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DoD News Briefing with Press Secretary Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
October 14, 2009

                Good afternoon.  Sorry I'm late.  Pleasure to see you all.  I have a slightly longer-than-normal opening statement, then I'll be glad to take your questions. 

 

                On Monday, October the 19th, Secretary Gates will travel to Hawaii, where he will participate in the Pacific Command change-of- command ceremony.  Admiral Timothy Keating will relinquish his duties as commander of Pacific Command and will soon retire, after giving  more than 40 years of service.  At the ceremony, the secretary will pay tribute to Admiral Keating's accomplishments and the outstanding work of the men and women of PACOM.  Admiral Robert Willard, who was most recently commander of Pacific Fleet, will assume the helm of our nation's oldest and largest combatant command.   

 

                The secretary will then travel to Tokyo for his first visit with the newly elected Japanese government.  The secretary will have meetings with the prime minister, as well as the ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs, during which they will discuss the security of the region and the ongoing transformation of the U.S.-Japan alliance. 

 

                He then visits Seoul, where he will co-chair the 41st, pardon me, annual Security Consultative Meeting with the minister of National Defense for the Republic of Korea.  In the wake of North Korea's recent missile launches, the secretary will reinforce America's commitment to the alliance and South Korea's defense. 

 

                On Thursday, Secretary Gates will travel to Bratislava, Slovakia, for a NATO defense ministerial that will likely focus primarily on the alliance's mission in Afghanistan.  He will remain there through Friday and return to the United States that evening. 

 

                On Monday of the following week, October the 26th, the secretary welcomes General Xu, the vice chairman of the People's Liberation Army Central Military Commission to Washington.  General Xu is China's second-highest ranking uniformed officer and is scheduled to be in the United States between October 24 and October the 31st.  There are a number of high-level meetings scheduled with General Xu and other senior U.S. officials, including a dinner hosted by Secretary Gates. 

 

                Since the secretary's visit to China approximately two years ago, he has been committed to fostering a better and deeper strategic dialogue with that country, especially a better trust and transparency between our two militaries.  Towards that end, General Xu will visit a number of U.S. military installations and organizations around the country, including the United States Naval Academy, Fort Benning, Strategic Command, Nellis Air Force Base, the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego, and finally, Pacific Command. 

 

                And with those scheduling matters now complete, I'll be happy to take your questions. 

 

                Anne  

 

                Q     Two things.  Is there a readout yet from the secretary or others on today's White House session, anything you can tell us about the timeline -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No. 

 

                Q     -- coming out of there? 

 

                Second, what -- what do you or the secretary make of the announcement today in Britain of an additional 500 troops that came also with a pretty lengthy parliamentary discussion of the woes within the Afghan government and whether this troop infusion was going to prop up a government that might not be worth propping up?  Is this is a discussion that is also being mirrored in the United States?  And does 500 troops get the job done for the Brits, or does it show that in any way they are going wobbly on the United States? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'll try to keep track of all those. 

 

                Q     Yeah, I'm sorry.  (Laughter.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The fundamental question, if I got it right, was our reaction to the fact that our British counterparts will be adding 500 additional forces to Afghanistan.  I think we welcome that contribution, as we do all contributions from our alliance partners. But I would hesitate to wade into whatever the political ramifications are for that decision in the U.K.  That's beyond my scope of expertise.  So, we certainly welcome it. 

 

                Q     Well, it came with a discussion of to what end these troops are being put and whether the Afghan government, as presently constituted, is worth supporting.  And I wonder what you make of that argument and whether you think it's one that's being mirrored here. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I fully respect the -- the fact that that has been an argument or a discussion that's taking place within the British government, but I don't think it's my place to get into what did or did not motivate them to ultimately contribute forces to the mission in Afghanistan.  We welcome the contribution, but I'm going to refrain from weighing in to the motivation behind it. 

 

                Yeah, Adam. 

 

                Q     Yeah, can you give a little bit more on General Xu?  I mean, what's the -- what's the reason for this visit, and what do you hope to get out of it?  And can you talk about -- a little bit about the concerns about some of the military programs that the Chinese have put in place, and whether that's going to be discussed during the visit? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  What is it with multiple questions along the -- in the front row today?  I'll be here for as long as you like.  Let's take them one at a time. 

 

                What is it more with General Xu's visit?  Listen, it's been two years since the secretary visited China, and we have yet to have a reciprocal visit from what would essentially be his Chinese counterpart. 

 

                We are finally getting that with the arrival of General Xu later this month, and we are very much looking forward to that. 

 

                Because the secretary, as he stated then on that trip, really believes there is huge value in fostering better military-to-military relations between our two countries, in working towards better transparency and a more open dialogue between our military leaders so that we both understand what we are doing with the billions and billions and billions of dollars that we spend on defense.  So the better -- the more transparency there is, the more dialogue that goes on, the less chance there is for a misunderstanding between two very formidable powers on the world stage. 

