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

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
September 09, 2009

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon.  Sorry we're a little late.  Hey, it's in part due to the fact that we wanted everyone to have the opportunity to attend Ken Bacon's memorial service at the National Cathedral this afternoon.  I'm sure many of you knew Ken and worked with him.  He was an extraordinary man, from his two-and-a-half decades at The Wall Street Journal to his years at this podium to his work as president of Refugees International.  As former Secretary of Defense Perry said of his advocacy on behalf of refugees across the globe, Ken was a giant in the field.  He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family. 

 

                Before taking your questions, I want to give you a quick update on some scheduling matters over the next couple of days.  First of all, right now, Secretary Gates is meeting with Secretary of National Defense for the Philippines Gilberto Teodoro.  As you know, they met in the Philippines earlier this summer, so today's meeting will be a follow-up on that one and will continue the dialogue with one of our oldest alliance partners in Asia.

 

                Later this afternoon, the secretary will meet with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, one of our best friends in the Middle East.  And tonight he will join the rest of the Cabinet and attend Secretary -- pardon me, President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. 

 

                Tomorrow afternoon, the secretary will welcome Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano to the Pentagon for a naturalization service in the courtyard for about 30 service members.  The two secretaries will honor these men and woman who have earned their citizenship through service to their adopted country.

 

                Friday, as you know, is the eighth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and Secretary Gates will host a remembrance ceremony at the Pentagon's 9/11 Memorial.  He'll give brief remarks and then introduce President Obama, who will speak to the family members in attendance and everyone watching at home.  This event will not be open to the general public.  It will, instead, be a more intimate affair with a focus on the memorial and the families of those who perished.

 

                Finally, Friday afternoon, the secretary will meet with the minister of defense from the Netherlands, van -- Minister Middelkoop, a key NATO ally and a steadfast partner in Regional Command South in Afghanistan.

 

                And with that, I'll take your questions.

 

                Anne.

 

                Q     Has there been any determination here as to whether the Kunduz airstrike met the -- General McChrystal's new directives to avoid civilian casualties, and whether the tanker trucks were, in fact, a legitimate target?

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think such a determination would be made from here, frankly.  And I think the secretary has every confidence that General McChrystal will get to the bottom of this matter.  He has, as you know, appointed a Canadian general to lead up the investigation.  There is participation from general officers from Germany and the U.S., I believe, as well.  And this will likely take a matter of weeks.  

 

                But in the end, I think that we have every confidence that we will figure out conclusively what did happen in this incident. Obviously, there was a loss of life.  It's regrettable that some civilians were killed in this incident.  But let's let the investigation take its course. 

 

                And I can tell you at this point, whatever the investigation ultimately finds, I think it's clear that the German forces in this case acted with the best of intentions and that there will undoubtedly be lessons learned from all of us once this investigation is concluded.  It is imperative that we do everything in our power to continue to execute the directives of General McChrystal, which are designed to, above all, protect the Afghan population. 

 

                They are our partners in this battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban. 

 

                Q     Is there any concern, though, that in this instance the imperative to avoid civilian casualties may have been at odds with those to help the -- in this case, the Germans, but the NATO partners? When they ask for an air strike, it's almost always U.S. planes that respond. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  But I think the premise to your question is that it was somehow asked for as some sort of close air support.  That's not, as I understand it, what was involved here.  And I hesitate to really go down this road, because this is a matter that should be dealt with by the command.  We're too far removed from it.   

 

                But this is a case not of soldiers in distress and under fire and needing close air support.  This is a case where judgment was made about the impending peril of having fuel trucks in the hands of Taliban insurgents and the risk to coalition forces and the Afghan population as a result of that.  And judgments were made as a result of that.  And what ensued were clearly -- was clearly a bombing that killed a number of people, many of them insurgents, but it appears that some of them were civilians, as well.   

 

                The investigation is about figuring out whether all the moves that preceded that outcome were appropriate given the circumstances. And it's too soon to tell.  That's why we have appointed this team to look into it, and that's why we want to let it take its course before we pass judgment on all this. 

