supplies, food, shelter material, blankets and rescue equipment. Then, as now, our goal is to help the Pakistani government relieve the suffering of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.   
 
            Second, less than an hour from now, Secretary Gates welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Pentagon for a working luncheon. The prime minister will be greeted at the river entrance with an honor cordon and the playing of the U.S. and Israeli national anthems, a sign of our respect and close alliance with the nation of Israel. The two men are expected to follow up on their meeting with the president yesterday at the White House with a more fulsome discussion of defense matters. 
 
            Third, tomorrow Secretary Gates will conclude his testimony on the FY 2010 defense budget with an appearance before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. That hearing is scheduled to run from 12:30 to 3:00 and wraps up more than 10 hours of the secretary's testimony before the House and Senate. 
 
            And speaking of the Senate, the secretary would like to thank its members for confirming former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus as the secretary of the Navy. Secretary Mabus and five other high-ranking Defense officials were confirmed yesterday evening.   
 
            Secretary Gates is also pleased the Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for General McChrystal, Admiral Stavridis and – General Frazier-- for June the 2nd. He hopes those three outstanding officers will be quickly confirmed, so they can assume their important new commands as soon as possible.   
 
            Finally on Thursday, the secretary will travel to New York City, where he will receive the Intrepid Freedom Award during a dinner onboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.   
 
            The next morning, he will pay a visit to the USS Iwo Jima, as part of New York's Fleet Week celebration. He will then travel to Maine, where he will meet with deploying sailors at Naval Air Station Brunswick and then tour the shipbuilding facilities at nearby Bath Iron Works.   
 
            He will conclude this three-day trip with a stop at West Point where, on Saturday, he will deliver the commencement address at the United States Military Academy. And with all that housekeeping out of the way, I'll be happy to take your questions.   
 
            Ann.   
 
            Q     Secretary Gates has said several times that he expected to see a raft of NIMBY legislation, in Congress, related to plans to close Guantanamo. Now that some of that is actually coming to pass, what is his reaction to Congress's reaction to plans to close the prison? And is the administration timeline of one year in any jeopardy?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I have not frankly, Ann, had a conversation with him, in the wake of some legislative developments you've referred to. Obviously when he testified, over the last couple weeks, he's talked about his expectation of their perhaps being as many as 535 different amendments or pieces of legislation, to try to prohibit detainees from being moved to the districts of representatives up on the Hill.   
 
            So, but I haven't had a chance to talk to him since any of that has been introduced. With regards to whether or not the January timeline, the one-year timeline that the president has given his team, as part of the executive orders he signed in early-January, I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy.   
 
            As far as I can tell, everything remains on track for action to be taken, with regards to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, by the timeline -- according to the timeline prescribed by the president in the executive order.   
 
            But I think, you know, this -- the people who are most intimately involved in that, including our general counsel, the deputy secretary as well, are in the midst of, you know, near-constant meetings with their counterparts at the -- at Justice, at State, in the White House, on these very, very complicated matters.   
 
            And I can't tell you where they stand at this point, but I think I would look ahead to later this week, when the president is likely to address this and other subjects in a speech, I believe. 
 
            Yeah? 
 
            Q     A follow-up on Guantanamo, closing of Guantanamo: Is the Pentagon studying, among other options, a transfer of the Guantanamo detainees to Bagram? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I do not believe that is something that we are considering at this point now. I will -- and I -- this is a slippery slope whenever begin to discuss what we may be considering. But I have not heard that as a consideration.   
 
            Yeah, Joe? 
 
            Q     Geoff, today Iran's supreme leader, Khamenei, said that the U.S. military is financing operations to undermine the Islamic republic. Do you have any comment on that?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't, other than that it's terribly ironic, given the fact that the Iranians continue to provide financing and weaponry to undermine our efforts to stabilize the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. We continue to find, especially in Iraq, caches of Iranian-supplied weapons. EFPs of varying sizes were discovered as recently as last week in operations in Iraq, large numbers of them, in addition to the fact that we continue to see connections between terrorist groups in Iraq and training that they received in Iran.   
 
            I should say the same is true on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border, where we continue to see, you know, foreign fighters flowing across the Syrian side of the border. 
 