 

                And so General Xu's visit is significant in that we are finally getting a very high-level reciprocal visit from the military establishment, and we will show him a great deal of how our military operates in this country.  He's going to visit installations representing all four of the services, be they academic or operational.  And I think this is done with the hope that he will come away with a better understanding of how we operate and how this kind of transparency can ultimately help our relations in the long term.   

 

                I mean, I think you heard from President Obama earlier this year, when he spoke of the U.S.-China relationship, express that the one area in which we particularly need to improve is on the military-to- military relationship.  The secretary couldn't agree with him more and has been pushing for quite some time to have this kind of visit and to continue the kind of dialogue that he first suggested back in our visit to Beijing a couple of years ago.   

 

                I mean, he noted -- for those of you on the trip then, you'll recall he noted that, in his experience in dealing with the Soviets during the Cold War, that the strategic dialogue that took place between those two countries went a -- you know, it can be debated about whether or not they ultimately impacted the level of strategic weapons that we had, but they certainly did enable us to better understand each other and avoid any misunderstandings that could have been problematic. 

 

                Okay?  Yeah, Barbara.  

 

                Q     The president said yesterday that if there was to be any additional -- in talking about deployments to Afghanistan, that any deployment had to be, in his words, sustainable.   

 

                So what's the secretary's view right now, as you consider this, about the sustainability of a deployment in this respect:  giving the troops the hoped-for or promised year back home of dwell time before they have to go out again?  How sacrosanct is that?  How much of that is a red line for the secretary?  How committed is he to still giving the troops a year at home? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me address this in a -- as best I can in a vacuum or detached from whatever discussions may or not be taking place at the White House.  And I would affirm to you that the secretary is the one who had to make the extraordinarily difficult decision of extending tour lengths when the situation was particularly bad in Iraq and required a surge of forces.  So rather than continuing to sort of lead troops on and then disappoint them with the prospect of returning home as originally scheduled, he wanted to incorporate greater predictability into their deployment.  So he took -- he bit the bullet and made the decision to extend tour lengths in Iraq to 15 months. 

 

                Luckily, as of this past August, we got to the point where no units deploying to CENTCOM were deploying for longer than 12 months. That is something he very much wants to hold to if at all possible. 

 

                I see no indication at this point that that would have to be adjusted.  But I think we always reserve the right to make adjustments if that's what national security dictates.   

 

                But he has consistently been an advocate for trying to maintain predictability in deployments, guarantee a certain amount of dwell time, because we are asking a lot of our forces and we -- and their families and have been doing so now for eight years. 

 

                But I think it's his desire -- frankly, I think it's the desire of the commander in chief; it's certainly the desire of the service chiefs -- to try to be very mindful of the continued stress and strain on our forces throughout these eight years of -- and two wars. 

 

                Q     What are you hearing from the chiefs about sustainability, about that very concern?  At what point are they saying, you know, this is just -- in terms of Afghanistan, this is too much, we can't do all this.   

 

                And why is it that still the chiefs have not weighed in and advanced their proposals or their comments to the White House?  Why are the chiefs not yet included in the White House deliberations?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The second part of your question first:  The chiefs are included.  Their views are represented by the chairman.  And he's participated in all five of these meetings.   

 

                I know he's met with the chiefs throughout this process, to keep them up to date and to get their input.  And I think it is very much reflected in the contributions he's made to these discussions.   

 

                Obviously there is, I think, a constitutional right of the chiefs to raise their hand.  And if they wish to be heard from individually, they can request a meeting with the president.  But I feel as though at this point, they believe, their views have been more than adequately represented by the chairman in these discussions.   

 

                As you know, the secretary is obviously also committed to making sure the services are heard and that their concerns and issues are reflected in the discussions.   

 

                Q     What have you then -- what has this building heard from the chiefs then about the breakpoint?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is a matter that is being discussed at the White House, in a secure room below ground that is designed to avoid leaks.  So I don't think it's my place to share with you what if any concerns the chiefs have shared, with the secretary or the chairman, and have therefore then been shared with the president and his team.   

 

                I just don't think that's appropriate.   

 

                Yeah.   

 

                Q     It's been several weeks now since the horrible attack at Keating, Combat Outpost Keating.  Some of the soldiers involved have posted, on Facebook and YouTube and elsewhere, their own kind of fragmentary account of what took place.   

 

                But there has still not yet been a detailed sort of high-level brief what happened.  Do you know, are there plans to release any kind of public accounting, detailed, of what took place there that would go beyond sort of an individual soldier's account of what he himself saw and experienced? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that there is -- that there are plans for any sort of public airing of whatever the findings are, the standard investigation -- I think it's a 15-6 investigation -- that's under way right now.  I don't know that there are any plans by U.S. Forces Afghanistan or ISAF to ultimately release that.  I think that investigation is currently still under way.   

