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

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
June 08, 2009

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon.

 

                Q     Hello.

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Good to see you all, especially after being away for a few weeks.  Just a few scheduling announcements, and then I'll be glad to take your questions. 

 

                First, tomorrow morning, Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen testify before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.  The two-hour hearing, which we expect to be their last in this budget rollout, is scheduled to begin at 10:30.   

 

                Second, tomorrow evening the secretary departs for the Netherlands, where he will spend all of Wednesday and part of Thursday in Maastricht, meeting with defense ministers from troop-contributing nations in southern Afghanistan. 

 

                On Thursday afternoon, he will then fly over to Brussels, where he will participate in the quarterly meeting of NATO defense ministers.   

 

                They will discuss a range of organizational and security issues confronting the alliance.  But as you might expect, the NATO operations in Afghanistan will likely dominate their discussions.   

 

                Third and finally the secretary returns to Washington, D.C., on Friday evening and then early Saturday morning heads out to Washington State where later that afternoon, he will deliver the commencement address at the University of Washington, which I believe is an open press event, although I will not be heading out there myself.   

 

                I think that's it.   

 

                Ann.   

 

                Q     What can you tell us about the status of the investigation into the May 4th incident, in Farah province, in Afghanistan?  Where do you -- where does the investigation stand?  And to what degree has the inquiry found U.S. forces culpable?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The inquiry stands -- I think it's wrapped up.  It is being briefed to a number of people within this building.  I think the chairman was briefed on it last week.  The secretary was briefed on it this morning by Brigadier General Thomas, who was the investigative officer in charge.   

 

                I think CENTCOM, who has commissioned the investigation, will ultimately determine how the findings will be rolled out.  So I don't know that I can share them with you here today.   

 

                I can tell you that having sat in on the briefing the secretary got that this incident was exhaustively investigated.  This briefing, in fact, the secretary took today, I think, had been scheduled for half an hour.  It went one hour and had to be rushed to conclusion, because they had many, many details to share with him.   

 

                What it appeared to me as though was that the personnel involved took extraordinary care, in tracking the militants that they had come under attack from.  As you know, this was originally an Afghan unit that came in contact with Taliban, in Farah, and required backup from a Marine unit.   

 

                That unit came in and over the next several hours beat back this attack, killing several dozen Taliban in the process, and required some close air support, to ultimately prevail.   

 

                So I think, as was noted, I think, in some of the reports that have come out preliminarily, about the investigation, that there were some problems with some tactics, techniques and procedures or some -- the way in which close air support was supposed to have been executed, in this case, such that at least with one of the aircraft involved, the B-1 bomber, that plane because of how it takes its bombing routes had to break away from positive ID of their target, at one point, to make its elongated approach.   

 

                That is sort of the fundamental complaint that was rendered, I believe, by this investigation.   

 

                But I think what they found is that the numbers in terms of Taliban killed and civilians who perished in this attack are very similar to those that the Afghan -- some of the Afghan defense officials believe are accurate.   

 

                But I'm going to really leave it to the -- to CENTCOM and their team there, and General Thomas, to figure out how they ultimately present this final report to you -- although I can tell you it's exhaustive and that it looks as though the guys on the ground who were involved in this incident took great pains to limit civilian casualties, to target those who would attack them, but in the process of this bombing run, it looks as though they had to break away from the target at least for a period and there's no way to determine whether or not that had anything to do with the fact that civilian casualties did incur in this incident, but they did note that as one of the problems associated with how this all took place. 

 

                Yeah? 

 

                Q     What about the early allegations that the Taliban had killed some of the civilians initially?  What were the findings on that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, I don't want to get into all their findings. I mean, obviously, this is all prompted by the fact -- or by the allegation that some former government of Afghanistan officials had been beheaded by the Taliban.  Afghan forces wanted to undertake an operation against the Taliban who were responsible for the beheadings; asked for assistance from us; we provided a quick-reaction force in the event they got in trouble.  It turns out they did and the Marine unit responded to back them up, and the events evolved from there.   