            So I find it ironic that the Iranians would be accusing us of meddling when in fact over the last six, seven years in Iraq they have consistently been trying to undermine the peace and stability that we are trying to bring to the Iraqi people there. 
 
            Q     So are you denying the accusation by the Iranians? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: What was the accusation? 
 
            Q     That the U.S. military is financing efforts to destabilize Iran. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Yeah. That's not to my knowledge that we -- undertaking anything of that sort. 
 
            Yeah, David? 
 
            Q     Can you give us an update on everything that the Pentagon is doing in anticipation of the president making good on his pledge to repeal "don't ask, don't tell"? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: To -- I'm sorry? 
 
            Q     To repeal "don't ask, don't tell." 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Everything the Pentagon is doing in anticipation the president will repeal -- will ask to repeal -- well, as far as I know, at this point, David, there has been no request made by the president to the Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." 
 
            This building is operating under the assumption -- as it has been, you know, since 1993 -- that "don't ask, don't tell" is the law of the land. And we are committed to enforcing the law of the land. 
 
            As you know, in conversations with the secretary, he has -- as well as the chairman -- have had conversations with the president about this issue, and those are -- I think that both men have described those conversations as sort of initial conversations in their early stages. They've both acknowledged that there is a lot on their plate right now, and they are aware of where the president wants to go on this issue. But I don't think that there is any sense of any immediate developments in the offing on efforts to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." But I'd really refer you to the White House in terms of whether they want to push that legislation. 
 
            Q     This building rarely waits to begin planning until it's -- we see a formal request. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I do not believe there are any plans under way in this building for some expected-but-not-articulated anticipation that "don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed. This building views "don't ask, don't tell" as the law of the land. Until Congress acts otherwise, it's -- we can't willy-nilly choose which laws we wish to abide by and those we don't. So until there is a change of the law, we are operating in accordance with that law.   
 
            And to my knowledge, David, there are no internal planning efforts under way in anticipation of a change in that law. And this would be dealt with, if there were such a thing, at the very highest levels of this department, by the secretary, by the chairman. And you've heard both those men on this count. They've had initial conversations with the president, but I think that's the extent of it at this point. 
 
            Q     Geoff, just to follow on that, one of the first logical steps there would be to take the temperature of the military community, sort of survey the military commanders, find out what they would suggest or feel about such a change. Is the Pentagon conducting any surveys of -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't think the Pentagon, per se, is conducting such surveys. If individual commanders are trying to get a feel of where their services is -- are on this issue, I would direct you to the services for those kinds of specific questions.   
 
            But I can tell you, the secretary has not asked his service chiefs, his service secretaries, his combatant commanders -- anything of that sort -- to sort of start to do, you know, polling on that matter. I don't think this is a question of polling anyway. I mean, this is a question of where the president wants to lead the country on this issue, and it'll be a determination made by him as to if and when he wishes to pursue this matter with the United States Congress. 
 
            Yeah. Go ahead, (Jim). 
 
            Q     Geoff, if Iraqi elections are postponed a month, what does that do to the timetable for bringing troops back? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I haven't had a chance to get an -- get a -- an update from General Odierno and his staff on how this impacts their plans. Obviously, they're in the process -- General Odierno was back in the states last week; had met with the chiefs to sort of lay out his planning for the drawdown. 
 
            Obviously, a lot of the planning was predicated on the notion that he wanted to keep the maximum footprint possible through the most volatile time period on the horizon, being the elections and the transfer of power that would -- would follow, potentially. So this could well impact his planning, but I have not gotten a sense from him yet if this does significantly change, you know, the drawdown timeline that he's proposing. We'll have to check on that. 
 
            Yeah, Jeff? 
 
            Q     Senator Joe Lieberman has offered to temporarily increase the Army's authorized end strength to 30,000. Has he communicated this to the secretary? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, he did -- I mean, in the sense that the secretary testified before Senator Lieberman last week, and Senator Lieberman expressed that to him during the Q&A session that they had there. I don't believe that the secretary or the -- or General Casey believes that an expansion of the end strength of the Army is required at this point.   
 