 

                And I don't have any update for you on what they found, other than the fact that, you know -- that the -- COP Keating and COP Fritchie, I believe, which was an outpost associated with -- an observation outpost associated with COP Keating's facilities, have since been shut down, although I would note, as I did last week, that that had been in the works prior to this attack on the outpost. 

 

                But I think they'd best be able to tell you downrange what their plans are in terms of a public release of the investigation.  I have not heard of any. 

 

                Yeah.  Ann. 

 

                Q     Could you say whether the secretary is also -- you mentioned that, you know, he doesn't want to break the redlines, but what about extending the amount of dwell time?  Does he still -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, that's the objective.  I mean, the objective is still to work towards more dwell time than deployment time.  Right now we're at about a 1-to-1 ratio, and it's still everybody's objective to create a situation where soldiers are getting more dwell time than they are boots-on-the-ground time.  And we're still trending in that direction. 

 

                And I don't know how, if at all, that will be impacted by what decisions are ultimately made on our mission in Afghanistan.  But as it now stands, that is still the objective:  to increase the amount of dwell time as it compares to the amount of boots-on-the-ground time. 

 

                I would note also, Ann, and I hate to do so in a -- in such a public way, but I think there is a misconception out there about the flow of forces into Afghanistan since President Obama took over.   

 

                And it stems from a story that you wrote in the Washington Post yesterday.  And in an effort not to take you to task publicly, but to clear it up for others in the room, I would just draw your attention to the fact that on February the 17th, when the president first signed off on sending additional forces to Afghanistan, then the amount was 17,700 that he had approved.  Our boots on the ground at that time were 38,089.  Flowing into the country, based upon approvals of deployment orders made under the Bush administration, were an additional 6,059 forces.  That brings us to roughly 44,000 forces. 

 

                And then, President Obama ultimately, on the 27th of March, approved 21,700 forces for deployment to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of forces there to 65,848.  I would note that we are right now at 65,929.  So those numbers match.  

 

                The suggestion in the story, I think, was that there was somehow an effort under way to deploy a large number of support forces, enablers, to Afghanistan, and that we were not completely forthright about the fact that there were more forces going to Afghanistan than the 21,700 that had been publicly announced. 

 

                And I would just -- I'd be happy to show you these numbers afterwards, but as you took them down and looked at them yourselves, they all add up.  There are no additional forces that have been surreptitiously deployed to Afghanistan in support of the mission there. 

 

                As you'll see there, we're at 65,900 or so right now, about 66,000.  The total number of authorized forces for Afghanistan right now by the president is 68,000.  So there's still about a 2,000-person spread in there; not to mention the fact that there's been -- there still is an ongoing force-optimization study being done by General McChrystal, which may net us a thousand or two additional forces, as he's able to send home forces that he finds are no longer needed or are duplicative. 

 

                So that would allow the window in which we could send in the additional enablers that the secretary has spoken of publicly recently, the counter-IED forces, the intelligence personnel, the route clearance teams, the explosive ordnance disposal teams, the medevac teams, the medics and so forth. 

 

                So I don't know -- hopefully, it helps clear up any misunderstandings there may have been about this.  But the forces that have deployed to Afghanistan under President Obama are those which he and we have announced. 

 

                Q     I have a couple of questions in relationship to that that are not clear.  I was provided a chart by the Defense Department stating -- it states that the number of troops in Afghanistan at the end of January was 34,400, and the number at the end of February was 36,600.  So are you saying that this information provided by the Defense Department is incorrect? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The end of February was what? 

 

                Q     Thirty-six thousand. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- 

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.  I can -- listen, boots on the ground is always a -- we are capturing a moment in time, because it is a constantly fluctuating number based upon the fact that forces are rotating in and forces are rotating out.  What I've identified for you are the troop levels on sort of the key dates on which decisions were made about adding additional forces to Afghanistan. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- that February 17th there were 38,000, but the Defense Department provided (me with ?) data that shows that there were 36,000 after -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I am happy -- I am happy to look at your data, but the bottom line is, Ann, no matter -- whatever data you have, it does not change the fact that there was no effort under way by the president, by the secretary, by anybody in this department to try to in any way mislead people about the forces that had been approved and were flowing into country.  We've been absolutely candid about that from the get-go.  It's been 21,700 that were approved, and that's what are flowing into country. 

 

                There are forces -- there are forces, the 3rd of the 10th Brigade Combat Team, the Combat Aviation Brigade, were approved under President Bush and were still flowing into country when President Obama took office. 

 

                The 3rd of the 10th, I think, became fully operational in late- January.  The Combat Aviation Brigade became operational in May.  So those were forces that were approved by President Bush that continued to flow in, even after President Obama took office.   

