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Media Availability with Secretary Gates Enroute to Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
November 12, 2009

                SEC. GATES:  We’ll get on with this so we can get onto our health-food lunch.

 

                By the way, I would note that it will be warmer in Oshkosh than it was in Washington.

 

                The purpose of this trip is really a focus on the counter IED fight.  This has become a serious problem for us in Afghanistan.  More than 80 percent of our casualties are coming from IEDs.  It’s a very different kind of challenge than in Iraq.  The terrain is different, the road system is different – both paved and unpaved and nonexistent. 

 

      The composition of the IEDs is different to a considerable extent. In Iraq they were mostly – they’ve mostly based on artillery shells and so on.  And in Afghanistan, we find that a lot of them – especially the bigger ones – are made from fertilizer, like ammonium nitrate, with mines as detonators. 

     

      The networks are different -- structured differently in Afghanistan than in Iraq.  So it’s a different kind of fight that we face here.  We need both an offensive and a defense capability.  The offensive capability is being able to take down the networks.  And just the big find of ammonium nitrate a few days ago, that’s the kind of thing we’re looking for – and at the same time defense in terms of protecting our troops.

     

                We have a lot of different elements at the Pentagon working on this issue –obviously, the Joint IED Defense Organization.  We have a lot of different elements working on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.  We’re obviously producing these MRAP all-terrain vehicles that we’ll see today.  We’re upgrading some earlier Cougar MRAPs with a new kind of suspension so that they can go off-road.  And the command is changing its own tactics, techniques and procedures.

     

      And one of the things that I’ve asked for, for example, is the mujahadeen used these same kinds of IEDs in a different way – in a different form against the Soviets.  So let’s go back and look at the playbook that they used against the Soviets to see if there’s something that we could learn in terms of adapting our tactics, techniques and procedures.

     

      My concern – principal concern over the last few weeks has been whether all of this is being properly integrated and prioritized and aligned and whether we’re adaptable and agile enough.  And so I’ve decided that I need to focus my attention on this problem as one of my top priorities for say the next six months.  I’m creating a department-wide task force on the counter-IED threat in Afghanistan.  It’ll be co-chaired by Dr. Carter, the undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; and Lieutenant General Jay Paxton, the J-3 of the Joint Staff.

     

      And the whole purpose of this, really, is to make sure that we get the troops what they need to protect themselves, and also the tools to be more effective at taking down these networks.

     

      Now, this MRAP-ATV is really another great example of partnership with industry.  This company in July produced 46 MRAP-ATVs.  They will produce about 660 this month and they will go to 1,000 next month.  And as I mentioned, we’re also upgrading probably somewhere on the order of 600 or 700 Cougars that are used principally by the Marines.

     

      Obviously, if the president makes a decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, we would look at this in terms of whether we needed to buy more.

     

      I will meet with the task force and expect a report from them monthly – as I say, probably for about six months.  I just want to make sure that all of these different organizations in the department are moving together and cooperating – breaking down the stovepipes so that we’ve got the maximum possible effort working with the command.  And I want the command – General McChrystal and company – to have a lot of say in this in terms of how we do this.  So that’s one of the reasons for the co-chairs of the task force to link it to the field.

     

      So the main purpose for this trip is simply to come up and thank these folks for what they’ve done.  It’s been an extraordinary effort on their part.  We’re flying most of these in right now and the effort is to get them to the troops as quickly as possible.

     

      Q     Can I ask you to follow up on that just a bit?  What role did the IED situation in Afghanistan play in your deliberations in figuring out whether or not there should be an expansion of U.S. force?  Are you at all concerned that you, essentially, may be sending tens of thousands more into -

     

      SEC. GATES:  It was not a significant factor.

     

      Q     You said you might look at buying more of these particular vehicles if that –

     

      SEC. GATES:  If the president decides to send more troops, we would probably look at buying more than the 6,600.

     

      Q     How many more?

     

      SEC. GATES:  That would depend on how many – nice try!  That would depend on how many – how many troops the president decides to send.

