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

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
August 11, 2009

         MR. MORRELL:  Hello, hello.  I actually have nothing to start with.  So, Anne .

 

         Q     Can you talk a bit about the U.S. stake in the Afghan election, to what extent the secretary views a successful election, in terms of the level of violence and voter turnout, as a test of whether the new strategy is working?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I never heard it, Anne, frankly discussed as a test of the strategy.  I think you've heard from no less than the president himself talk about how this is probably the most important event that will take place in Afghanistan this year.  So there obviously are huge expectations and huge consequences associated with the upcoming election, now just nine days away.

 

         And I would remind you that this is really -- it's a significant turning point for the Afghans.  I think this is the first election that they've actually organized and run and administered since the 1970s, I believe.  We are there strictly in a supporting capacity, providing -- at least on election day, I think it will be limited to largely perimeter security, logistics support and maybe quick reaction resources, if needed.  But this is very much an Afghan-led and -run operation, and the U.S. is playing a supporting role and an impartial role.  

 

         Obviously we have no stake or no -- we are taking no positions on any of the candidates, any of the 39 candidates.  I've -- the 37 candidates, I think, who are still in the race.  It is our wish to see that these elections are as credible, secure and inclusive as possible and that they result in a legitimate outcome that the Afghan people and the world recognize as the will of the Afghan people.  

 

         So thus far, I think, signs are encouraging.  I think we have four million additional Afghan voters who have registered -- four million new voters since the last elections that took place.  If you add that with the 17 million that had previously been registered, I think we're -- oh, pardon me -- I think that is -- that brings us up to 17 million total.  

 

             So I think a significant number of Afghans have shown a desire and willingness to have their voice heard at the polling places.  And so we're doing everything we can in the remaining week and a half that's left before the elections to ensure that the security environment is as conducive as possible for a free and fair election. That is very much a challenge for our and the Afghan forces in these remaining days, particularly in RC [Regional Command] South.  

 

         But I would note that, actually, since our operations began in RC South, and Helmand in particular, I think the result has been that more polling places are going to be able to open on August the 20th than had been the case previously.  I think overall, that's the case nationwide.  I think the election -- the independent election commission had been concerned, before our stepped-up operations, about the number of polling places that would be open come the 20th.  And I think as the operations have progressed, the numbers that would not be safe enough to open are shrinking.  And we'll see.  We obviously want to get those numbers as small as possible so that we can have an opportunity for as much access to polling places as possible.

 

         And keep in mind that we're dealing with an enemy here that is doing everything in its power to discourage Afghans from executing their constitutional right to head to the polls -- through intimidation, through violence -- and we're trying to make sure that that is minimized, if not eliminated, especially -- especially arbitrary checkpoints and things of that nature.  So we're going to remain vigilant about those things as we head into the elections.

 

         Q    A follow-up?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.

 

         Q     Are all of the U.S. forces sort of assigned to help in securing the elections in place?  That was part of the rationale for the original increase, 17,000, earlier this year.  Are all that are devoted to the election where they are supposed to be?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yes.  Yes.  I mean, the remaining outfit that we're waiting for [is a] training brigade, which was not designed to enhance election security.

 

         Q     That's what General Jones was referring to the other day when he said not all of the resources are there yet? 

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.

 

         Q    Okay.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah?  Anybody else on the Afghan elections?  Going once.  Go to Nancy.

 

         Q     I'd like to follow up on this.  You mentioned that there are 37 candidates running, and the expectation in Afghanistan is that there will be a run-off election because of that.  What sort of security measures are you putting in place for the run-off election? You talked a lot about --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  That's a hypothetical.  We're not even close.  We haven't had the election yet.

 

        Let's see what happens on --

 

         Q     More than hypothetical, because -- (off mike).

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that it is, Nancy.  I'm not a -- I am not a prognosticator of the electorate and how they behave in Afghanistan.  Obviously, if a candidate does not garner a majority of the vote, I guess it would result in a runoff.  But we're not there yet.  Let's let the elections take place and see what the Afghan people say when they head to the polls.

 

         Q     But if I could follow up, one of the things the Afghans are concerned about is protests coming out, depending on how the election results go, and that there could even be more violence in the runoff than there is in the actual elections.  