 

                I will tell you this, though.  It does seem that the rapid response of General McChrystal and his team, and their sensitivity to the potential -- and pardon the term -- explosiveness of this situation, has gone a long way with the Afghan people.  You will notice, and it was noted in some reports I read today, that the reaction among the Afghan people, and the Afghan government, for that matter, has been much more muted compared to previous instances in which civilian casualties were alleged. 

 

                And I think that is a direct result of the fact that General McChrystal has made it clear from day one, when he set foot in Afghanistan, as the new commander of ISAF, that he was committed to measuring success not by Taliban and al Qaeda killed but by Afghans protected.   

 

                And his actions have backed up his words.  And we have gone a long way to reduce civilian casualties since then.  This is the first incident since the tactical directive, in which airstrikes have resulted in -- potentially in civilian casualties.  And it's regrettable.  And we want to get to the bottom of it, to try to avoid it in the future.    

 

                Yeah, Dan.   

 

                Q     What about in eastern Afghanistan, where there are reports that there were U.S. troops under direct threat and who had to wait reportedly more than an hour for airpower and were refused a request for artillery support?   

 

                Is that a case that's also being looked at?  And is there a broader concern that this can be taken too far and that airpower can be so restricted as to endanger U.S. troops?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is another one where I hesitate to get too far into the details from 8,000 miles away.  But, and I would urge you really to follow up with ISAF and talk to them, about the precise circumstances you're asking about.   

 

                My understanding of it, Dan, is that it is not quite as you described or as it has been reported.  I think that it did take some time for close air support to arrive in this case, but that is not a result of more restrictive conditions in which it can be used.  It was a result, as in often -- as is often the case in Afghanistan, of the fact that there are great distances, often, between bases where such assets are located and where our troops are out operating.  That is just the nature of the beast in Afghanistan.  It is a large country, and we operate all over it.  So I think in this case the assets would have been flown out of Jalalabad, which was a -- some distance from where this unit was under fire. 

 

                As for, you know, the specifics, such as artillery and so forth, I'm just not in a position from this podium to get into those kind of specifics.  All I can tell you about that incident is, it, like all incidents in which there is a loss of coalition forces, a loss of U.S. forces, it is under investigation.  And that one, too, we will hopefully get to the bottom and figure out if everything operated according to protocol. 

 

                But one thing we do know up front is that, sadly, there was a loss of life, of considerable life.  A number of U.S. forces -- four, I believe -- were killed in that firefight, and a great many of Afghan forces were also killed in that firefight.  And that is regrettable, and our hearts go out to their families. 

 

                Q     No review of that policy?  That policy remains in place in terms of how air power and firepower are used? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- again, I would challenge the premise to the question.  And not to be combative, Dan, but I don't think this was an incident in which the -- whatever delay there may have been -- and I'm not -- I can't say that there necessarily was a delay attributable to anything other than the distance required to travel to get there in support of these forces.   

 

                But whatever the -- delay there was I do not believe can be attributed to any more restrictive tactical directive that is -- directives that have been issued by the new commander.  That is not what was at play here.  There was support that was provided to these forces, and it was provided once those units, I believe, could travel the distance to get there to provide that support. 

 

                Q     A follow-up on that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, go ahead, Nancy. 

 

                Q     You said that you don't think it was the time that was reported by the reporter who was on the ground.  What is the approximate time that you think it was?  And, whatever time it was, is there a feeling in this building that it was an acceptable amount of time between when it was requested and when it arrived? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Again, Nancy, I'm not in a position to answer those kind of specifics from here, but I can assure you the command in Kabul would be in a position.  So I'd urge you to place a call to them and get to the bottom of those kind of specifics. 

 

                But listen, this was an embedded training team.  This was a case where you had a number of Marine advisers, and I think there was a sailor in there, as well.  And they went out in support of an Afghan police operation, I believe, and they were ambushed.  And that happens.  It is sad.  It is regrettable.  It has resulted in a terrible loss of life.  But it is the nature of what we are doing in Afghanistan at this point.   