     

      Q     Mr. Secretary, there were reports yesterday that the president rejected all of these four options you talked about yesterday at the White House.  Is that how you understand it – you were there – or is it more that he was asking for revisions or asking questions about more options?

     

      SEC. GATES:  I did not – I’m not going to get into the details, but I would say that it was more:  How can we combine some of the best features of several of the options to maximum good effect?  So there is a little more work to do, but I think that we’re getting toward the end of the process, as Robert Gibbs said the other day.

     

      I would say one more thing, though:  I’ve been at this business a long time.  And I have been appalled – I realize this is not your self-interest to write – I have been appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on in this process.  And I think a lot of different places are leaking.  I’m confident that the Department of Defense is one of them. 

     

      To have details of options that are being considered out there in the middle of the president’s deliberative process I think does not serve the country and does not serve our military.  And frankly, if I found out with high confidence anybody was leaking in the Department of Defense – who that was – that would probably be a career-ender, because it is contrary to every kind of discipline there ought to be in a decision-making process involving the president.

     

      Q     Did you have any reaction to General Eikenberry’s cables?

     

      SEC. GATES:  No.  I’m not going to – just as I’m not going to talk about my recommendations and the views that I’ve expressed, I’m not going to talk about anybody else’s – apropos see the last answer.  I don’t want to fire myself by the end of the day.  (Laughter.)  Although it’s a thought!

     

      Q     It’s not leaking – I mean, just, I mean, kind of, reaction to this cable saying –

     

      SEC. GATES:  I’m not going to give you a reaction.

     

      Q     Just about a more general point:  What about the debate about whether putting more troops in Afghanistan makes it easier – (inaudible) – easier to bring the U.S. troops out?  Or does this allow the Kabul government to hang back and not step up?  (Inaudible.)

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that’s one of the issues.  How do we signal resolve, and at the same time signal to the Afghans – as well as to the American people – that this isn’t an open-ended commitment.

     

      Q     I have a question about Fort Hood:  How could this happen with all the attention on mental health?  What are you doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, this is another one where, frankly, I’m kind of sore.  I mean, obviously, what happened at Fort Hood was horrific, as the president said.

     

      But having different organizations and different people leaking information in a situation that involves potential criminal prosecution I think is unconscionable.  People are looking at it from their own narrow perspective.  And people better wait until all the information is in before we have an understanding of what happened and what might be done to be able to prevent such a thing from happening again.

     

      But everybody out there with their own little piece of the action – I think, first of all, I worry a lot that it has the potential to jeopardize a criminal investigation.  Everything will be made public and clear at an appropriate time.  I just don’t want to jeopardize this investigation.  And people don’t know – people who are leaking don’t know how their piece of the information might fit into that or affect it.

     

      So my view is everybody ought to just shut up!

     

      Q     If at the end of that process it turns out that the Army had information – or that it existed elsewhere in the Defense Department that information that this fellow really may have been a mental health threat or terrorist threat, would you consider that a firing offense?

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, I’m not going to get into that as a hypothetical.  We’ll wait and see what the circumstances are and what the facts are.  I just don’t know what the facts are at this point.

     

      MODERATOR:  Anything on the counter-IED effort?

     

      Q     In RC south, the effort to buy ammonium nitrate fertilizer has only been allocated $50,000.  Do you feel that’s enough?

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, I’m open to anything that will take that stuff off the market.  It’s illegal in Afghanistan, as I understand it, but it hasn’t been enforced.  So my attitude would be to try and treat it like we do narcotics.  To the degree we could get it off the market, get it under control and capture as much of it – and if we have to pay for some of it, I’m open to that.

     

      You know, when one of these 1,500 pound IEDs goes under – goes off under an MRAP and tears it in half, it tells you what these things can do.  So I’m open to anything that will help save the lives of our troops.

     

      Q     On the M-ATVs, do you envision buying – if you do buy another several hundred more of them, do you envision buying them all from Oshkosh or, what’s your plan, will you open it up like you did with the MRAPs?

     

      SEC. GATES:  I don’t know.  We’ll have to wait and see.  The first thing would be to decide whether we need to buy more...