 

                You're talking about the allegation as to whether or not the Taliban forced people into their homes?  I'm going to let them speak to that when they ultimately release the findings of this investigation. 

 

                Q     What were the total civilian casualties?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, I'm going to let them speak to the final numbers.  But they were greatly outnumbered by the Taliban killed in this incident.   

 

                Yeah, Tom.  Only because you have proprietary interest here.  Go ahead. 

 

                Q     Yeah, after the briefing today, did the secretary comment on a desire to tighten up the TTPs or change the rules at all?  Is CENTCOM looking at that?  Is the Air Force and the Central Command looking at that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, it ran rather long, and he had to head to another meeting.  I think General McChrystal, who is -- who's taking over and who spoke, I think, at length about this in his confirmation hearing last week, talked about his desire to make sure that we get a better hold of the civilian casualty problem in Afghanistan.  And I think the secretary has every confidence that General McChrystal is precisely the guy to put this in a better place. 

 

                We have taken a number of measures, as you know, to greatly restrict our use of close air support as it is.  But I think General McChrystal is desirous of finding a way to further reduce the number of civilian casualties we incur. 

 

                And I -- you know, I can only point to the numbers that the secretary has just as a constant reminder of what we're dealing with here.  And since the beginning of this year, civilian casualties in Afghanistan are down 40 percent, whereby American casualties and coalition -- that of our coalition partners and Afghan security forces have shot up 75 percent. 

 

                So we are taking extraordinary care.  But we are still finding ourselves in -- involved in incidents in which there are civilian casualties.  And we are constantly looking at ways to try to limit and ultimately, hopefully, avoid them.  But you know, we are, after all, involved in a -- in a -- in a war that is -- that is difficult and oftentimes confusing.  And I think we can never -- I would be foolish to stand up here and say that we'll ultimately eliminate civilian casualties, but we are going to make every effort we can to reduce them. 

 

                Yeah, Jennifer. 

 

                Q     Geoff, why would you ever be using a B-1 bomber for close air support?  What size bombs were they dropping? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, we use an array of aircraft in support of our troops on the ground.  I think F-18s were involved earlier in the incident.  Eventually, they had to come off.  This is an incident that went over several hours and requires a number of aircraft to come in. Not one aircraft could do it for the amount of time that this lasted. 

 

                And so I think -- you know, I would direct you to the Air Force or direct you to -- to Afghanistan to speak from a tactical perspective about why they deployed which aircraft at which time. 

 

                But I think, given the amount of time this entire incident lasted, it required calling upon available aircraft to provide the close air support the troops on the ground needed. 

 

                Yeah, Joe. 

 

                Q     I had a question on Guantanamo. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, let's finish this up. 

 

                Q     Okay. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Can you just specify, was there any other incident or part of this incident where the investigator found fault?  Or was it all about the B-1's actions in this? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You know, I think I've spoken probably more than is fair to the investigator and to CENTCOM in terms of them determining when they ultimately and how they're ultimately going to roll this out.  So I'm going -- I'm going to leave it there for now, Andrew. I'm sorry about that.  But I'm sure they will share with you in greater detail all of their findings. 

 

                Nancy, on this? 

 

                Q     Yeah.  Has General McChrystal been briefed on this report? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  General McChrystal was a part of all -- all these briefings, yes.  He was in the room this morning, and I'm sure he was there with -- with the chairman last week, as well. 

 

                Yeah, (Andrew ?). 

 

                Q     Did -- did the B-1 hit the wrong house, or had the occupants of the house changed in the interim? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, as I said, there's no indication that -- that the B-1 breaking off from positive ID on its target resulted in the civilian casualties.  That was not part of the briefing that we received.  It was just noted as one of the problems associated with these events, not that it was the cause of the civilian casualties. 

 

                Q     So did they determine what the cause was? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, I'm going to let them speak to -- speak to the incident. 

 

                Q     And what about the video?  Is that going to be released as well? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know what their determination has -- is going to be on that front.  I could tell you that video was a part of the presentation that was given to the secretary today. 

 

                Barbara. 