 

                And I am certainly not going to, from this podium, second guess the actions that were taken by those troops on the ground or by those who tried to come to their -- to their aid.  I have no reason to believe that there was -- that there were any problems with the response to those troops in need.  But as I said, this is a matter that's under investigation, and if there were, we will expose those and we'll deal with them and we'll correct them in the future. 

 

                Q     If I could follow up, I'm not asking you to second-guess the judgment of the troops on the ground, but you're essentially second- guessing the reporting of my colleague, who was on the ground.  And I'd just like to know on what basis is this idea that it was less than the time that was reported. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  In my conversations with my colleagues downrange, they have suggested to me that it is other than as it has been reported, and that there were other errors in it, too.   

 

                But listen, I'm not here to take issue with your colleague, who was obviously in a harrowing fight.  And we certainly appreciate the work he is doing on behalf of all of us so that we have a better understanding of what's going on on the ground in Afghanistan.   

 

                But oftentimes, in -- in the frenzy, in the -- in that kind of dangerous situation, things may appear different than they were. 

 

                I don't know that to be the case, other than that I am hearing from our colleagues down-range that the time that is alleged to have lapsed is not as it was reported. 

 

                But I don't want -- I'm not looking to have a battle with you over this.  I would urge you to talk to people who are in much -- much closer proximity to the events, to tell you precisely the timeline here. 

 

                Q     But you can't -- you can't give me any sense of how big of a disparity it is? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can't.  I can't.  I, frankly, didn't delve that deeply into it with them, but I'm sure they will be glad to help you. Okay?  And if you have trouble, ask again of me, and I will try to prod them. 

 

                Anybody else on this?  Justin. 

 

                Q     Well, I have an Afghanistan question.  Can you explain to us why there was the decision made to ban alcohol at the military headquarters in Kabul?  Some suggested there was a relationship to the events day after the Kunduz incident, and also, the lack of a rapid response. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is another one that the -- sort of, the Pentagon is being dragged into what are essentially, you know, a local commander's affairs.  You know, this is not something, frankly that the commander of ISAF sort of ran up the flagpole, ran up the chain to ask permission of people in this building.  So, you know, I, frankly, don't have a view on it.  And I would urge you to talk to them about why he did it. 

 

                My understanding -- again, in talking to my colleagues in Afghanistan -- is that this is not -- again, as it was reported -- a result of any delay or inability of trying to get in touch with his subordinates in the wake of this Kunduz incident.  But this is something that has been in the works for quite some time. 

 

                And for those of you who know who -- for those of you who know General McChrystal, it is completely in keeping with his character. This is a no-nonsense guy.  This is a guy who has been given a very serious and very difficult mission, and you can bet that he is going to be all business about it and he expects all those who work for him to be all business as well.  There is just too much at stake right now for such distractions.  And he expects -- he demands a lot of himself, and he demands a lot of those who work for him. 

 

                And so, with lives on the line and national security at stake and that of our allies as well, it is no surprise to me, at least, that General McChrystal would want to tighten restrictions on such things and try to prevent any distractions. 

 

                Q     Okay.   

 

                Just one other Afghanistan question:  Are you seeing -- is the military seeing any evidence of Iranian influence, in Afghanistan, perhaps supplying weapons, anything like that that you know of, Geoff?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean we've addressed this I don't know how many times.  And I don't think it's changed since the last time we've spoken.  I mean, Iran, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, chooses to play both sides of the coin here.   

 

                They on one hand can be helpful.  They are neighbors and trade partners and have cultural and economic ties, in some cases, religious ties as well.  But more often than not they are unhelpful.  And they continue to be frankly in both countries.  We see evidence of that.   

 

                It has historically been and continues to be the case that it is more of a problem in Iraq than it is in Afghanistan.  But Afghanistan is not immune from Iranian meddling or from Iranian munitions showing up.  But it is most acutely a problem in Iraq.   