         So I think, from the Afghan perspective, that they want to hear what sort of security measures are going to be in place.  Abdullah Abdullah's even told some of his supporters that, if elections don't go a certain way, that they should take to the streets.  So I'm just curious what, if any, precautions or --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I think, Nancy, right now the focus of our forces -- the focus of our resources is on making sure that we are being as supportive as possible of the Afghan government as they go about -- of the Afghan Independent Election Commission as they go about trying to administer these historic elections on the 20th.  That's where our focus is right now.

 

         Are there contingencies that are being planned for in the event a runoff is needed?  I would ask you to talk to the independent election commission.  They could probably speak to you with greater clarity. You can talk to our -- my colleagues in Afghanistan.

 

         All I can tell you right now is the focus is on the 20th.  That is a hugely consequential date for the Afghan people and for the international community that has invested so much in democracy in Afghanistan.  And we want to make sure that is as successful a day as possible.

 

         Okay.  Let's go to Dan.

 

         Q     With so much being invested in this effort in Afghanistan, isn't there -- is there a danger that after the election you'll still be faced with a government that does not have a -- does not prompt much confidence among Afghans, that it lacks credibility and legitimacy?  Is it --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  As I said, Dan, we're doing everything in our capacity to ensure that this election is credible, secure and inclusive and results ultimately in an outcome that is viewed as legitimate by the Afghan people and by the world.  That's what we're working on right now.

 

         Chris.

 

         Q     The Pakistani Taliban claims that Baitullah Mehsud is still alive.  Based on what he's heard, does the secretary believe that he is dead?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I think that the secretary would probably fall under the same camp as General Jones, who I think spoke to a number of the Sunday shows a couple days ago, and his assessment was that there is a 90-percent certainty at this point that, indeed, Baitullah Mehsud has met his demise.

 

        And I think the secretary like others in government are operating under the assumption at this point that indeed he is no longer a threat to the Pakistani people.  

 

         Q     That was before some of the Taliban came out and said no, he is alive.  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I would -- the credibility of these pretenders to his -- to his - to his role as a -- as a insurgent leader in Pakistan, I think, is probably very much lacking.  

 

         And I think if they really wanted to convince anybody that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive, they would probably do as many people do, which is offer some sort of proof of life.  But I don't think that they've been -- they are in a position to do so.  

 

         And so we are operating on the assumption, and it's not just an assumption.  Obviously we have intelligence that would lead us to believe that there is a 90 percent certainty that he is no longer living.  

 

         Yeah, Joe.  

 

         Q     Do you have any comment on what the Kuwaiti minister of interior is saying, that al Qaeda was planning to attack a U.S. Army base in Kuwait?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know that -- I'm not in a position to tell you whether al Qaeda was planning on attacking Camp Arifjan or any of the facilities in Kuwait.  I can tell you first of all that we congratulate the Kuwaiti government and their security forces, on the apprehension of these half dozen or so suspects.  

 

         It is a testament to the outstanding partnership that we and the Kuwaitis have built, over the years, and particularly between Kuwaiti security forces and the U.S. armed forces that reside in Kuwait.  And so it is also a testament frankly to our commitment to counterterrorism in that part of the world and the Kuwaiti commitment. 

 

         But I can just tell you at this point, with what little information I have, Joe, that it does indeed look as though that this group was attempting to target U.S. forces.  I don't think it is clear at this point that Camp Arifjan was necessarily where they were plotting their attack.  But clearly U.S. forces were among those they wanted to hit, based upon our initial assessment.    But we were not alone as potential targets of this group. Kuwaiti targets were also -- were also identified.  

 

        And so we are grateful that the Kuwaiti security forces and judicial officials acted swiftly and have netted these six.  And hopefully this threat has been eliminated. 

 

         Yeah.

 

         Q     Can I follow on that?

 

         Q     So they've been -- was the U.S. involved in any kind of intelligence on those?  Was the U.S. warned that the Kuwaitis were doing this?  And do you have more detail on what specifically -- how they were targeting U.S. forces?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I don't have detail on their mode or method of attack.  And I would just say in general terms, Courtney, that we regularly share information with the Kuwaiti security forces, as they do with us.  There is a normal flow of information back and forth between us, but I have nothing specifically on this case in particular.  Yeah.  And I should note also, I mean, without speaking specifically to Camp Arifjan or any of the other facilities that we have access to in Kuwait, that our commanders are obviously taking the necessary precautions.  They have the latitude to implement appropriate measures to ensure that the security and safety of our forces, wherever they are stationed, is being protected.