 

                Q     I just have one follow-up, but then I do have a question when you come back around on a different subject. 

 

                By virtue of you saying that the crew took -- I think your words were -- "great care," have you foreclosed -- are you foreclosing, then, any possibility of charges or further investigation of these people? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  That's -- 

 

                Q     Is that off the table?  What is the next step? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't -- I don't preclude that.  That's a chain-of-command issue.  But I -- I got no sense from -- from anything I heard today that charges are imminent or -- or warranted in this case. 

 

                Q     Is the matter then considered closed, or does it go to the next step? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'd let CENTCOM speak to this, but I did not get any sense that there would be follow-on beyond this -- beyond General McChrystal taking additional measures once he hits the ground to determine how we can do a better job with regards to civilian casualties. 

 

                Q     (And will you take ?) another round of questions -- (off mike)? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                That's it on this? 

 

                Q     Pakistan? 

 

                Q     Guantanamo? 

 

                Q     North Korea? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead. 

 

                Q     What's the Pentagon's assessment of the success the Pakistan army's had in the Swat Valley at this point in their offensive? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I -- you know, I think we've -- it's been, what, three or four weeks now, if not longer.  I think I spoke to you last three weeks ago, as hard as that is to believe, and I think we were at least a week or two into it then.  So maybe it's been five or so weeks since this operation has been under way. 

 

                I think we are greatly heartened by the fact that it has gone on as long as it has.  I mean, one of the key things we were looking for in terms of Pakistani military operations is sustainability.  Clearly, this operation has been sustained, and in doing so I think they've enjoyed great success. 

 

                So we are -- we are pleased.  We were encouraged.  And we are hoping that the -- that the offensive continues to the point that these militants in this region are defeated.  And we are working with the Paks to provide -- with the Pakistanis, rather, to provide them with whatever they need, within reason, to -- to ultimately prevail in these efforts. 

 

                Q     Quick follow-up.  Are you encouraging the Pak army to move now into the North and South Waziristan areas, to actually go after al Qaeda?  Are they sustaining this operation to the point where you think they're ready to do that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, listen, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to get into what our conversations are with the Pakistani military leaders about what their strategy is to take care of threats within their midst. 

 

                So, obviously, wherever those threats exist, we would be encouraging of the Pakistani military taking it to them head on and defeating them.  But I'm not going to go through a strategy; we want them to go here next and there after that.  I mean, they are an independent, sovereign nation that makes decisions on its own about its -- what's in its interests in terms of self-defense. 

 

                But we are clearly encouraged by the fact that, ever since there was this encroachment on Islamabad by the Taliban and associated other militant groups, that we are seeing an aggressive and sustained military operation in response. 

 

                Q     You don't think this is sustained enough, though, that they could actually open a second front in -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, listen, I'm -- I'm not going to be an armchair general up here and make determinations about whether or not they're in a position to -- to open up a second front.  I mean, I think there are other people you can talk to about, from a military perspective, how successful they're going to -- they're being.  We are, from a Defense Department perspective, very encouraged by the fact that they have continued these operations, and they show no signs of letting up at this point. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     On North Korea? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay. 

 

                Q     Last week, President Obama had mentioned the United States would take stronger measure against the nuclear test by North Korea. Does the U.S. have any military options rather than diplomatic measures? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, our focus is now and has been and likely will continue to be on coming up with diplomatic and economic pressures that will persuade the North from abandoning its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the -- and the platforms to deliver them.  So that is what we are focused on. 

 

                Obviously, we never take anything off the table in terms of what our options are should the North not be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear-weapons capability, but that's not where our focus is right now.  The focus is on working with the U.N. 

 

                It's on trying to resume the six-party apparatus to exert pressure and ultimately to talk. 

 

                But as you heard from the secretary when we were in Singapore, he, like the president and almost everybody else involved in this, is sick of buying the same horse multiple times; is sick of responding to North Korean provocations by making concessions that get you back to the status quo ante only to see this all unfold again.  So while we are pursuing diplomacy and while we are pursuing economic sanctions, we are simultaneously working with our allies -- the Japanese, the Koreans -- on -- and Chinese, others -- who may be -- who may be amenable to this on trying to devise additional defensive measures, prudent planning in the event that the North continues down this -- this reckless path. 