 

                Yeah.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.)  Just about the rescue of The New York Times reporter, was the U.S. military aware of the British rescue, the raid? And was it involved in any way?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is another one that I think is best handled by ISAF.  I mean, I think that they've issued a statement on it.  The British government has issued a statement on it.  It involved a British national.  I think that the British have chosen to acknowledge that their forces were involved.   

 

                I would say only that we provided support to them in this effort. But this was -- now that the British have acknowledged it, this was a British-led operation that led to the rescue of your colleague but in the process sadly resulted in the loss of life, for a British trooper as well as an Afghan interpreter for The New York Times.   

 

                Q     You're saying -- you said you provided support to them and that that's -- could you be more specific about that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I can't be.  If they want to be more specific with you in Afghanistan, I urge you to talk to them.  But I'll leave it at we provided support to them. 

 

                Q     So obviously the U.S. military knew about it. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Sure. 

 

                Q     Okay. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay?  A lot of hands all of a sudden.  Has -- Jeff. 

 

                Q     Thanks.  Has the secretary delivered his thoughts and the Joint Chiefs' thoughts on McChrystal's assessment to the president? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  He will do so this week.  He is expected this week to forward the ISAF commander's assessment on to the President via General Jones.  He will also pass on the comments from the chain of command, from General Petraeus, the chiefs, the chairman and the secretary.  So that is expected to take place this week. 

 

                I can tell you that since he received the report -- or the assessment, rather, on -- I think it was September the 1st or August the 31st -- he has spent a great deal of time -- the secretary, that is -- listening to his military commanders and to his military advisers, trying to get their feedback on the work product that General McChrystal has passed on.  And that has included a session on Friday in the Tank with the chiefs. 

 

                So I think he's engaged with his military team, and now he looks forward to engaging with the White House and other members of the national security team on the assessment.  I think where we're at right now is the conclusion of the first phase of this process -- that is, the assessment and the comments on it from this building -- and I think we're about to embark on the second phase, which is an interagency discussion about the assessment and how it will influence the way ahead in Afghanistan. 

 

                Q     Since you gave the secretary's schedule for the week; can you say when he's expected to deliver these recommendations? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I gave mostly his public schedule for the week.  

 

                I don't know precisely, Jeff, when he -- this will be in the form of, you know, handing it off to General Jones.  I'll try to get you more specifics.  But it will take place this week. 

 

                Q     All right. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, Courtney. 

 

                Q     Secretary Gates met with the president yesterday afternoon at the White House for their Tuesday afternoon meetings, and my understanding is that Admiral Mullen and the chiefs sent their comments along with a letter of the secretary last week.  Why didn't they talk about it yesterday, Secretary Gates?  And why is a report that Secretary Gates commissioned, or an assessment, why is General Jones presenting it to the president's -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It's -- he's the national security adviser.  That's the --  

 

                Q     Yeah, but Secretary Gates commissioned it. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  That's the conduit to formally present such matters into the -- into the president.  That's just the formal way of doing things.  And as for why he didn't choose to avail himself of yesterday's meeting to do this, I think they probably just had other things to talk about for that particular meeting. 

 

                Q     But Afghanistan is on the front burner. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not suggesting they didn't talk about Afghanistan.  There is a process here; we're in the midst of it; it'll take place this week.  I wouldn't read too much into it.  That's just where we are.  That's just how he's choosing to do it.  There's a lot that he discusses with the president beyond the assessment, and it shouldn't -- you shouldn't read it -- too much into it. 

 

                Q     And one other question.  The joint session tonight.  Why is the secretary attending a joint session that's a speech about health care?  Is there a particular reason? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think he -- I think the Cabinet was invited to attend, and I think he has accepted the invitation of the president of the United States.  It's not uncommon for the secretary to attend presidential addresses to a joint session of Congress.  He does it for the State of the Union.  It's an unusual occurrence, and he was -- he's happy to attend. 