 

         Q     Do you have -- does the U.S. military/Defense Department have names on any of these men who have been detained, nationalities, or is there any indication that they're -- have any targets that we know --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I think we probably have some idea -- subsequent to the arrests, the names and nationalities of these individuals, but I'm not in a position to share them with you.  I think this is a matter to address with the Kuwaitis.  

 

         Q     Had any of them ever been in U.S. custody, to your knowledge?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Not to my knowledge.  But again, I'm not familiar with their backgrounds or their identities or much about them, other than the fact they were apparently targeting U.S. forces and, you know, that they may have been inspired by al Qaeda and like-minded terrorist groups, but I don't -- we don't have any -- I don't -- I'm not in a position to tell you definitively, as Joe asked.  The premise to his question was that these are al Qaeda or al Qaeda-linked guys. Our sense is, they probably were inspired, but I'm not so sure that we have a definitive link at this point.  

 

         Yeah, Courtney?  

 

         Q     Hey, Geoff.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Hi.

 

         Q     So forgive me if I repeat things that people do here, because I'm just visiting.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  It's okay.  We welcome visitors.

 

         Q     Thank you.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Right?

 

         Q     I'm interested in the kind of tandem operations that are going on on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It seems like U.S. missile strikes are still a policy in Pakistan and could be working, but haven't been as productive or as helpful in Afghanistan, and it seems like General McChrystal has reduced airstrikes there, launched more of a counterinsurgency campaign.

 

        Can you talk about how those could complement each other?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I really can't.  I can speak to half of the equation.  I can certainly speak to the efforts by General McChrystal subsequent to him implementing a new tactical directive to try to make sure that we do everything within our power to reduce civilian casualties.  He thinks that is just a fundamental tenet to an effective counterinsurgency strategy, is that we have to win the confidence and trust of the Afghan people, and we cannot do so by even, no matter how well-intentioned, executing close air support that may result in civilian casualties.  

 

         That is not to say that by any means that we have eliminated the use of close air support, but there are much stricter guidelines that our troops have to follow now in terms of utilizing that backup protection.  And so, this is all in an effort to try to win over the Afghan people.  And he is bending over backwards, General McChrystal is, to make sure that we are making it clear to them that we are there to help.  

 

         You know, conversely, the Taliban, despite statements by Mullah Omar to sort of -- to reduce attacks that result in civilian casualties, they continue to do so.  I think the Herat bombing at the marketplace that resulted in the death of the police chief there is a prime example of it.  I think the indiscriminate rocket attacks are other examples, not to mention all the IED attacks that have targeted our forces and have injured others, civilians in the process.  

 

         But we continue to work hard to make sure that we minimize if not eliminate civilian causalities.  

 

         Q     Just a follow-up.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.

 

         Q     And I completely understand the counterinsurgency heart and mind.  So is it we just don't discuss the Pakistani side because we don't officially have a presence there?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  We have officially -- we have a presence in Pakistan.  It's a very small presence.  It's a “train the trainer” program.  We've got a -- probably a couple or a few dozen personnel on the ground, so we do have a presence there. 

 

 Q     How do we -- if people want to cross the border, as they have done into Waziristan, back into Afghanistan and clearly were going to try to cut all those -- the ratlines, how will you avoid losing the hearts and minds in Pakistan when you're trying to win them in Afghanistan right now, with these airstrikes?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I'm not speaking to whether or not there have been or haven't been airstrikes in Pakistan, but putting that question to a side, what do we do to win the hearts and minds?  Well, we work closely with the Pakistani government to ensure that they have the tools necessary to implement an effective counterinsurgency.  

 

             We have been very heartened lately over the past couple of months by how aggressively they have been going after terrorists, particularly in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and now in South Waziristan.  And we think that there clearly have been positive results, as -- that have come of this.  

 

         But it requires a -- we must manifest to the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people that we are there for the long haul, that we are not going to abandon them again as we did years ago when the Pressler Amendment sort of froze us out of contacts with the Pakistani government and military.  

 

         So that's why this government is very much encouraging for the -- I think the Kerry -- it's -- I think it's the Kerry-Lugar Amendment, now, to be passed, which would provide a baseline of support over five years, several billion dollars that would go to support the Pakistani government and their ability to bring about positive changes for their people.