 

                Yes. 

 

                Q     In this regard, is the Pentagon exploring ways to forbid North Korea to -- forbid North Korea sea and air shipments suspected of carrying -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I saw Secretary Clinton made that point this weekend.  All I would say to that is we are looking at a number of options.  I'm not going to speak to any one of them in particular; and in fact, I have not -- you know, you were with us last week, Daphne. I mean, you heard -- this question came up, I think, after our meetings with the -- our trilateral with the Koreans and the Japanese. We were asked, you know, what specifically is the secretary talking about when he says "additional defensive measures"?  And the truth is, he did not have anything specifically in mind. 

 

                We are in the process right now of thinking about possibilities. And I have not heard him articulate to date interdiction as being one of those possibilities.  I'm not saying it's not.  He has tasked his policy team with trying to figure out creative and prudent ways to bolster defenses in the event that the North continues down this route. 

 

                Yeah, Elizabeth. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- need to be additional defensive measures with the South Koreans and the Japanese?  It's trilateral defensive measures? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We're talking about this -- on a trilateral basis would be ideal, on a bilateral basis if necessary, and if it comes to that unilaterally.  But I think what we've -- what we've found, based upon the conversations that have taken place in this past week with -- with Deputy Secretary Steinberg of the State Department and our representatives -- ASD Gregson, as well as Admiral Winnefeld from the Joint Staff, who traveled to the capitals in the region this past week -- they came back very encouraged, particularly from Seoul and Tokyo, about their willingness to pursue this on a trilateral basis.  I think they came back feeling as though, in fact, this was sort of a historic opportunity to work with the Koreans and the Japanese on a trilateral basis on matters of national security like this. 

 

                Q     Quick follow-up.  It's not about raising -- increasing U.S. forces in the region? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The secretary has never talked about adding additional personnel, and we have a lot of personnel as it is in the region.  I think we've got about 28,000 in South Korea.  I think we've got roughly 35,000 in Japan.  And we have significant force presence as it is in those countries, not to mention the ROK forces and the Japanese forces.  So that is not as -- as yet a part of the discussion. 

 

                Yeah, anything else on North Korea?  Yeah. 

 

                Q     To what degree is the U.S. policy with regards to trying to denuclearize North Korea being held hostage to the fact that there are these two journalists being held there and they've now been convicted and sentenced to 12 years in hard labor? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't get any sense that the policy is being held hostage by that unfortunate decision by the North Koreans and verdict by its courts.  But I have not heard it, Jennifer, frankly, enter in to any of the calculations within this department about how to proceed with the North.  I mean, obviously, the State Department has issued some very strong remarks about our government's disapproval with the way that incident has been handled, but I have not seen it enter into our discussions here. 

 

                Q     And how do you read the intercepted message from the North Koreans asking the waters to be cleared off of the east coast from June 10th to the 30th?  Are you concerned? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Are we concerned?  Well -- you mean in terms of a potential missile launch?  Well, I mean, obviously, we've been -- you know, the secretary acknowledged it when we were in Manila, that we've seen signs that the North is preparing for what appears to be another missile launch.  What kind of what range I think is not clear at this point.  So that -- you know, that would be yet another sign that the North is going to undertake another provocative action, which of course is -- it would not help defuse or de-escalate an already tense situation.  So we would obviously frown upon that as well. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     On North Korea?  Is the goal of these talks that you mentioned, that the defense officials were involved in, is that  absolutely to prevent North Korea from getting nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them at all costs, or is it about planning how to respond if and when they do get nuclear weapons and the ability to deploy them? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You're talking about the -- the Steinberg trip and talks? 

 

                Q     And -- (inaudible) --  and U.S. policy in general. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think the Steinberg effort and -- was -- and you should talk to the State Department for more specifics because it was their trip which we were participants in -- but I think that effort was primarily focused at a high-level delegation visiting state -- visiting capitals in the region to try to work out the way ahead, first and foremost economically, diplomatically through, you know, multilateral sanctions. 