     

      Q     Mr. Secretary, you said that this was another example – Oshkosh – of a successful industry-government partnership to get urgently needed equipment.  Can you cite another case that you consider as favorably – as successful as this one?

     

      SEC. GATES:  The original MRAPs.

     

      Q     The original MRAPs?

     

      SEC. GATES:  The original MRAP program was the first major Defense procurement program to go from concept to full-scale industrial production in less than a year since World War II.

     

      Q     Mr. Secretary, are you satisfied with the rate at which these vehicles are being finshed with the government-furnished equipment and then sent to Charleston to be sent overseas?

     

      SEC. GATES:  As best I can tell.  I think they’re doing as well as they possibly can.

     

      Q     A couple of weeks ago, a representative from – (inaudible) – meeting with Task Force – (inaudible) – in Afghanistan in terms of getting ISR – (inaudible).  Do you think you are going fast enough – (inaudible)?

     

      SEC. GATES:  We’re doing that.  It’s supposed to be – as I understand, it’s supposed to be full-operating capacity next month.

     

      So great idea!  I think we’ll do that.

     

      Q     They kind of have to plan – Oshkosh has to plan, obviously, their labor force going beyond next, roughly, May or June when they finish this round of orders.  How soon do you think you’ll be able to give them an idea –

     

      SEC. GATES:  Probably pretty soon after the president makes a decision.

     

      Q     (Inaudible) –what some of these new, very large IEDs can do to an MRAP.  Is there any contradiction in your buying – spending so much money and effort on smaller, lighter ones at a time when bombs are getting bigger?

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, they’re not a lot lighter, they’re just more maneuverable.  And I’m told they provide pretty much the same protection as the original MRAP for the troops.  They just have different capabilities.  And we’ve said from the very beginning:  There is nothing – whether it’s an Abrams Tank or anything else – that can defend our troops against everything. 

     

      But I think that MRAPs have been proven time and time again to save the lives and limbs of our soldiers and Marines.  And I think they’re worth every dime the taxpayers are spending on them.  And I’m very grateful to the Congress, which has voted the money for these things – both the original MRAPs and the MRAP-ATV – with full support.

     

      Q     Mr. Secretary, you talked earlier about how you might need to ask for more MRAPs if more troops are sent to Afghanistan.

     

      Has the White House asked for a cost estimate for all these various options?  And how much is the potential cost of adding more – (inaudible) – factored into discussions?

     

      SEC. GATES:  There have been cost estimates prepared, but I think the key thing is what’s most important for our national security.

     

      Q     Are you – I wanted to go back when you said that one of the key issues is how do you signal resolve, that this isn’t an open-ended commitment.

     

      SEC. GATES:  Right.  How do you signal resolve and at the same time, signal that it isn’t – we’re not going to be there forever.

     

      Q     And do you think that the president was satisfied yesterday –

     

      SEC. GATES:  I think this is one of the issues that we’ve been talking about.

     

      Q     And is there – do you think there’s a reasonable exit strategy in all the discussions under way now?

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, I think the first thing is to get it right in the first place.  And I think I’ll just leave it at the – at what I said about the difficulty of how you get that right, how you get that balance right.

     

      MODERATOR:  Any left on counter IED – and then we’re going to wrap it up.

     

      Q     Yeah.  I have one, which is how do you compare and contrast the success of the efforts to obtain the MRAP, the MRAP-ATV with acquisition/procurement in general from major Defense contractors?

     

      SEC. GATES:  Well, I think we’ve learned a lot from this.  And I think we’re – I mean, one of the things that Dr. Carter is doing is making some fairly significant changes in the way we go about major acquisitions with a lot more emphasis on fixed pricing and on better contracts – contracts that put performance awards in the right place in the process. 

     

      And I think, you know, you have to draw a distinction, in my view, between equipment that is on the cutting edge of technology and equipment that’s basically using existing technologies in the way you do these contracts.  And I think the MRAPs and MRAP-ATVs fall into that latter category.

     

      MODERATOR:  Okay.  (Inaudible.)

     

      SEC. GATES:  Okay.  Thanks.

 

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