            So I -- you know, we appreciate Senator Lieberman's support of the Army, and making sure we are fully staffed, but I think that the belief of the chief is at this point that he has the manpower he needs. He got there faster than anticipated, and now he's working on, sort of, being able to draw down the stop-loss rules, get more deployable people downrange, and that -- there's tension there, but I don't think he thinks the answer is to increase end strength. Obviously, that comes -- what comes with that are a lot of additional costs, particularly long-range costs. 
 
            Q     I'll check the testimony today. I think this came up again. I think General Casey may have reacted a little more favorably this time. Is that something that's even possible to budget for, an extra 30,000 soldiers? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, it's always -- I suppose it's always possible if money is provided for -- for such a thing. What I think that's always difficult, Jeff, is that there are often unanticipated costs associated with growing the end strength, particularly if, over the long-term, there are huge additional costs.   
 
            As you know, our health care bill, for example, is $47 billion in the FY '10 budget; our personnel costs, I think, account for almost $180 billion of that budget. So there are extraordinary costs associated with growing our force, and I think that the secretary is not convinced that that is the answer to -- you know, to some of the stress and strain that the force is feeling right now. I think he believes that, you know, through better management, through drawing down in Iraq and being mindful of force levels in Afghanistan, that in the coming months we'll be able to, sort of, strike the right balance, a better balance, between deployment and dwell time. 
 
            Q     Geoff? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. 
 
            Q     I wanted to ask you a couple of things about -- going back to Pakistan for a minute, because you brought it up. You said at the beginning that the humanitarian relief that's going to be discussed by the White House you said was to help the hundreds of thousands, in your words, driven out of their homes by military operations. Is it still acceptable to the administration, to the Pentagon, to the U.S. military, to continue to see that, in fact, hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, in your words, driven out by military operations? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Is it still acceptable? What's -- I don't quite get the question. Do we think it's appropriate that military operations are underway in the FATA to go after terrorists who are trying to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Pakistan? I think that this government is fully supportive of the Pakistani military's efforts to try to bring a level of stability and peace to their country. Absolutely. 
 
            Now, is it -- do we also believe and do we stand at the ready to help them alleviate the pain and suffering associated with the inevitable displacement of people during intense military operations? Absolutely. And that's why we are being very forward-leaning in offering assistance to the -- to the Pakistani government. 
 
            But we in no way are critical of their intensified military operations in Buner, Dir and now Swat. This is what we have been pressing for and encouraging for months now. And now they are in the midst of what arguably is the largest military operation ever undertaken by the Pakistani military, and they have shown a persistence in waging it, and we want to be nothing but encouraging of them continuing to do so. 
 
            Q    Is there any way that you guys see to do it without driving, as you said, hundreds of thousands of people out -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, Barbara, I think you see as -- driving people from their homes as the end. The end is to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. And so people are encouraged to leave war zones, so that they do not become unwitting victims of the Pakistani military's efforts to go after terrorists who have shown complete and utter disregard for the safety and well-being of their neighbors and other innocent civilians in their midst. 
 
            So that is -- the effort to move people out of their homes and out of harm's way is about protecting them, ultimately. 
 
            Now, does it incur some immediate hardship in terms of you're not under your own roof, you are displaced? They are setting up refugee camps; they are asking for international assistance; they are providing the security forces necessary to protect those camps and ensure the well-being of the people who will be temporarily residing there. 
 
            Q     Can I also ask you for an update on Pentagon drone operations?   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Probably not. 
 
            Q     Well, let's hear what you have to say when I ask the question.   
 
            MR. MORRELL: Okay. 
 
            Q     It has now been widely acknowledged that the U.S. military, earlier this year -- the military, Pentagon -- flew drone operations over Pakistan's border region in cooperation with the Pakistanis to collect reconnaissance information and show it to them. Can you talk about why the U.S. military is now flying drone operations, or did fly drone operations, over Pakistan? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I can't. I know you say it's widely acknowledged. I don't know how widely anything has been acknowledged on that count. I don't think it's appropriate for me at this podium to discuss operations that may or may not be taking place in conjunction with the Pakistani military. I just think it's not my place.   
 