 

                Q     I had one other question on that for clarification.   

 

                In April, Undersecretary for Policy Flournoy testified before Congress that the president had approved 30,000 more troops, up to 68,000.  Are you saying that that was incorrect?  She called it a very strong commitment by the president.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't ever recall the president approving 30,000 additional forces.  What I recall though is the president approving 21,700 forces, which is what we announced at the time and still hold to be the case.   

 

                Q     And another clarification I had was that if the previous commander in chief sets in motion any kind of deployment or approves any kind of deployment, and that deployment happens under the new commander in chief, would that happen without the new commander in chief's approval?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that it -- I think -- I wouldn't -- I don't think it would require the new commander in chief's approval. But certainly the new commander in chief would have the ability, if he so chooses, to adjust that deployment according to his wishes.   

 

                He's the boss after all.  But I don't believe that was ever an issue that the new commander in chief considered at the time.  There was -- the 3rd of the 10th was arriving as he was taking office.  And the Combat Aviation Brigade was beginning to flow in.   

 

                Q     So it would be accurate to say that if there were any previously approved deployments, by the previous commander in chief, that those would be -- that at a minimum, the new commander in chief would have allowed those to go forward?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Would have -- well, he didn't stop them from going forward, okay?   

 

                Q     Thank you.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.   

 

                Q     The 17,700 number you gave at the beginning.  (Off mike.)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  In February, I think, it was -- I think the president announced it in February.  I'll have to go back and look.  I think it was February the 17th.  Or maybe that wasn't approved.  But he announced at some point that he would be deploying 17,700 forces, which were the brigade combat teams.   

 

                We eventually when the Af-Pak strategy was announced, in late- March, also added the brigade of trainers that went over, bringing the total to 21,700.   

 

                That was the fourth of the 82nd was added to the three BCTs that were heading over. 

 

                Yeah, Justin. 

 

                Q     On Gitmo, it's my understanding that the Pentagon has tightened access significantly for reporters; requiring media to book separate trips if they want to visit the detention facilities, whereas normally they would have been able to see those during the commission's trips.  Can you explain why that there was that change in policy and how that fits in with the desire for more transparency in this administration? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- listen, I just -- I'm not familiar with how they manage the day-to-day operations down in Gitmo with regards to press access.  Although I would venture to say -- 

 

                Q     You are the press secretary. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  -- although I would venture to say -- although if you look it up, that doesn't technically fall under my responsibilities.  Although I would venture to say, Justin, that there probably is -- is nary a reporter in the country, let alone the world, that hasn't been down to Gitmo, if he or she wanted to go down to Gitmo, and had a chance to see the detention facilities over the past eight or so years. 

 

                So if anybody still out there is looking to see detention facilities, I assume we can make arrangements for them to do so. 

 

                Q     Right, but you're running -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  But there certainly have been opportunities -- plentiful opportunities over the last few years. 

 

                Q     Right, but you're running -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  And I would venture to say most, if not all, of your colleagues have had a chance to go down and see for themselves how well run a detention facility this is. 

 

                Q     And it was great, okay? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay. 

 

                Q     But the policy has changed and what you're running up -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  What policy?  What policy has changed? 

 

                Q     The policy -- you can't visit the detention facility. There's a change -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that that's a -- I don't know that that's a change of policy. 

 

                Q     And you're running up on this deadline that's not going to be met.  And it just -- it just doesn't seem right at this point that policy has changed.  We're just looking for an explanation. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I am not -- Justin, I'm not so sure the policy has changed.  If Fox is having a particular issue getting an opportunity to go down there and see the detention facilities for the hundredth or hundred-and-fiftieth time, I'd be happy to try to work with you to figure out an opportunity to do so.  Okay? 

 

                Yeah, Joe. 

 

                Q     Geoff, the same context, on Gitmo, could you give us more details about the discussions with Saudi Arabia regarding the plan to move 79 detainees from Gitmo -- 79 Yemeni detainees from Gitmo to Saudi Arabia? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think I have a very good update for you, Joe.  I think this has been, obviously, something that's been under discussion with our friends in Riyadh for sometime now, trying to figure out a way, working with the government of Yemen and the government of Saudi Arabia, if we could figure out a solution to the problem we have of having a large number of Yemeni detainees who we want to make sure don't return to a life of terror.   

 

                The Saudis have shown that they have an effective rehabilitation program that they've been executing, so we have, as we've shared with you time and time again, been exploring the possibility of having -- if the Yemeni government were amenable to it -- having some of these detainees released into that program -- and transferred from Gitmo and placed into that program.  But I don't have any definitive update for you on where we stand on that. 

 

                Q     Do you have the exact number of detainees for -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Of Yemeni detainees?   

 

                Q     Yes. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We can easily get you those numbers.  I think it's -- historically, I think it's been about a hundred.  But I -- it may have been reduced somewhat over the last few weeks since I last checked. 