 

                I think secondarily there was this discussion which we alluded to in Singapore about, should that effort fail, we all need to be prudent about our planning for defensive measures.  So if we cannot multilaterally figure out a way to deter the North from pursuing this path, it's only prudent of us to try to figure out ways we can, on a trilateral, bilateral, unilateral basis, enhance our defenses and -- and be protected against that threat. 

 

                Yeah?  I'll come back to you, Barbara.  Yeah, go ahead. 

 

                Q     Different subject? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Different subject.  Anybody else on North Korea? 

 

                Q     On (Vietnam ?)? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay, I got you. 

 

                Q     Don't forget me. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I won't forget you, Joe. 

 

                Q     Just following on from that criticism of North Korea's treatment of those journalists, those American journalists, I just wanted to ask about the case of Ibrahim Jassem, the Iraqi journalist for the Reuters news agency, who's been held in Baghdad since September of last year without charge.  I just wanted to know, why is he still being held?  And also, are there any indications when he might be charged with anything? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I got to tell you the truth, I am not up to date on what his exact status is.  So I'd either urge you to talk to MNF-I or come back to me afterwards and we can look into it for you.  I can only assume that he's being held because he's still regarded by the coalition as a threat to the stability of Iraq.  But let me -- let's look into that and tell you precisely the ground for which he still being -- still being held. 

 

                Yeah, go ahead. 

 

                Q     Okay, thank you.  My name is -- (name inaudible) -- with DJPress (sp), a Japanese news website. 

 

                Regarding Air Force F-22, Senator Daniel Inouye sent a letter to Secretary Gates about export version F-22.  So how Pentagon will respond about that idea? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know what the precise response will be in a letter form to -- from the secretary to Senator Inouye or if there will be a call.  All I can tell you is that, when this question has come up in the past -- and frankly, it came up in the secretary's pull-aside with the Japanese defense minister when we were in Singapore -- the answer has always been the same.  Right now, there is legislation -- there is a law, the Obey amendment, which prevents us from exporting that technology to anyone.  So as good an ally as Japan is and as much as we may like to provide that capability to allies such as Japan, the fact is it is prevented -- we are prevented from doing so according to the -- to the Obey amendment.  So unless there was some sort of legislative remedy to this, unless that were repealed, our hands are tied on this issue. 

 

                And that's why the secretary made the further point to his Japanese counterpart that -- that the F-35 is the plane which we are pursuing and the plane that we would recommend the Japanese focus their efforts in terms of procuring in the future. 

 

                Q     But some reports says the Air Force did estimate ($)250 million each, export versions.  It is correct? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I didn't quite hear you; I'm sorry. 

 

                Q     Sorry.  Some reports said U.S. Air Force already estimate each export version ($)250 millions. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  That it costs $250 million to buy an F-22?  It costs -- 

 

                Q     No, no, no, no. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, sorry. 

 

                Q     Cost -- it says cost.  The export -- 

 

                Q     That if there was an export version of the F-22, that it would cost 250 million -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  That it would cost ($)250 million? 

 

                Q     Each, yeah. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It wouldn't surprise me.  It's a very expensive aircraft.  But I -- I don't know -- (laughs) -- precisely what the cost would be.  Sorry about that. 

 

                Yeah, Joe. 

 

                Q     Do you have any update on -- regarding the process to shut down the detentions? 

 

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

 

                Q     Oh -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, sorry. 

 

                Q     Okay.  How far are we from closing the facilities there? 

 

                And another thing.  Any -- any plan to transfer the detainees to some European countries? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay, any update?  As far as I know -- and we were on the road for a while; I checked when we got back -- I don't think there was any significant update in the time that I've been away.  I think the changes that were made to the Military Commissions Act were made prior to our departure.  I think you're up to speed with those. 