            So I'm going to refrain from doing so, other than to sort of, in a general sense, say that we have for quite some time now made it very clear that we are willing to help the Pakistani military in all manner of ways to combat this -- this cancer in their midst, the terrorists who preside and have enjoyed up until now a safe haven in the FATA, in the tribal areas.   
 
            So we are willing and able to assist them in almost all manner of ways that they wish, and -- but obviously, there is a certain discomfort on the part of the Pakistanis with too large a U.S. presence in that part of the world, and so we respect their wishes. 
 
            Q     Have they accepted any offers yet? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, we obviously do -- we've talked publicly about a lot of things we do with them, including a training mission -- 
 
            Q     Have they accepted an expansion of that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: An expansion of the training mission? I don't know that we've had -- that we've had a considerable expansion. I think it remains a relatively small operation. If it's expanded, it's expanded, you know, by onesies and twosies, perhaps. But it remains a relatively modest operation, but one which we would be happy to expand were they to be comfortable with a larger American footprint. 
 
            Q     Can I just clarify one thing that you said to Joe in your Iraq answer, just on the Iranian EFPs? Were those, in fact -- what was recently found, as recently as last week, was that an old stockpile? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I think it's always difficult to tell. It's always difficult to tell how long they've been around. But I think it's telling that we continue to find them.   
 
            So whether or not they were -- they were particularly effective in flooding the battlefield a long time ago and those stockpiles have remained hidden, I think that's doubtful given the fact that we've been very robust in our operations. But I think the view of the commanders is, although they can't pinpoint the exact time at which those EFPs were infiltrated into Iraq, I think the sense is that they were likely recent. 
 
            Q     Geoff? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. 
 
            Q     General McChrystal's nomination suggests that there will be some level of reassessment of the Af-Pak strategy as we know it. Different people have hinted that that's -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Military strategy. 
 
            Q     Correct. A, has his nomination been formally made? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: It has. (I just ?) announced the confirmation hearings. I think it was made on Friday, as a matter of fact. He and General Rodriguez and the secretary's new senior military adviser also was made then as well. 
 
            Q     So, what's the sense of how long that process will take? And can you just speak to the extent to which new leadership on the ground will shape or influence the big Af-Pak that was, you know, obviously, released a month or so ago? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: How long it will take to get them confirmed? Well, I mean, their hearing is June 2nd. I mean, the secretary had actually hoped to have them confirmed by the Memorial Day recess. That's obviously not going to happen. We're pleased, though, that they're going to take it up right when they get back. So, hopefully by week's end they can be confirmed and get downrange within a matter of a week or two. I mean, the hope is to have these guys on the job as soon as possible. 
 
            Now, how long before they're able to establish their new military strategy? I mean, I think the secretary was asked about this last Monday, what he expects their new military strategy to be. And I think that's what they are charged with determining. Obviously, in the broader sense it's COIN. It's a robust COIN operation to protect the civilian population: clear, hold and build areas; target terrorists and protect the civilian population.   
 
            But as to how specifically General McChrystal is going to go about deploying that overall strategy and General Rodriguez is tactically going to implement it, I think those are things that they've got to determine once they hit the ground. 
 
            They're clearly doing a lot of thinking about it now. General McKiernan -- McCrystal, though, has a -- has a full-time job right now, which is also being the staff director for the Joint Staff. General Rodriguez still has his full-time job of being the secretary's military assistant. But I can tell you, seeing them, they -- they are working late at night and trying to dedicate as much time as they can to fashioning what they are going to implement once they hit the ground. 
 
            Q     Would you characterize the Af-Pak as like a baseline thing, that they're now going to expand and put specifics to, or do you see it -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Af-Pak is -- I mean, the Af-Pak policy that the president announced, you know, a month or so ago was sort of a whole- of-government approach to dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think, as you recall then, most of it was targeted at sort of increasing civilian support to the mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There really wasn't a whole lot articulated on the military front, except for the fact that we are going to be increasing the number of forces there and that the effort is fundamentally one of counterinsurgency. I think the details of how we're going to implement this new COIN strategy, according to Stan McChrystal, are to be determined once they hit the ground. 
 
            Yeah, Courtney. 
 