 

                Yeah.  Anybody else on -- what are we on, Afghanistan still? 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     I have a question, if we're still on Afghanistan.  I'd like to follow -- the secretary last week during his briefing spoke pretty extensively about the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda and the run up in -- to 9/11 that the Taliban not only offered a sanctuary but cooperated and collaborated with al Qaeda.  Could you speak to what the Pentagon believes the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda is now? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think they -- it depends on where we're speaking.  I think they -- when it is -- when it is mutually productive, when it furthers their mutual goals, I think we've seen evidence where there is close cooperation.  But I think it varies from place to place, from time to time.   

 

                But when they can work together -- to further their goals of undermining us, undermining the democratically elected government of Afghanistan, undermining peace and security in that part of the world and threatening us and our allies around the world -- I think they will certainly avail themselves of such opportunities.   

 

                Q     It sounds like your describing a weaker relationship than existed in 2001.   

 

                So what's to suggest that --?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It's clearly a weaker relationship than existed in 2001.   

 

                Q     Okay.   

 

                If it's a weaker relationship, what's to suggest that if the Taliban were to regain control, in Afghanistan, that they would automatically provide sanctuary to al Qaeda?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think, it's a weaker relationship, Nancy, in our opinion, because there has been extraordinary pressure put on both al Qaeda and the Taliban, to make it very detrimental to their health to collude together, to conspire together, against us and our allies.   

 

                So it is precisely that pressure rather, that sustained pressure, that has we believe inhibited their ability to continue to collude and perhaps attack us.  If we were to cede Afghanistan to the Taliban, we have no reason to believe that they wouldn't collude again and recreate that horrific terrorist training camp that existed pre-9/11 or pre-October of 2001, when we went in and destroyed them.   

 

                So that's what we're trying to avoid.  We're also trying to keep peace and stability as best we can, throughout that region, and show our friends and allies, whether it be Pakistan or any of the other central Asian nations, that we are committed to them, that we are their friends and allies.  And we are not going to turn our backs as we have in the past.   

 

                I should -- just on the Afghanistan thing, I thought -- you mentioned the secretary's comments last week.  And I thought that some of the reports that followed had been slightly overwritten, if I may say so, about where he is with regards to more troops.   

 

                And I think while he was more forward-leaning than he has been at any point, in terms of how -- some of what General McChrystal has relayed to him -- about the size of the force, the size of the foreign footprint, being perhaps less important than the behavior of those forces and how they are received by the Afghan people -- that has indeed gone a long way to mitigating many of his concerns.   

 

                But I think it would be a step too far to suggest that Secretary Gates has made up his mind on how many, if any, additional forces are required for Afghanistan.  And I don't believe he will begin to go about making up his mind until he formally does get this -- this resource request that we expect from General McChrystal.  Okay?  Just some perspective. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- stories that said Gates was signaling to the public that he was open to more troops, those were wrong, or read too much into it? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No.  I think -- I think Secretary Gates has always been open to -- to more troops.  He has never been closed-minded about anything his commanders would offer.  They're closer to the situation than he is. But I think being open to something and having some of his concerns mitigated is different than Gates having made up his mind or somehow signaling that he was indeed going to favor more troops in Afghanistan. 

 

                I think he is still very much working through this, and it is too soon to tell precisely where he will end up on this issue.  But I thought what he shared with you was interesting, that he -- that some of his concerns have been mitigated by the explanations offered by General McChrystal. 

 

                Yeah, Chris. 

 

                Q     Just a follow-up on Nancy's question.  When you say that you have no doubt that the Taliban would collude with -- with al Qaeda given the opportunity, is that based on a gut feeling, hard evidence, specific statements by Taliban commanders that they would do that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think -- I think history has shown us that, and not just distant history.  Recent history has shown us that.  I mean, we see evidence, whether it be in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, where, as I said to Nancy, there continues to be evidence of partnering.  I'm not saying these are aligned forces and -- or as aligned as they were when they operated unfettered in a Taliban-run Afghanistan, but we certainly see enough to lead us to believe that if indeed we were to turn our backs on Afghanistan again, and in the process essentially turn our backs on Pakistan again, that it would be a road to disaster. 