 

                With regards to how much longer, the president's executive order states that they -- we have a year.  So we've got about six more months in which to figure out a solution to this problem.  I can assure you that our folks here are hard at work at it with the Justice Department, with the White House, with others who are involved. 

 

                And finally, whether or not detainees may be sent to Europe, I think we are trying to figure out right now countries to send those detainees back to, who we can.  And so I think we're in talks with countries in Europe, we're in talks with countries in the Middle East. Obviously, if we could ever come to an agreement with Yemen that was to our mutual satisfaction and could, to our satisfaction, provide for the -- for a security basis for these -- for the hundred or so Yemenis that we still have in detention, that would go a long way to alleviating this problem. 

 

                But that is part of the ongoing discussions that -- that are taking place. 

 

                Q     Do you expect a detailed plan regarding the future of the -- of Guantanamo -- of the detainees within the next few month(s), like -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, we have six months, so I hope it's within that time period.  I mean, I don't want to be fresh with you, Joe, but I mean, this is a work in progress.  The longer it takes, the more complicated it becomes, the more pressure this -- there becomes on this organization in particular to figure out the final disposition of these individuals. 

 

                So we, above all, are encouraging of a fast but responsible process.  We are in the midst of it.  And I don't have anything to report to you in terms of any breakthroughs in terms of where these guys will go and when they'll go there. 

 

                Yes, let me go to this gentleman. 

 

                Q     Regarding the cluster bomb convention in June in Germany this month, is the DOD interested in sending a delegation independently or with another agency of the U.S. government? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know if we're sending a delegation to that convention.  I mean, obviously, we are -- we are a military that believes in the utility of cluster bombs.  They have a -- they have a  very specific military purpose that we still think there is a -- has a valid -- valid reason and can be very effective in dealing with certain situations.  But I don't know of any plans for us to send a delegation.  We can certainly check into that for you. 

 

                Yeah, okay.  Barbara, I promised.  She's been very patient. 

 

                Q     I was very interested in reading the column in The Washington Post over the weekend where apparently Secretary Gates reached out to them -- the columnists there -- because he wanted to talk about General Jones' management of the foreign policy process in the Obama administration.  And I just wanted to ask you about it because this article says that Secretary Gates actually himself reached out and proposed the interview to talk about General Jones and the gossip going on in the administration about General Jones. 

 

                So why did -- that seems pretty extraordinary.  Is that -- is the writer accurate that -- Mr. Ignatius -- that the secretary reached out and -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, he's accurate in the sense that I reached out to David Ignatius and arranged the interview because the secretary firmly believes, as he articulated to Mr. Ignatius, that General Jones is doing a terrific job.  And in fact, as he characterized it to Ignatius, Jones, he believes, is the glue that is holding this team together.  He is the one who he thinks is most responsible for the fact that it has gelled and come together as quickly as it has; that this is not a team of rivals, as it was originally billed, but thanks to Jones' leadership, it is truly a national security team. 

 

                And there is, as you all are no doubt aware, a lot of chatter in Washington about the job that he is doing.  And the secretary felt strongly enough that he wanted to be on the record as a guy who knows a lot about how the NSC works and has worked with a great many of national security advisers over the course of his career as saying that, in his estimation, at this point, Jones is up there with the best he's worked with. 

 

                Q     But doesn't it seem a little unusual for a secretary of Defense to actually engage in even addressing, as you call it, the chatter around Washington about what -- how another senior official may be faring?  It seems extraordinary that Secretary Gates, of all people, would engage in even addressing that kind of chatter. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think he felt strongly enough about the -- about the job that -- that General Jones is doing and felt it was important enough that -- that this team continued to work successfully together, given all the crises on our plate, that he wanted to be loud and clear in his support of General Jones and to try to dispel all this nonsense chatter that exists out there. 

 

                Is it unusual?  Sure, it's unusual.  But he felt it was -- it was warranted based upon how General Jones was being treated. 

 

                Q     Well, how is he -- I mean, for those of us who don't cover -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, come on.  You can read the stories as well as I can read them. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Well, no, Geoff, why did you feel that the secretary needed to address it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think I've said it. 

