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Media Availability with Secretary Gates from Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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

      SEC. GATES:  First of all, it's been a real pleasure to visit Oshkosh and the factory and the test facility here.  I really appreciate what the folks here are doing in terms of the service they're rendering to our troops.  This is clearly an extraordinary vehicle.

 

     The improvised explosive devices cause about 80 percent of our casualties in Afghanistan.  It's a different situation than Iraq.  We needed a different vehicle. And I think this clearly will meet the need.  An incredible ramp-up of production, and, obviously, the sooner we get them into the theater to the troops, the better.

 

     The counter-IED issue is a big one.  As I indicated earlier, we're establishing a task force to work this problem, make sure all of the different elements -- (inaudible) – are coming together, and working it together, we have a lot of capability, and we just want to make sure we put it all together in the best possible way to help save the lives of our troops and help them be successful in their mission and bring them home safely.

 

     Q     Mr. Secretary, what does the nature of this vehicle and the need for a vehicle like this say about the war we're fighting?

 

     SEC. GATES:  Well, it really is a reflection of how different Afghanistan is than Iraq.  What became clear when we sent MRAPs, regular MRAPs, into Afghanistan is that they did not have the kind of all-wheel capability that was needed in the very rough terrain.  Afghanistan doesn't have nearly as many roads or paved roads as Iraq did, so there was a need for a significant off-road capability.

 

     So all of those features made it a difficult engineering assignment, because we wanted to maintain the same level of protection for the troops in the cab as the MRAPs we have in Iraq, but at the same time have greater off-road agility.

 

     Q     Again, explain why you came here and wanted to see this yourself, in person.

 

     SEC. GATES:  Well, again, I think, as I say, improvised explosive devices cause somewhere over 80 percent of our casualties.  This vehicle is one mean to addressing that threat.

 

     We need both an offensive and a defensive capability.  The offensive capability is taking down the networks that build these things and that build the IEDs and bury them.  The defense is this kind of vehicle as well as increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

 

     And I basically wanted to come up here, see the vehicles for myself and, perhaps above all, thank the people in the factory for the amazing job they're doing.  And I told them over there that there aren't many places in manufacturing in America where you know that the vehicle you're working on today is going to save some soldier or Marine's life tomorrow.

 

     Q     (Inaudible) –Isn't this a  moving target, though?  I mean, every time we've developed something  -- (inaudible) -- to counter the IED threat, they come up with a different idea?

 

     SEC. GATES:  Well, we have to be flexible as well.  And you know, not every IED is 1,500 pounds.  And the fact is, the records that we have from both Iraq and the limited experience with MRAPs in Afghanistan shows that it saves lives, and it saves limbs.

 

     There's no vehicle that will provide perfect protection, and we know that going in.  But this is such a significant improvement over what we already have. And as I say, it's a multifaceted challenge we have to do more intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.  We have to disrupt the networks.  We have to get the right kind of forensic labs in Afghanistan.  We have to make sure that the tactics, techniques and procedures that are being used when you have one of these vehicles or when you're out is very important.

 

     The reality is, we're dealing with a country, because there aren't a lot of roads, if you can get off the roads and into off-road terrain, the chances of avoiding IEDs are significantly greater.  So it's a combination of all of these things to deal with this threat.

 

     Q     Mr. Secretary, you're sending more of these vehicles over.  Do you think you're going to send more troops over to go with them?

 

     SEC. GATES:  Well, that's up to the president.

 

     Q     Can you relate any personal stories from any of these that have already gone over where they've performed particularly well or --

 

     SEC. GATES:  Oh, yeah.  When I was at Tallil in Iraq -- not this vehicle, because we're just getting them into theater -- but when I was in Tallil in Iraq in the spring, they showed me an MRAP that had been attacked, and the vehicle was largely destroyed.  And there were two soldiers standing in front of it, that had been in it when it was attacked.  And they were completely unscathed.  And they're two buddies, one of them had a broken ankle, and one of them a dislocated shoulder or something.

 

     And I called on a soldier.  There was an article in The Washington Post a while back on MRAPs.  And I called on a soldier at Walter Reed, and he had that article in the bed with him.  And he said the MRAP saved his life.

 

     Q     Sir, on another topic --

 

     Q    (Inaudible) – somebody else?   What about the ISR piece of this?  There's been a big push on this.   You set up the ISR Task Force -- (inaudible.) – we still need to do more ISR.  Where does that stand, and how much more?

 

     SEC. GATES:  Well, we're pushing a lot into the theater.  It's a little bit like the IED problem itself.  It's not just the air frames, both the Predators and Reapers and the Liberty aircraft, it's the ground analysis, ground stations, interpreters, intelligence analysts, pilots and crews for these things, because you still need somebody on the ground to pilot it.

 

     And so we're moving as fast as we can.  The Air Force has significantly expanded its capability.  And we intend to keep expanding it.

 

     Q     Mr. Secretary, can you say something about Ft. Hood -- (inaudible)?

 

     Q     Sir, we understand formal charges are being brought today.  Understanding that the investigation is ongoing, is there anything you have learned to this point that you wish the military had done differently or could have done differently -- (inaudible)?

 

     SEC. GATES:  No.  My view is, I intend to wait until all the facts are in, until we have a comprehensive view of what has happened.  And frankly, I abhor the leaks that have taken place, because the people who are leaking are leaking what they know, which is one small piece of the puzzle.  And what's more, they don't know whether or not what they're leaking might jeopardize a

potential criminal investigation and trial.

 

     And so my view is, people who have a piece of this frankly ought to keep quiet and let the authorities go forward with this in an organized and comprehensive way.

 

     Q     Mr. Secretary, this new task force, what exactly are you hoping to take away from this?  What new thing will this bring?

 

     SEC. GATES:  I want to make sure that we have replicated in Afghanistan all the capabilities we have built up in Iraq -- the forensic labs, the analysis, the tactics, techniques and procedures.  And then, what new do we need to do?  What different kinds of intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance do we need in Afghanistan? Because it's a different kind of target then in Iraq.

 

     We have people working all of these different pieces.  What I worry about is that all the pieces aren't fully integrated.  And that's the primary task of the task force really, to make sure we've integrated all the capabilities that we have to go after this challenge.  And if they identify a need for something new, then so we can go get it and get it into the hands of the troops and the commanders.

 

     MODERATOR:  Sir, one more.

     Q     You referenced the world wars.  You're a history expert in your education.  Can you draw the parallels to what's going on now to the way the country ramped up for the world wars, industry, business and what's going on now?

 

     SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that the thing to remember is, as difficult as these wars are, compared with World War II, the scale is extraordinarily different. After all, in World War II, at various times, we had between 8 (million) and 12 million men and women in arms, and most of them deployed around the world.

 

     We not only were equipping them, we were equipping the Soviets, we were equipping the English and everybody else.  So it required a mobilization of the entire country.

 

     This is more specialized.  And one of the things that we worry about a little bit is that such a small proportion of the population, namely our volunteer men and women in uniform, are bearing this burden, and the rest of the country goes about life as normal.

 

     Now, my concern about that is mitigated because of the extraordinary commitment of people like those here at Oshkosh working on these things, but also the different communities and the way they react to their men and women in uniform when they come home, whether they're in the National Guard or the Reserve or when they just come home on leave.  The way they get treated in airports, the way they're greeted when they come back from the theater tells me that the country really understands the burden that they're bearing and it deeply values it and appreciates it.

 

     And I just would tell you, as somebody my age, to contrast the period toward the end of Vietnam and after Vietnam, just couldn't be more stark.

 

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