 

         So that's how we demonstrate to the people of Pakistan that we are their partners and that we are there for the long term.

 

         Yes, Kevin.

 

         Q     On Guantanamo, last Friday the -- or Thursday, the two Kansas senators said they were holding several nominees back because of the -- (inaudible).  They don't want Leavenworth to be a destination for the detainees.  Can you give us an update of -- is Leavenworth still on the table?  Are other facilities like Pendleton? What is -- where does the Pentagon stand on -- or what are they being asked to do by the Justice-led task force for where to locate these detainees?  Where are we now?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I'm not in a position to tell you what's on or off the table.  That's not fair to the process that's under way right now. I mean, we are still reviewing these matters.  

 

         We've got very clear guidelines from the president.  We're probably about halfway -- a little more than half -- past the halfway mark of this effort.  And I can just tell you, Kevin, that people are hard at work inside this building, inside the Justice Department, over at State, inside the White House, trying to resolve these very thorny issues.    Chief among them is, if you bring some of these detainees stateside, where do you put them?  And that's -- those are -- that is among the chief questions that is being wrestled with right now.  

 

         But I'm not going to get into identifying potential sites, in part because, frankly, sites that are floated and then shot down have a way of being resurrected.  And so I -- whatever I told you is probably -- may not mean a whole lot in the end of this process.  So let's let the process continue, and we'll see what the ultimate recommendation is.

 

             I can tell you, with regard to the fact -- this hold that the Kansas delegation has put on though has resulted in the Army being without the nominated new secretary and the undersecretary for another -- you know, probably a month at least.  And that is greatly disappointing to the secretary.  

 

         He's very much looking forward to Congressman McHugh coming on and running this department.  He's very much looking forward to Undersecretary Westphal coming on as well.  

 

         But because of these parochial issues, I mean, it's not just Kansas.  It's Alabama as well.  They are -- they're going to be in limbo a little while longer.  And so luckily, and kindly, Secretary Geren has agreed to stay on in his capacity for a few more weeks.  And so we're grateful to him for doing so.  

 

         Yeah, Al.  

 

         Q     Geoff, I know some of the allies in Afghanistan have either added troops or are holding troops in Afghanistan, through the election, and that after that, there will be some reduction.  

 

         Do you have a sense of how large the allied reduction will be, after the election, and what impact that will have on the overall effort?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I don't.  I don't.  I think you could probably talk to -- probably talk to NATO.  And they could help you out with what the plans are for all those forces.  

 

         Q     Has the department made -- 

 

         MR. MORRELL:  It certainly would be our hope, Al, that if -- it would certainly be our hope that if -- when it comes time for these countries to re-evaluate the departure dates of their troops that were sent over, in large part to try to enhance security leading up to the elections, that they would reconsider that decision and keep them there longer, in the hopes of making a longer-term contribution to the security situation there.  

 

         Q     Are you aware of such representations being made?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I'm not.  I'm not.    Yeah.  August, how are you?  

 

         Q     I'm doing fine, Geoff.  Thank you.  

 

         I have a question about the executive jets that the House has added to the Defense bill.  I'm wondering if the secretary's staff had any role, in getting them to back down, and what his reaction is to that.  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  To my knowledge, we played no role in this.  I don't know of any communication, certainly no communication from the secretary.  And I don't know of any communication frankly between the secretary's staff and the Congress on this issue.  

 

             I think it was perfectly clear to Congress what our position was on these extra jets.  And I don't know -- I couldn't point to what the reason was that they have had a change of heart on this.  All I know is that we articulated from this podium and other places our belief that the president's budget represents what we need, and that we don't want anything more than what we need.  And that's as much as I know.

 

         Q     Did you get a reaction to the call?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I have -- frankly, I have not spoken to him directly about this particular jet issue.  I mean, I could tell you generically how -- what he thinks about things being added to the budget in excess to what we've asked for, but I don't have any particular reaction to this development.

 

         Q     So there's been no reevaluation of the four original jets you asked for?  I mean, you still believe you need those four jets, correct?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  We wouldn't have asked for them if we didn't think we needed them.

 

         Q     Can I ask you about another report here?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, do you have anything else on this?  Okay. Louis does.  I'll come back to you.

 

         Q     Okay.