 

                Q     The plan is to move the hundred detainees, or -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The plan is to try to figure out what to do with the 100 detainees, and this is one of the options that's being explored.  And -- but these are ongoing discussions with the Saudi government, with the Yemeni government and with our government, and we're trying to fashion a solution to this difficult problem. 

 

                Yeah, Al. 

 

                Q     Geoff, what's the department's reaction to Turkey's cancellation at the last minute of a joint exercise with the United States and Israel? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know that they -- we were -- we were a party to this decision.  The United States worked with participating governments last week to postpone the upcoming exercise.  We certainly value a broad range of important military cooperation with Turkey, which is a key NATO ally.   

 

                And we certainly have every intention of continuing to foster even closer cooperation in the future.  The next iteration of that is planned to be a bilateral exercise between Turkey and the U.S. called "Anatolian Falcon" in the spring of 2010.  And planning for this exercise is just beginning, and we don't anticipate any problems moving forward. 

 

                Q     But why was the United States interested in canceling or postponing the trilateral exercise? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, there was a decision made by the government of Turkey to change the concept of the scenario in a way that would not enable the U.S. to participate.  I mean, frankly speaking, Israel was removed from the exercise, from the list of participating nations, and the U.S. government believes it is inappropriate for any nation to be removed at the last minute. 

 

                Q     And did Turkey explain why it had done that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think you need to -- they may have given us an explanation, but I'd urge you to speak to the government of Turkey as for why Israel was removed from the participant list. 

 

                Q     And just to clarify, you said it's been postponed, so is there also a plan for trilateral -- for another date for the trilateral exercise? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I know of no rescheduled date at this point. 

 

                Q     Do you expect one? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't have anything for you on that. 

 

                Q     Thank you. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Yeah, Chris. 

 

                Q     Earlier you had talked about the effort to maintain dwell time.  I'm just wondering, in terms of adding a significant number of troops to Afghanistan, how will that square with General McChrystal's desire to have the same troops cycle through a particular area, not to constantly just put in new troops who have no experience in that area? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You've started to see it happen, particularly in RC East, over the last several rotations, where you see the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, be sort of the brigade that is rotating through RC East.  And clearly General McChrystal wants to capitalize on the experience that so many of his force on the ground have garnered over the -- over their deployments over the years.   

 

                But at the end of the day you've got to figure out what resources you have to fulfill the mission.  And so while there clearly is an interest to try to have those most familiar with Afghanistan be the ones that continue to deploy there, you have to be mindful of the impact that has on them and their units and their services.  And so ultimately there has to be some degree of burden-sharing across the Army in particular and the Marine Corps as well.  So while that is the goal of the new commander -- relatively new commander -- it's balanced against the demands on the force as a whole. 

 

                Obviously, our drawdown in Iraq -- and I -- you know, I think we anticipate that General Odierno will be able to make an announcement soon about force levels in Iraq; that as we continue to draw down there even faster than we had originally planned, that obviously enables us to provide more dwell time to units that would have otherwise deployed there. 

 

                It obviously also provides additional forces that could potentially deploy to Afghanistan. 

 

                Q     But as it stands right now, his goal wouldn't be sustainable with the numbers of forces that are currently available. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know if it's sustainable.  I frankly don't know the answer to that.  But I also don't know if it's advisable that the same units keep -- I obviously see that there is an advantage in terms of capitalizing on their experience, but we cannot merely ask the same units to continue rotating in and out of Afghanistan.  So there has to be a degree of burden sharing across the force.  And that's something that, frankly, the Army works in particular very, very -- you know, close -- looks at very closely and works very particularly to try to make sure they are not asking too much of any particular units and that there is -- that the health of the force is being tended to. 

 

                Yeah, Nancy. 

 

                Q     Both the secretary and the chairman have talked about the need to see progress in Afghanistan in the next 12 to 18 months. Given this extended debate about the way ahead in Afghanistan, does that timeline still hold? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I would obviously take issue with your characterization of this being an extended debate.  We've had five lengthy meetings over the past month.  I would remind you that the surge deliberations that led up to the addition of about 30,000 forces in Iraq in late 2006 lasted about three months. 

 

                Q     He  got the classified assessment from McChrystal in August, and the administration released its first strategy on March 27th. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Who got -- who got the classified assessment? 

 

                Q     This Pentagon, from Stanley McChrystal, got the assessment. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The secretary -- okay.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, no, let's argue about it.  Let's be precise about it.  The secretary received it on the last day of August, and he  shared it with the president late the following week.  So let's be precise.  So, basically, the president therefore has had it about a month, maybe a month and a week.  So we've been engaged in this matter for about five weeks.  Okay?  I do not consider that, nor does anybody in this building -- 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, let me finish my answer.  I don't consider that an extended discussion. 