 

                Q     Well, specifically in Afghanistan, like, what do you see that leads you to believe that if the Taliban had a greater role in  governing Afghanistan, that they would definitely still be partnering with al Qaeda? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, they -- as I said, we see enough in recent history, we see enough evidence, both in past and recent times, of partnering, of colluding, that if they were unfettered, if they were unpressured, if they were left to their own devices, that that would likely continue as they -- as a means to further their mutual goals of spreading their warped view of the world and of Islam and of trying to attack those who they don't agree with, such as us. 

 

                Let's go on to something else.  Yes, my friend.  Yes, please.   

 

                Q     A question from Japan. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

 

                Q     A new administration is coming next year. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

 

                Q     The administration is thinking to pull out from the Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is the only Middle East contribution from Japan, and also were seeking to modify the Okinawa replacement base plans, and then -- and what -- and seeking to modify the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement] between the United States.  Do you have any concern about this?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me make a general statement.  Then I'll try to answer the specifics.   

 

                And I can tell you this:  that we in our initial interactions between my colleagues here who deal with members of the newly elected party in Japan, they have reported back that the new government suggests -- that the new government places a very high value on the U.S.-Japanese alliance.  And so while there has clearly been a change in political leadership in Japan, we are hopeful that there will be continuity in the strength of the alliance between our two countries. 

 

                And so we look forward to continuing to work with the Japanese government, with the new Japanese government, when it is formed, on security issues. 

 

                I think that with regards to the Indian Ocean refueling mission, we have greatly benefited from -- as has the world, for that matter -- from Japan's participation in those efforts, and we would very much encourage them to continue those efforts. 

 

                Japan is a great power, one of the world's wealthiest countries. And there is an international responsibility, we believe, for everyone to do their share, as best they can, to contribute to this effort to bring about a more peaceful and secure Afghanistan, to avoid it returning to a country that could launch attacks against Japan, the U.S., any of our friends and allies around the world. 

 

                So we look forward to working with them on that.  And we also look forward to working with them on all the -- on all the existing agreements that we have in place and are trying to bring about an execution to, including realignment -- the base realignment, the Guam realignment and so forth. 

 

                So we look forward to working with the new government, and we're not going to prejudge where they are until we begin to sit down with them.  And I know there was a lot of campaign rhetoric, and that's to be expected.  But there's a difference between campaigning and governing, and we think that when the responsibility of governing comes about, that people will appreciate, as they -- we have every reason to believe they do, the importance of this alliance and the importance of working together on these agreements.  Okay? 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     My question is about weapons sales to the Middle East. Obviously, countries in the Middle East have always bought weapons, but to what extent has tension in Iran pushed weapons sales to the region higher? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think the secretary addressed this, frankly, on Friday, in an interview that was aired this week on Al- Jazeera, when he talked about that Iran clearly believes -- wrongly, in our estimation -- that having a nuclear capability will ultimately bring them more security, at least the regime more security. 

 

                The secretary believes, to the contrary, that if you look at the actions of Iran's neighbors throughout the region, particularly the Gulf States, they are very nervous about Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and as a result are beefing up their own security capabilities.  And so what is likely happening is Iran's neighbors are becoming increasingly potent militarily, and in their efforts to become more secure through their nuclear capabilities, their neighbors in the region are becoming quite strong themselves.  So they are becoming less secure in this pursuit of a nuclear weapon. 

 

                And so we will continue to work with our friends in the region on developing a cooperative security relationship, to counterbalance the efforts underway in Tehran; and that we hope, though, that ultimately, through economic and diplomatic pressure, Iran will choose a different course, and that we won't have this continued arms race. 

 

                And in a worst-case scenario, if Iran were to get such capabilities, it would undoubtedly, in the estimation of people who study such things, lead to a nuclearization throughout the region.  And that's something that is not -- does not enhance Iran's security.  It undermines its security and, frankly, all of us who live and work in the region. 