 

                There -- I have addressed this now a few different ways, Barbara. There is -- there's a lot of chatter that he finds unhelpful that has been sniping and undercutting General Jones.  And he wanted to make it clear that, in his estimation at least, as someone who has a great deal of experience of working with the NSC, that General Jones is doing a heck of a job. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Geoff, last week, Secretary Gates met with the Israeli minister of defense, Ehud Barak.  Can you give us -- like, how was the meeting?  And do you think both Secretary Gates and Minister Barak are on the same page regarding how to deal with the Iranian nuclear program? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think they had -- you know, they meet with great frequency.  I think it was another in -- in a -- in a string of good meetings between those old associates.  And I think that, yes, I think they are -- have a very open and honest dialogue about the threat posed by Iran. 

 

                I think each is unafraid to express his concerns, his views to the other.  And as a result, I think they have a good understanding of where each of them stands, and that's the foundation for a good working relationship.  I think you'll see them continue to meet with regularity and continue to work together to address this problem. 

 

                Q     So they are on the same page? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, that's not what I said.  What I said was, they know where each other stands, and they are committed to working together to address this problem. 

 

                Yeah, Nancy, let's just -- somehow this -- it keeps getting momentum here.  Nancy. 

 

                Q     Yes.  Shortly after the administration announced this -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm indulging because I haven't been out for a while.  Yes? 

 

                Q     And you started late. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I started late.  Okay, sorry. 

 

                Q     Shortly after the administration announced its new Afghanistan strategy and Bruce Riedel's white paper came out, Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy and others promised benchmarks, metrics of success. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, right. 

 

                Q     Why haven't those come out yet?  Are they waiting for General McChrystal to craft them?  And has there been any progress in terms of when -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I don't think General McChrystal will craft them, although I can tell you this:  the secretary has asked General McChrystal, when he and General Rodriguez, should the Senate confirm the two of them, go over to Afghanistan to undertake a 60-day review of the situation on the ground there to try to, you know, get their feet on the ground, get a ground-eye view of what's going on, and report back what they believe to be the situation, what they think should -- the changes in the strategy -- what changes in the strategy should be made, and particularly from a personnel standpoint, from a manpower standpoint, trying to determine the needs and what can be done to try to consolidate and get the most we can from the resources we have on the ground. 

 

                The president has authorized, as you know, 68,000 personnel.  I think we're up to like 55,000 on the ground right now.  That is, it's a rapidly growing operation, and the secretary wants to make sure that everybody is being utilized effectively.  He doesn't want to become -- he doesn't want bloated headquarters.  He wants to make sure that there are as many people, you know, operational, outside the wire, working, engaging as possible.  And by sending in General Rodriguez as the deputy commander for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, he doesn't want to see necessarily huge additional headquarter staffs being developed, and wants to make sure that all of our resources are being used to their optimum efficiency and effect. 

 

                Q     So could you elaborate?  You talked about a change in strategy.  Should we expect another white paper?  And then, how does that relate to -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I mean, I think -- the Af-Pak strategy that was released from the White House was primarily -- primarily focused on the civilian side.  And what -- with that, the secretary has always talked about how there needs to be, once we get a new commander on the ground, they're the ones who will sort of put the meat on the bone and determine what, if any, changes should be made to the military strategy. 

 

                You know, fundamentally, this is a COIN operation, a COIN operation with a -- with, you know, 22,000, nearly, additional forces. But how exactly he is going to use those forces, where and when and for -- to what end, are things that the secretary is leaving to  General McChrystal.  And he has given him about 60 days to sort of take a look at the situation, once the two of them hit the ground, should the Senate confirm them, and then report back on what they found, and what they think they can do with what they have, and if they need anything else, what is it? 

 

                Q     So then should we expect civilian and military benchmarks or metrics of success shortly after that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think the benchmarks are different, and those are being worked through the interagency.  We are a player in that process through -- through Undersecretary Flournoy.  But that's a whole separate undertaking that I -- I will certainly find out where it stands.  But last I checked, it was still a work in progress. 