 

                Q     And his strategy announcement in March doesn't count. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Doesn't count towards what?   

 

                Q     Towards when this debate, on the way ahead in Afghanistan, began.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, no.   

 

                There was a way ahead clearly articulated in March and executed in the months succeeding.  There has been a reassessment at this juncture.  But it's not as if, Nancy, and you know well because to your credit, you've spent a lot of time on the ground, it's not as if there has been any sort of operational pause, as this discussion is taking place in Washington.   

 

                Operations continue at a higher tempo than ever before.  And you know, a new commander with a new vision of how to implement the strategy that was unveiled, in March, continues to do his job even as these discussions are taking place in Washington.   

 

                Q     Okay, so then does the 12-to-18-month timeline still hold?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, absolutely.   

 

                Q     Even though there is a debate about -- I mean, when you talk to commanders on the ground, they say that this debate, extended or not, has left them uncertain about what is expected of them and what resources they'll have to carry it out.   

 

                So that doesn't factor into that timeline at all.  It doesn't shift.  So is it 12 months?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The secretary -- the secretary has been very clear that he does believe that we have about 12 to 18 months to show the American people and the Afghan people discernible progress on the ground, not definitive progress, not victory in that amount of time but a sense that this is not stalemated, that indeed we are -- we are making progress towards our goals and that therefore you can believe in this mission and support this mission, and let's all work together to see it through.   

 

                That's what he's speaking of.  And obviously he's mindful of the fact the clock is ticking, as is everybody involved in this process. But it's not as if, as I said before, we are sort of in suspended animation, in Afghanistan, while discussions are taking place.   

 

                Real operations are being conducted, on a daily basis, that are making a difference in the security situation on the ground.  We are making progress day by day, even as this discussion takes place in Washington.   

 

                Q     Okay, I'll rephrase.   

 

                You said that there's a concern of it not looking stalemated.  Is there a concern that having this debate, as it goes on, gives the appearance to the Afghans or to the coalition of a stalemated process or progress in Afghanistan?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't believe so.  I don't believe the secretary or anybody else involved, in these discussions, believe that they are in any way detracting from our operations on the ground or our ability to be successful in the long term in Afghanistan -- quite the contrary.   

 

                I know it for a fact to be his belief that it is most important that we get the strategy right and that that is what long-term is going to lead to success on the ground, as well as the safe return of our forces.   

 

                So we can have this discussion.  And it's not a protracted one; it's not an extended one, as you said.  And it's one that I think, as you talk to my colleagues at the White House, they would tell you will be resolved in a matter of weeks, not months, and that this can take place without in any way adversely impacting the situation on the ground in Afghanistan or the resolve of our allies. 

 

                I mean, we have made it clear, and the secretary did a week ago Monday at George Washington University, that no one should read into this any lack of a commitment in the long term to either Afghanistan or Pakistan.  We have made the mistake before of turning our backs on those governments in the past, and we have paid dearly in terms of the consequences of that abandonment, and we are not going to do it again. 

 

                What is being discussed now is the level of military engagement, of civilian support, of whole-of-government efforts on the ground, and precisely how you bring about -- how you use those resources to bring about change in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But it does not mean that there is -- any way a second-guessing of our commitment to either Afghanistan or Pakistan in the long run.   

 

                And I think that's evidenced by the fact that, you know, the Kerry-Lugar amendment has passed and we're going to be providing the Pakistani civilian government $7 billion over the next five years -- sustained, dependable financial commitment, $1.5 billion a year over the next five years.  What better signals our commitment to that government by putting our money where our mouth is and providing it to that government? -- in addition to, of course, all the military-to- military support we provide them. 

 

                Q     Can I follow up, though?  You talked about the discussion of the level of military-civilian support.  Are there, then, options being discussed in these meetings?  And if so, how many, in terms of how much military support -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm not going to get into whether there are options or aren't options.  I've made it clear in the past that the resource recommendation did include a number of options, but I'm not going to discuss what's being discussed in the meetings, no. 

 

                Yes, Steve. 

 

                Q     You said 1.5 billion (dollars) represents a commitment -- firm commitment to Pakistan.   

 

                What about any firm commitment of that sort to Afghanistan?  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, Steve, we're spending billions more than that a month in -- 

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  -- billions more than that in Afghanistan every month.   

 

                Q     The strategy is being reconsidered, though.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  The -- our commitment to both those governments is a firm one, okay?  What -- ultimately how it manifests itself in the long term in terms of dollars or troops or civilian support is -- you know, may be a part of these discussions.  But I think there is no doubt among anybody engaged in this that our government is committed to working with those two governments in the long term and that we won't be turning our backs on them again. 

 

                Yes.  We got a lot of hands up and not a lot of time.  Tony Capaccio. 