 

                Q     If I may follow up, though, to what extent do you think that all these weapons in the region may cause more problems of instability, as opposed to solving them? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think, clearly, as -- if this were to lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, it clearly would lend -- would lead to a less stable, potentially, region than it is now.  And that's of real concern to all of us, and that's why we are all working together to try to dissuade Iran from pursuing that capability. 

 

                Okay, let's do a -- I'm -- I've stayed pretty long, so let's just do Kevin, Tony -- all right, Kevin, Tony, and Luis. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Yesterday the Center for Public Integrity came out with a report about the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense saying that 12 out of 16 members are basically in the pocket of the industry that they mapped out all these revolving doors in the lobby and they called it the worst of Washington's revolving-door culture.   

 

                So given that the president has said he was going to come to town and clean up lobbying, and the secretary has said that you guys are trying to clean up contracting in this building, first of all, has there been any reaction from the secretary?  Has he seen this report? And secondly, why should the American people think that anything's going to be different this time around, given that as soon as you come back to town in Congress, some such report comes out? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Frankly, I haven't seen the report.  I frankly barely followed the question as you were asking it.  (Laughs.)  But I think the gist of it is -- I think the gist of it is that you're saying that members of Congress have had a cozy relationship with lobbyists.  Is that it? 

 

                Q     Right.  That's -- yeah, three-quarters of Murtha's subcommittee, they say, are in the pocket of the defense industry, that there's a -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know what that means.  I -- I don't know what that means, "in the pocket of the defense industry."  And if it's -- 

 

                Q     Well, I'll tell you.  They map out the -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  I haven't seen the report, so I really hesitate to comment on it.  So if you want to address this to the people who are criticized in the report, which seem to be members and those who support their campaigns, I would urge you to do so.   

 

                All I can tell you is that the president has made it very clear about what he wants to do with regards to defense contracting and government contracting overall, and that is to reform it, to clean it up, to make it more -- to make it of greater value to the taxpayers so that there is not a waste of their hard-earned dollars, and to make sure that things are done ethically and appropriately.  And that's what we are committed to in this building.   

 

                That's what the secretary is committed to.  That's what Bill Lynn is committed to.  And we're working on it.   

 

                It won't be changed overnight.  But we are putting in place measures that we hope will go a long way to changing that dynamic.  I mean, I would refer you to his remarks in Chicago where he talked about, you know, the sort of iron triangle of Congress and industry and the bureaucracy in this building conspiring together to promote business as usual.   

 

                And we are trying to break that tight bond between those three, and try to have this building be more responsive to the needs of the war fighter, and also give the taxpayers more for their money.  And that's what our focus is on right now.   

 

                Tony.   

 

                Q     Speaking of more for the money, what's the status of the tanker program?  Back in July, you said by September, the strategy may be released.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'd have to get you an update on when I think the RFP [Request for Proposal] would go out and the strategy would be unveiled.  You know, I don't know if it's going to be any later than what I told you.  I don't have any reason to believe so at this point.  But I will double- check.   

 

                I mean, I think, the fundamental point here, Tony, is that it's better to be right than fast.  We don't want to rush this.  This program has been through too many fits and starts, too many embarrassments in the past, to rush and possibly repeat those mistakes.   

 

                So everybody is working right now to make sure that once we are out of the gates, we are out of the gates with a product that is sound and, as I said before, is bulletproof.   

 

                Q     Can I ask you, is there an emerging consensus, in terms of what the World Trade Organization came out with last week, in terms of the Airbus subsidies?  Dr. Carter and others working the tanker program are of the opinion this is -- this decision will have some impact on the tanker solicitation.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's a good question.  And it's one that's frankly been asked of the people in this building who would deal with such things.  And right now people are looking into that, to see what if any impact the WTO decision would have, on our dealings with Airbus and others potentially.    