 

         Q     Murtha's statement actually says, the last line, if the Department of Defense does not want these aircraft, they will be eliminated from the bill, which insinuates that there needs to be a communication from the -- (off mike) -- in the department to his staff or to the Hill that you do not want these aircraft, besides this public forum in which we're discussing here.  Can we just take that to be -- well, can we interpret your comments as being that --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I wouldn't -- it's not my job to communicate directly to Chairman Murtha about such matters.  If he requires a more specific communication, I'm sure the appropriate people will get to him.  He's the chairman of a very important committee, and he has earned our respect, and he will get whatever communication he needs from this department. 

 

         Q     (Off mike) -- reflect what you just told us?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Louis -- (chuckles) -- you're suggesting that I would say one thing and we would be telling him something different.

 

         Q     (Off mike) -- referring to your past comments.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I think I've been very clear.  I think I've -- I -- Louis, I think we've been very clear on this.  We've asked for what we needed and nothing more.  We want nothing more than what we've asked for.  Okay?

 

         Yes, Viola.

 

         Q     Just back to the Kuwait issue and the arrests there, you mentioned the commanders are taking appropriate measures.  Do you have any reason to believe that not all of the --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think what I said was that commanders have the latitude -- I -- in Kuwait and elsewhere around the world, we take force protection extraordinarily seriously.  And there, as in elsewhere, commanders have the latitude to take whatever force- protection measures they deem appropriate to ensure that their troops are safe and secure.

 

        And we give them the latitude to do that.  We don't try to micromanage that.  

 

         And I'm sure they are making assessments now about whether or not any of their force-protection measures need to be adjusted in light of this.  I don't know specifically of any, but nor would I speak to them from this podium.  I mean, that's -- those are sensitive matters.  All I can give you is a general assurance that we take this seriously and give our commanders the latitude to take measures to ensure that our forces are safe and secure.

 

         Q     Do you have any reason to think that there are more --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I personally do not.  I am not -- if -- I am not privy to any information of that sort.

 

         Q     (Off mike) -- on the same topic.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.

 

         Q     You had said earlier that this wasn't necessarily -- the plan wasn't necessarily an attack on this particular camp.  Are you referring -- or saying that it could be around other targets in Kuwait, or other targets in the region?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  No, I think what I'm referring to there is the fact that the -- a lot of the press reports I'd read articulated specifically that Camp Arifjan was the target of this cell.  My understanding is that this cell was -- had in its plans a number of targets throughout Kuwait, Kuwaiti targets and U.S. forces.  But I'm just sort of steering you away from the notion that there was -- that Arifjan was specifically a target of these -- of this gang, and that it was more of a generic target against U.S. forces.

 

         Q     Arifjan was not a target?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I'm not saying that.

 

         Q     But multiple --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I'm not saying -- what we know to be the case is that U.S. forces were a target of this gang.  What we don't know to be the case is that Camp Arifjan was specifically a target of this gang. 

 

         Q     If there were U.S. forces that were targets, and the Kuwaitis and the U.S. share information so readily, how was it that the U.S. didn't get a heads-up that this cell or this -- the Kuwaitis were watching them?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  You're assuming that we didn't have a heads-up.

 

         Q     I thought that was what you said earlier --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  No, I didn't say that.

 

         Q     -- that you share information, but not necessarily in this way.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I'm not addressing this specific case.  And you're deducing from that erroneously that we didn't have specific information, because I haven't addressed whether we did or didn't. All I say is that, generically, we share information about security matters with the Kuwaiti security forces, as they do with us.  But I'm not going to address this specific case.

 

         Q     Was there any stepped-up measures around the -- Camp Arifjan in the last couple of days?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Again, I'm not going to speak to specific force protection measures.

 

         Q     Well, can you -- was there a cooperative effort at all? Because I'm not clear on that.  Was the U.S. involved, whether U.S. military or intelligence -- (off mike) --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I think I've addressed this, Justin.  

 

        What I've said is that we have a very cooperative relationship between the U.S. government, the Kuwaiti government, and more specifically between U.S. armed forces and Kuwaiti armed forces.  And --

 

         Q     Specifically and -- (off mike).

 

         MR. MORRELL:  And I said to Courtney, and I'll say to you again, I'm not going to speak specifically to what the -- what the events were that led up to the arrest of these particular individuals.  Okay? That's for the Kuwaitis to speak to.