 

                Q     Quick budget question, giving money where the mouth is. The House last week approved a bill that contains money for the backup engine of the F-35.  The Senate is moving along those lines.  It also contains $128 billion to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that it looks like the Senate's going to approve this money, this bill with the engine money that your administration says it might veto, are you backing off on that veto claim now?  Given that this -- we're going from rhetoric to a reality, this bill's going to pass with that engine money, it's got $138 billion for war funding, will the --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, as I -- Tony, as I understand it, the HAC is still trying -- is still in conference.  What has been provided us -- to us from the authorizers we're still going through.  I think we're still evaluating the hefty piece of legislation that's been approved at this point and trying to determine if it in any way constitutes what was the benchmark that we put forward in the statement of administration policy, which was a substantial or a serious disruption to the Joint Strike Fighter program.  So we need to gain a better understanding of the potential impact on the program overall.   

 

                But let me take this opportunity to note that even if the Congress provides an appropriation in one year, and it doesn't potentially impact additional airframes, a one-year allocation doesn't deal with how we look at this program, at a potential second engine program.  

 

                We look at this over at least a five-year time span, and we need to have a better sense of the funding stream over the life of that program.  And so even if they are able to devise a way to fund it one year without it adversely impacting airframes in that particular year, we still need a better understanding of the long-term impact of a second engine on the budgeting process, so -- 

 

                Q     That's clear, but the veto threat is what I'm getting at. Are you backing off the veto threat?  It sounds like you are. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- no.  I don't believe so at all.  I think we were very -- just keep in mind what the veto threat said.  The veto threat said his advisers would recommend it -- the president's advisers would recommend a veto if the Congress made -- took actions that would cause a serious disruption to the Joint Strike Fighter program.  

 

                We are in the process right now of evaluating whether or not what they are doing or have done does adversely impact the overall program.  I can tell you right now, we are determined to make sure the JSF program is properly resourced and stays on track to meet the IOC targets that have been put forth.  The action taken thus far by the Congress is clearly troubling, but we need to gain a better understanding of its impact, and not just for one year but the long- term costs associated with pursuing a second engine.   

 

                And we're in the process of doing that, but I would not read into that any diminishment in our commitment to make sure that that program is not adversely impacted by pursuing a second engine.  The secretary is obviously hugely committed to the F-35 and put in additional money -- pardon me, this year to make sure that we had more airframes up front so we could do more testing in advance to avoid problems down the line.  And he is still as fiercely committed now as he was when he announced it on April the 6th. 

 

                Yeah, Courtney. 

 

                Q     The secretary's indicated that he'd like to relax -- I guess that's the best way to describe it -- the rules on "don't ask, don't tell," make them a little more humane.  The president said Saturday night that he intends to overturn "don't ask, don't tell." Where does that stand? 

 

                We haven't heard any kind of an update in a long time. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't -- you know, I think -- I saw the president's remarks, and I -- and I -- you know, I think it -- what we heard in his speech over the weekend was entirely consistent with what he has said publicly in the past and what he has communicated to this building in particular.   

 

                Q     Where does it stand as far as looking into the policy and whether it can be changed and -- I mean -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I -- there's -- I would say this, that we are working with the White House in this matter, just as we have been in the past.  What the secretary has said to you beyond that is that he was interested and has asked the general counsel's office to see if there may be a way to more humanely apply this -- the law, and in a way that -- in certain cases where people are outed by third parties. And so that is being discussed.  And I don't frankly have an update for you on where the general counsel's office is in that review. 

 

                Q     The thing -- the thing I can't understand is that, if the secretary -- it seems as if the president went a little bit further Saturday night than the secretary has in the past.  So I guess the question is, what's -- is the secretary -- does he agree with President Obama that the entire policy should be repealed or overturned, or whatever the terminology would be, at this point?  I mean, is he stepping even further than -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I would argue with you that -- well, I think what was said on Saturday night was completely consistent with everything that he has said publicly before and what he has communicated to this department.  There were no surprises, nothing new as far as we were concerned, in his remarks.  And we continue to work with the president and his advisers on how to pursue this in the long term. 

 

                Q     And the timeline is -- ? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think you'd have to ask the White House the timeline.  I mean, it's -- it -- frankly, at the end of the day, it's a legislative matter, and I think that's something that they'd best be able to answer. 

 

                Q     Geoff? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.  Yes, please. 

 

                Q     Yes.  On North Korea, do you have any comment on the North Koreans' recently multiple short-range missiles launchings again? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think I commented in my opening statements that our trip to -- during our trip to the Republic of Korea, we will obviously work with them, as we always do, to try to secure their defense and to try to deal with the threat that exists to the north of them.  Obviously, missile launches of that nature are unhelpful and potentially destabilizing, and are frowned upon by us and others in the region. 

 

                Yeah.   

 

                Q     Back on mil-mil relations with Pakistan, all year, Chairman Mullen has been calling for more of that.  I wonder if you have an update of how that's going.   