            Q     I know you said that the details on Pakistan humanitarian relief come out of the White House. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yes. 
 
            Q     But can you give us any specifics about military involvement at all, what --  
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, let me -- I mean, the --  
 
            Q     If they're making an announcement now, it's probably already made, so can -- you won't be getting out ahead of anyone if you just tell us now. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Unless they're very long-winded. I don't know. Did they start late? Do we even know? 
 
            My understanding is -- you check, Bryan and we'll see if I'm stepping on the secretary of State's toes. I -- I'm smart enough not to do that. (Laughter.) 
 
            Let's come back to your question and we'll buy some time. Al. 
 
            Q     Geoff, on the Farah province civilian casualties, are there any new details or any new U.S. version of events? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: What I know, Al, is that -- is that President Karzai and Ambassador Eikenberry went down to Farah I think earlier today and they have since returned to Kabul. And I don't believe we've gotten a readout yet on what -- what they saw. I would tell you that I think initially -- and this is initially; we haven't had a -- this report has not been completed yet. But I think initially it looks as though the close air support that was provided to the Afghan security forces -- and keep in mind, this was an Afghan security force operation to go after terrorists who had beheaded innocent Afghan civilians -- so an Afghan-initiated operation which required, at their request, close air support from U.S. forces. The initial indication from things looks as though the close air support was very measured, and that there was a great deal of care to ensure that it was -- that it was proportional to the threat faced by the forces on the ground. 
 
            But that is an initial assessment at this point. And I think that General Petraeus has assigned a -- I think a major general to conduct an investigation for him. And I think, as I said, that President Karzai and Ambassador Eikenberry will no doubt also weigh in on this. 
 
            Q     There's a report that there's video from U.S. aircraft that shows the Taliban forces, first of all, still in the village when some witnesses say that they had fled the village, but also that they ran into houses and then the houses were hit with bombs or other ordnance. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I'm not going to get into what our -- we do have gun-camera video that's being analyzed. I'm not going to get into descriptions of it before this is -- beyond what I've said here, which is that it appears that the close air support that was provided was -- was limited -- limited and proportional to the threat that was faced on the ground. 
 
            Q     Were bombs put on houses that the Taliban fled into? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to go beyond where I've gone at this point. I think really this is something that should be fundamentally addressed from -- from Kabul by our commanders there. 
 
            I mean, this is, unfortunately, the sad reality of what we face in Afghanistan from the Taliban. We face an opponent that shows complete and utter disregard for human life; that's willing to behead innocent civilians; that's willing to put other innocents in harm's way so that they can advance a propaganda campaign and paint us as the -- as the aggressor, as the one who does not care for the well-being of the -- of the Afghan people. 
 
            That is -- that couldn't be further from the truth. And regardless of who is to blame for the particular deaths in Farah, we feel terrible about it. We regret that any innocents have been lost in Farah or any other scene of a battle in Afghanistan. But I think it's -- we have to always remind ourselves who it is here that takes great care to avoid civilian casualties, and who doesn't care whether they happen or not. This military more than any other military in the history of the world has taken measures to reduce civilian casualties. And our opponent, perhaps more than almost any enemy that we've faced in modern times, shows complete and utter disregard. 
 
            Yeah, Mike. 
 
            Q     Geoff, can you give us some kind of advance on what the secretary and Netanyahu are going to talk about today? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I really -- I mean, I'm happy to try to talk to you afterwards. I mean, I think you're welcome to come by the office. I mean, I think we're going to -- they're going to discuss the range of defense issues that -- that the U.S. and Israel normally talk about. I mean that, you know, whether it be -- 
 
            Q     Iran? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I'm sure -- I'm sure Iran. Just as it was a discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama yesterday, I'm sure it will be a conversation between Secretary Gates and Prime Minister Netanyahu. I'm sure that arms sales and ensuring Israel's qualitative edge in the region will remain a discussion. I'm sure missile defense in the region will be a part of that discussion. I'm sure the Middle East peace process will be a part of that discussion. I wouldn't be surprised if Syria were a part of that discussion. Smuggling into Gaza will likely be a part of that discussion. But we can talk afterwards to see if the things we think will be a part of the discussion actually do come up. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     May I have a follow-up to that, to his question. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Okay. 
 