 

         Q     Geoff.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Yes.

 

         Q     Thank you.  On North Korea, it is reported that the Chinese government is reluctant to contingency plan that --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  That the Chinese government's reluctant to what?

 

         Q     To a contingency plan that the United States (unintelligible) with -- in case of sort of collapse of North Korean regime.  What is your comment?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I don't have one.  I'm sorry.  

 

         Yeah.

 

         Q     Geoff, there's a report out from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that details three attacks over the past two years on Pakistani nuclear facilities, one of which was carried out by the Taliban.  Three attacks over the past two years.  What are -- 

 

         MR. MORRELL:  First I've heard of it.  I'm not -- I don't think I'm in a position to talk to you about it in particular.  I can just repeat what you've heard time and time again from Chairman Mullen and from Secretary Gates, that they are comfortable with the security measures the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military have in place to ensure that their nuclear arsenal is safeguarded.

 

         Q     So the Pentagon wasn't made aware of these attacks as they happened?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  This is twist-Geoff's-words day.  I didn't say that. 

 

         Q     Well, I'm asking you.

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  Well, that's -- then ask it in the form of a question then, rather than a leading question.

 

         Q     Were you aware -- well, you interrupted my question, first of all.  I was going to ask --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Now I'll let you ask it in full.

 

         Q     Were you made aware of those attacks, after they happened?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I don't know them to be actual attacks.  It's the first I've heard of it, as I said.  So I'm clearly not in a position to tell you whether we were aware or weren't aware.  I prefaced my initial answer by telling you, Justin, I don't know anything about what you're asking about.

 

         Q     But you'll get back to me -- (off mike).

 

         MR. MORRELL:  But I can tell you generically how we feel about the safeguards that the Pakistani military's put in place to make sure that their arsenals protected.

 

         Louie.

 

         Q     The secretary, during his visit to Iraq, had mentioned the possibility of an -- of a drawdown of an additional combat brigade by this fall.  Has that request come in from General Odierno?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  You know, we don't -- first of all, just to revise the question, if I may.  The request doesn't come in, frankly.  He is in a position to, as the commander in the field, make judgments about the pace of the drawdown.

 

        That authority has been granted to him.  And I think he is in the midst right now of assessing the situation on the ground and making a determination about the pace of draw downs for the remainder of the year.  So I would urge you to just stay tuned and see if he has any pronouncements on that in the coming days.  

 

         Yeah, Nancy.  

 

         Q     How much has the recent uptick in violence and bombings in Iraq come into that discussion?  Do you know?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I take issue again with the premise of the question, because I don't think there has been a recent uptick in violence in Iraq.  

 

         Q     (Off mike.)  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Well, there's been clearly a few high-profile attacks.  But statistically if you want to speak to factual matters, we had our lowest number of security incidents on record last week historically throughout this conflict.  

 

         So while we have had several ugly, deadly, dastardly high-profile attacks, that is not indicative of the overall security situation in Iraq right now.  As I said, we had our lowest number of security incidents overall last week.  

 

         We have had blessedly no U.S. forces killed in action so far this month.  And you know, there clearly is an effort being made, as evidenced by that recent spate of attacks that you speak to, by some elements, to try to spark or reignite ethno-sectarian violence.  

 

         Thankfully we have not seen retaliatory attacks.  I think it is indicative of the fact that the Iraqi people are sick of war.  They are sick of this violence.  They are sick of these indiscriminate attacks.  And luckily they have shown a great deal of restraint in the aftermath of them.  

 

         Q     Can you clarify something for me?  You said the lowest number of attacks on record.  Is it the lowest number of casualties as well?  

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Lowest number of casualties -- clearly there have been -- these last few attacks have had -- have had an impact in terms of casualties.  I'd have to go back and look to see if indeed, despite the fact that the number of incidents overall has reached a historic low, whether there is unfortunately not a low, a corresponding low, in terms of casualties.  

 

         Q     In the interest of making my question fit to standard, has the potential uptick in casualties come into the discussion?  And how much of that has been a factor, in this discussion about when to start bringing brigades and the pace of bringing brigades home?  

 

             MR. MORRELL:  The security situation on the ground is always something that is a consideration in terms of force levels in Iraq, and other theaters, for that matter.  But I don't believe that the ebbing and flowing of attacks is a determinant in terms of whether or not to accelerate or decelerate the drawdown of U.S. forces.  