 

                Is it reaching down below the level of the chairman, or the commandant I know has been there also, at all?  Or is there any kind of stiff-arming from Pakistan going on?   

 

                Or you know, are we --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No.   

 

                I mean, clearly you know, the chairman enjoys a very close relationship with the chief of defense in Pakistan.  And that's hugely valuable to us and to them.  And really part of that is a result of the fact that the Chod there is one of -- was educated here in the United States, at Fort Leavenworth, and is one of the few people that when we had frozen relations, with Pakistan, who we -- who still remains in the military chain of command, in a significant position, who we knew and who knew us.   

 

                And that is why it is important that we maintain these relations and get younger and younger officers to have exposure to us and our forces and we to them.  And that's why you're seeing, I think, a higher number of Pakistani military officers being educated now, schooled at Fort Leavenworth and at other military institutions in this country, so that we can sort of bridge the gap that was created through the Pressler Amendment, when we had to cut off relations with the Pakistani government.   

 

                And obviously --  

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- pace of that, of reaching out and getting those officers over here?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I haven't heard any dissatisfaction.  But my guess is that both those men are impatient and would like to see us do more and us do it faster.  But I think it's probably on our end more than it is on their end.   

 

                I mean, you have to remember, they're the ones who are fighting a war on their ground and are paying an extraordinarily high price for  it.  I would note to you, and I think it gets overlooked in all these discussions, the fact that I think since 2007, the Pakistani military has suffered 7,000 casualties.   

 

                That's an extraordinarily high -- it's an extraordinarily high number.  And I think their sacrifice, in this war on terror, is often overlooked.  And we should be mindful of it.   

 

                They are clearly engaged in trying to defeat the terrorists within their midst and are paying a very heavy price for it. 

 

                Yeah, Yochi. 

 

                Q     You mentioned before the importance of showing discernible progress and not allowing perception that the situation in Afghanistan was stalemated.  Does the secretary believe that, either since the release of the new strategy in March or since the installation of Stanley McChrystal over the summer, that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan had gotten discernibly better? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think he's been very clear to you in the fact -- in the past that, no, that it has gotten worse, that it is worse than either General McChrystal or the secretary had anticipated. We've made no bones of that.   

 

                Now, it's always dangerous to paint a country as diverse geographically, demographically, topographically as Afghanistan with a broad brush.  But clearly, as he said at George Washington University a week ago Monday night, the situation that General McChrystal found when he arrived in Afghanistan in June of this year was worse than either General McChrystal or the secretary or the chairman had anticipated. 

 

                Q     Would that not argue, then, not for continuing to back COIN but rather the need for something different? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'm not going to get into the -- into any way the discussions that are taking place at this point.  I don't think it's helpful for me to do so. 

 

                Yeah.  Luis.   

 

                Q     For a couple weeks now you've been saying that the secretary's thinking with regards to strategy in Afghanistan is evolving.  How do you describe evolving?  And evolving from what? Because given that he's ruled out the George Will theory, if you will, of counterterrorism, and he's spoken about concerns about the footprint -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

 

                Q     -- (inaudible) -- can you involve us in his evolving -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I probably could, but I'm going to refrain from doing so.  Obviously, over that time, the secretary has had some public engagements, be it the Sunday shows or this hour-long discussion with Secretary Clinton at George Washington or speeches. And I think you can look to some of his public remarks perhaps as an indication of where he was heading or where he -- how his thinking has been evolving. 

 

                But I don't care to amplify it from up here today. 

 

                Last one.  Yes, sir. 

 

                Q     Regarding secretary's trip to Japan next week -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

 

                Q     -- how do you think of the significance of this trip?  I mean, do you expect you can get some kind of advance through the discussion on Okinawa relocation or fueling in Indian Ocean issues? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I -- obviously, I think both those issues will be subjects of discussion as the secretary meets with the new Japanese prime minister, with the foreign minister, and his counterpart, the defense minister.  You know, these -- this is a -- these are -- this is a new government.  Those are new individuals for the secretary to meet with.  So part of this will obviously be a get- acquainted opportunity.   

 

                But I think it will also be an opportunity to reiterate our strong commitment to this alliance, and also to the agreements that have been reached between our two governments -- not political parties, but between our two governments. 

 

                And so whether it be the Futenma replacement facility or the Guam international agreement, we obviously want to work with the new government to make sure they have all the information they need to better understand what has been agreed to by previous governments. But obviously we think these are very complicated agreements that are -- that are beneficial to both of our countries and to our long-term relationship and to the security situation in the region. 

 

                So we are obviously committed to carrying them out as agreed upon, but are working with the Japanese government right now to help them get as much information as they need to better understand them. So we're very much looking forward to the trip.  It should be a good one. 

 

                All right?  Thank you all.

 

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