            Q     Is the military option in regards to Iran off the table no matter what the Israelis say? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Is the military option -- well, I think this government has been consistent about one thing, that no options are off the table. However, it is clearly the preference of this president and this secretary of Defense to reach out and try to engage Iran, and try to diplomatically and economically persuade them not to pursue their nuclear weapons program. That is the -- that is the preferred course of dealing with this -- the threat posed by their pursuit of nuclear weapons. So nothing is ever off the table, but it's not something that we prefer to be pursuing at this point. 
 
            Yeah, Steve and then -- 
 
            Q     Geoff, speaking of nuclear weapons, in Pakistan there's a report that Special Operations forces have a contingency plan, were they to need to, to go in and secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons. I don't expect you'll have a great amount of detail on that, but if you could, I wanted to throw it out there. 
 
            And also, what's your level of concern about the security of the nuclear weapons in Pakistan? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: This seems to be a constant question, and no matter who's up at this podium they seem to get it. And I, frankly, Steve, don't have anything to elaborate on the answers that have been provided already, perhaps best articulated by the chairman and reiterated by the secretary when they said they are comfortable with the protocols the Pakistani military has in place to ensure the security of their nuclear arsenal. 
 
            So you know, if they -- I would not want to elaborate beyond what they've said. They are comfortable with the protocols, and that's where I'd -- I'll leave it. 
 
            Q     Could there be some contingency plan to secure the weapons? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, if you believe David Martin, we have contingency plans for everything. So you know, frankly -- 
 
            Q     Except don't ask, don't tell. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Except don't ask, don't tell. (Laughter.) 
 
            So, I, frankly, don't know. 
 
            I mean, listen, we are -- we are comfortable with their security measures, and I'm sure that our planners take whatever requisite action is required to ensure that -- that -- that the arsenal in a country that is obviously in the midst of a great deal -- that finds itself with a great deal of challenges right now, that they have some visibility on where such weapons are located. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     Can I just come back on -- on Iran? Do you expect the secretary to specifically raise with the prime minister U.S. concerns about or admonitions against an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian nuclear facility? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't think I want to elaborate beyond what I have on what we expect. If you want to come back to me afterwards, Ann, I can maybe tell you if such things did come up and what the -- what the secretary did or didn't say. I can't promise that because I want to see what comes of this meeting, but I don't want to prejudge what may or may not take place. 
 
            Q     How long is it supposed to last? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: One hour. 
 
            Yeah, Tony. 
 
            Q     Quick budget question. Tomorrow's the last of his four testimonies before congressional committees. What decisions does the secretary now feel are going to be the most difficult to sustain of the major programs he announced on April 6th? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: What decisions are the most difficult to sustain? I think -- you know, I don't want to -- you're asking -- 
 
            Q     (Off mike.) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, you're asking me to predict, and in a way, negotiate with him. You know, I offer to you what he thinks would be the most likely to run into trouble, it sort of allows us to play this game in public. 
 
            Listen, I think he is confident, Tony, that the budget he has submitted to the Congress is the appropriate one to support our national security interests around the globe -- that it provides the right balance between the need for preparations against potential near-term -- near-term -- or near-peer aggressors in the future versus counterinsurgency capabilities that we need here and now. 
 
            I mean, I think he comes from out of this whole -- this whole process -- out of the last two weeks and, as you mentioned, four hearings -- with the feeling that he's made not only the right budgetary decisions, but also the right arguments for why those are necessary. I think he walks away from the hearings, you know, feeling relatively confident that -- that he's been able to impress upon members the need for the kind of reform that he is advocating in the Defense Department's budget. 
 
            Q     I'll give you one example. There's been a lot of pushback on the C-17 decision to cut -- to stop production. Is -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: There weren't C-17s -- I mean, what were the -- what were they -- what did they add to the supplemental? 
 
            Q     (Off mike) -- buy more than the 205 -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Two hundred and five, yeah. 
 