 

         I think General Odierno and his team will assess the overall security situation, the trends we're seeing, how they forecast it continuing, and they will also, of course, take into account a lot of the political progress that's being made.  

 

         I think everybody was heartened last week by Prime Minister Maliki's meeting with President Barzani.  That is -- and their commitment to choose new negotiators, to try to solve some of these disputes they've had security-wise, territorial-wise, oil sharing- wise.  

 

         And so we are heartened by that, but we are very nervous, continue to be, about the overall Arab-Kurd tensions.  And we are going to remain vigilant.  And a certain number of U.S. forces are required in that country until the security agreement expires, in no small measure to try to assist the Iraqis and the Kurds -- or pardon me -- the Arabs and the Kurds solve some of these problems while we are still there.  

 

         And just to speak to efforts towards reconciliation, I would draw your attention to the fact that this week the first 3,300 Sons of Iraq were integrated into 19 ministries and into the city of Baghdad government as well.  So that is a very big step towards reconciliation.  This has been talked about for quite some time, but that is a significant development.  I think we are anticipating significant numbers of additional Sons of Iraq being integrated in the coming weeks.  

 

         Obviously, there's still a great number of them that have not been, and so we continue to work with the Iraqi government to see that in the spirit of reconciliation, in the spirit of national unity, that these predominantly Sunni tribesmen, who have been so instrumental in the reduction of violence in Iraq, be incorporated into the government structure.

 

             Okay.  Let's take two and then we got to go.  Donna.

 

         Q     Geoff, with this concern about increased high-profile events, in the lead-up to Ramadan is there a concern that more of this will happen?  And especially in Afghanistan, where this will come at the same time as the elections, which are another element that is likely to cause more violence, what are some of the concerns --

 

         MR. MORRELL:  I have not heard of any theories on that, frankly. 

 

         Yeah, Dan, the last one. 

 

         Q     On this discussion about troop levels and resources for Afghanistan and the assessment report being prepared, there's been some criticism that perhaps the administration is making what they call the same mistake as the previous administration did initially and perhaps playing down what is required or possibly going to be required in Afghanistan.  Does the administration need to make clear to both the U.S. and the outside world that more resources are going to be needed?

 

         MR. MORRELL:  Dan, no one's playing down anything.  What I tried to do last week and I'm happy to do again with you is try to put into perspective what the assessment is, this -- that has been commissioned by Secretary Gates of General McChrystal.  But there is not an attempt by me or this department or this government, for that matter, to try to play down the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan.  

 

         Quite to the contrary, I think we've been very candid from this podium about how difficult the situation on the ground is.  And you know, we -- it's a very complex and nuanced situation, one that is best not described in broad strokes, such as winning or losing, one that is complicated and will take time to ultimately turn completely in our favor and in the favor of the Afghan people.  It is a mixed picture.  And in certain parts of Afghanistan today, the Taliban have more momentum, more initiative than we would like, or at the least the perception of the Afghan people is that they do have that initiative and that momentum, and in counterinsurgency perception is as seriousness -- is as serious, as important as the reality.

 

         So we have to work hard to make sure that in those areas where it is perceived that the Afghan -- that the Taliban have the momentum, that the Afghan people can trust us to provide a level of security and trust their forces to provide a level of security such that they no longer have to live in fear in their own homes and in their own villages.

 

        And that's what General McChrystal is concentrating on right now, trying to make sure that all Afghans feel as though they are living in a safe and secure environment, one that is being provided by the Afghan forces, by the coalition forces, and one in which the Taliban are increasingly marginalized.  

 

         And so no one's attempting to downplay anything, and I would urge you to probably pay less attention to these so-called insiders who have returned from Afghanistan with some sense, they believe, of the direction General McChrystal is heading, and they are confusing advice with whether or not General McChrystal has actually embraced their advice.  

 

         This assessment is still under way.  It is still being worked on, as I talked to you last time.  And I think it is premature to say what direction, necessarily, General McChrystal is going in, particularly on force-level requirements, if there are any updates to that.  And anybody who comes back and tells you they know the direction that General McChrystal is going, I would urge you to be very skeptical of their knowledge, because this is still very much a work in progress.

 

         Thank you. 

 

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