 

                Q     Can I just follow up with you on that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     That notion of the 60-day review, does that mean there could be some sort of delay in terms of a surge of operations? Clearly, you've got more forces going in there, and I guess we're expecting to see at some point a real step change in terms of the operations, particularly in the south. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think you're seeing a step change already.  I mean, I think you're seeing -- as additional forces hit the ground, you're seeing them being utilized.  No one is sitting around waiting to get all the forces on the ground and get this review undertaken before we put them to -- to good use. 

 

                I mean, as forces arrive and their equipment arrives with them, they are being pushed out and engaging.  They are engaging with the enemy.  They are protecting the population.  They are clearing, holding and building.  That is what they are doing, and they are not going to wait for this review to undertake it. 

 

                Q     So they're going out according to an old plan, and in the meantime, they're reviewing that plan as they go -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  What the secretary has asked is that they look at the strategy once they hit the ground.  That doesn't mean if it's old or dated or -- or wrong.  He's asked them to -- they've both been out of theater for a year now.  I mean, General Rodriguez has been away for more than a year.  Stan McChrystal came out around the same time. They've both been out for a year.  Although they've been engaged in this issue from afar, there's no substitute for being on the ground and seeing it from that perspective. 

 

                So they are going to go on the -- get on the ground, assess it for themselves, report back.  And if there have to be modifications to the strategy made, they'll make them. 

 

                Q     But in the meantime, they -- they progress according to -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  In the meantime -- 

 

                Q     -- current plans? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  In the meantime, they -- it's -- it's all the forces being utilized to maximum effect according to the game plan we have now.  Now, that doesn't preclude the possibility that General McChrystal -- should, again, he be confirmed -- hits the ground and wants to make changes.  He's obviously within his -- within his power to do so.  But fundamentally, the secretary wants a review of the situation from their perspective within 60 days. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Can I ask you a quick tanker question? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is the last couple, and then we got to go. 

 

                Q     A quick aerial tanker question. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Last week, Secretary Donley of the Air Force said that the Air Force would soon be presenting to Secretary Gates their plan going forward on an acquisition strategy for the tanker.  Can you give a sense of when Gates may be briefed on this and -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I would -- I would, Tony, walk you away from this notion that there is sort of one briefing or one meeting that is going to determine the course of the tanker replacement bidding process. The secretary is engaging -- has been and will be engaging -- in a -- in a number of meetings about this.  And I don't know when the next one is scheduled for.  I think the idea was always that we -- he wants to push out an RFP as soon as possible, and we hope that will take place in the coming weeks. 

 

                Q     The RFP will come out in the coming weeks or -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We hope -- that's what we hope to be the case. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- not the meetings, but the RFP -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, I think we -- listen, I will go back and check to see what -- where we are in terms of his meetings and when this request for proposal will go out.  And I think his desire always has been -- you know, originally it was spring.  I think here we are now in the summer.  We want this  to commence as soon as possible. 

 

                Q     You're going to get grilled on it tomorrow, so you might as well check today. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Thank you, Tony. 

 

                Tony's always helping me. 

 

                All right, last one. 

 

                Q     NATO top officials recommend now to cut the alliance force in Kosovo by one-third by January.  I was wondering if you could tell us if the Pentagon is preparing for any withdrawal of the U.S. forces participating in that operation? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I have not heard that, Daphne, although I'm sure, in our operations meeting in Brussels, it will come up.  I mean, Kosovo will certainly be a subject of discussion when we are in Brussels later this week. 

 

                Q     But do you -- are you aware of any recommendation of that sort? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I am not.  I'm not.  I mean, I'm aware that we were in together, out together.  So I wonder how paring down the force impacts that and whether or not U.S. forces would be a part of that. I have not heard discussions internally about us gaining any forces as a result of some sort of NATO drawdown in Kosovo. 

 

                I mean, obviously, that would be nice.  It would speak to the success of the operation, but it would also free up additional forces to use elsewhere and, hopefully, ultimately increase dwell time. 

 

                Okay?  Thanks so much.

 

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