            Q     -- under contract now. There was a lot of member questions and there's been letters. In your conversations with the secretary, is he rethinking that decision? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Not at all. Honestly, I don't -- the secretary, I don't feel, has any -- he's -- there is no remorse, there's no regret, there's no sense of I woulda/coulda/shoulda. I think he feels, with each passing day, more convinced that the budget recommendations he made were the right ones on all counts. 
 
            And in terms of -- you know -- you know, listen, C-17s are at least in the fight. You know, they are at least -- they have -- they have an active role in the campaigns we are waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. 
 
            F-22s, for example, are not in the fight. So I think if -- and I think as the supplemental even called for, there were additional C-17s that were -- that were -- that were added in the supplemental. I don't think the secretary's going to lose sleep over a couple more C- 17s in the supplemental. He doesn't think they are necessary because if we take additional C-17s, the Congress may be providing us with the money to buy those planes, but the long-term sustainability costs -- the operation costs, the training costs for those additional aircrafts and additional crews -- is money that we -- that has to come out of our budget elsewhere. And if it's excess capacity -- it's capacity in excess of our need -- then it's money wasted, in his estimation. 
 
            Money is scarce these days, even in a budget that -- that totals more than half-a-trillion dollars. And so with each thing that we are mandated to buy or given that is in excess of our capacity, it means we have to take money out of something else we do need. So -- but at least the -- at least the C-17s are providing airlift in the conflicts we are currently engaged. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     Who is the secretary's new senior military adviser? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: He has asked for -- or he has -- he has asked the president, the president has nominated to receive a third star Joe Kernan I believe is his name. He is a Navy SEAL, I think currently assigned to SOUTHCOM. But he is a Navy SEAL, and who, with all luck, will be coming onboard shortly after he's hopefully confirmed in early June. 
 
            Q     Can you answer a quick question at all about -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I mean, I think, as I understand it from a military perspective, Courtney, I think the initial couple of flights -- I think C-17 flights, Tony, will be heading to Pakistan tomorrow. Onboard those planes you will have, I think, MREs, but specific to -- to Islamic custom they'll be halal meals. And you'll have also on there I believe a number of water trucks, and I think tents. 
 
            Q     Are they Buffaloes? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't know if they're Buffaloes. 
 
            Q/MR.
 
             : I think they are. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Okay, Buffaloes. And then tents to provide shelter for displaced persons. And they will have -- they are capable of having environmental controls as well, so air conditioning. But I think those will be purchased in-country. We're trying to get as much economic investment in-country as possible rather than buy all this stuff here and ship it over there. So I think, in terms of generators and maybe even the air conditioning, that will be bought in-country. 
 
            Q/MR.
 
             : (Off mike) -- water trucks. 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Water trucks. 
 
            Q     Where are -- 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Water trucks. 
 
            Q     Where are the C-17s coming from? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: I don't have that handy, but we can look it up right afterwards. 
 
            Q     So is he power-sharing, or -- (off mike)? (Laughter.) 
 
            MR. MORRELL: All right. I think we've now sunken to as low as we're going to get. 
 
            Yeah. 
 
            Q     On that? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Yeah. 
 
            Q     How much of an opportunity is this relief seen in Pakistan to make some friends by the U.S.? 
 
            MR. MORRELL: Well, I don't -- you know, listen, we don't provide relief -- relief for the purpose of winning -- winning friends. We provide relief because it's the right thing to do. We see people in harm's way, people hurting, and it is the natural instincts of the American people to reach out and to what we can to help people in need. Especially a nation as rich and as privileged as we are, when we see those less privileged and who are suffering it is our natural instinct to want to help. And that's what the fundamental purpose for this mission is, just as it is for all of our humanitarian missions around the world. 
 
            If there is an ancillary benefit in which people can see the true colors of the United States in that region, because they've been distorted in the propaganda campaigns of the Taliban and al Qaeda and others, and can see Americans for who we truly are -- which is a caring and helpful people -- that is -- that is a positive benefit, no doubt about it. But that is not the motivating factor for why we provide aid. 
 
            Thank you.
 
     (C) COPYRIGHT 2009, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE.NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
 
     UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
 
     FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
 
     FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL CARINA NYBERG AT 202-347-1400.
 

Additional Links

Stay Connected