 

                And that -- you know it's a fairly recent decision.  And that has just been tasked to people who deal with such matters.  And I don't have anything to report back on what they've come up with.  But I can assure you, it's being looked at.  And we'll figure out what the impact is.   

 

                Yeah, Luis.   

 

                Q     Believe it or not, somebody asked my question.  But I'm going to follow up on this one.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Really? 

 

                Q     Yeah. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  ABC News is into the WTO decisions? 

 

                Q     We are a wide-ranging organization. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  All right. 

 

                Q     Has General Odierno passed on a recommendation to Secretary Gates about the drawdown of an additional brigade by the end of this year? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  He has not done so at this point. 

 

                Q     Do you have a timeline or an expectation for when --? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I know I've told you to do this before, but I would stay tuned.  I think he is working through this now, trying to figure out how far he can go.  And I would tell you that, despite the August 19th bombings, which, as horrific and deadly as they were, are really not indicative of the overall security climate in Iraq -- and, frankly, the reaction to them -- maybe not in the immediate aftermath, but since -- from the Iraqi government, from the ministries, has been encouraging.  We've seen a greater degree of cooperation between what some might describe at times as rival ministries.  We have seen a greater amount of cooperation between the security forces in the aftermath of those horrific attacks.  And so I think General Odierno and his team are encouraged by the response lately. 

 

                And I don't think that that attack would impact his thinking on where we go with regards to the pace of the drawdown, other than perhaps in being encouraged by the degree of cooperation and seriousness with which they are approaching this. 

 

                Q     Point of clarification? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Last time that I think there was a joint session of Congress, the secretary wasn't there because he was tasked to, in case the worst happened -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     -- to run the government. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, it was the inauguration. 

 

                Q     The inauguration.  Got it.  So, you know, it's -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Suffice it to say, he is not that person this time. 

 

                Q     That's what I wanted to be sure of.  (Laughter.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

 

                This guy in the back has been patiently waiting.  Last one. 

 

                Q     Just one more on Afghanistan. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Does the Pentagon share the belief of the secretary general of NATO that the widening public skepticism about the war effort in Afghanistan could start to hamper the effort there?  He's saying that, you know, there is a public discourse that's going in the wrong direction.  And how much concern is there that questions over the legitimacy of the elections could start to adversely affect the U.S. efforts militarily in Afghanistan? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  There's a lot there.  I think you've heard him on this issue.  I'd refer you to his comments last Thursday, in which he did acknowledge -- and frankly, in the Al Jazeera interview, he did so as well -- that there is a certain degree of understandable war- weariness in this country, and probably in other countries as well.  I mean, we've been at war now for eight years.  It's been long and difficult and costly in lives and treasure.   

 

                So he certainly appreciates the fact that the American people are growing weary of this -- of these conflicts.  And that is why he is of the belief that we have to be able to show real progress over the next year, year and a half.  Again, not definitive progress, not victory, as much as we hate to even use those terms, but we have to be able to show the American people that all this effort, all these resources are not in vain, that we are indeed making headway. 

 

                But I would urge you to think of this slightly differently.  As much as we have all witnessed and been saddened by the recent losses of coalition and U.S. forces and Afghan forces as we have stepped up operations over the last couple months, I would also remind you that the commander on the ground, the guy who is closest to what is going on there, is of the belief that we can succeed there, that the world can succeed in Afghanistan if we remain committed to it and if we resource it properly. 

 

                And so I would just urge everybody to perhaps take a little bit of a different perspective on all of this.  Don't get so caught up in the daily tragedies that we are witnessing -- which I'm not trying to diminish them, but we need to have perspective.  We need to have a long-term view of this.   

 

                And the truth of the matter is, while the Taliban is clearly resurgent in certain parts of the country and certainly can claim certain parts of the country and influence others, the vast majority of the country, the overwhelming preponderance of the country is not under Taliban control or influence.  And we need to work to make sure that the rest of the country can rid itself of that negative force. And the commander is confident we can do so, and I think -- I think the secretary is confident we can do so.   

 

                And so -- thank you.  Appreciate it.

 

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