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DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
November 24, 2009

                MR. MORRELL:  Hey, guys.  Good afternoon.  Just a brief opening statement, then we'll get to your questions. 

 

                As Americans gather with their families this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we're mindful of the -- of the hundreds of thousands of troops serving overseas, away from their families, often in austere conditions and under fire.  Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines risk their lives on a daily basis.  They deserve every effort we can make to show them how thankful we are for their continuing sacrifices. 

 

                To this end, we here at the Pentagon are doing all we can to provide a literal taste of home to our U.S. servicemembers deployed abroad.  The Defense Logistics Agency has made plans to ship Thanksgiving meals for approximately 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Without wading too far into the delicious details, our forces in these two theaters will be sitting down to Thanksgiving  feasts that include 63,000 pounds of potatoes, 8,700 cans of cranberry sauce, 61,000 pounds of stuffing, and more than 465,000 pounds of turkey.  For dessert, there will be 67,000 pies and cakes. 

 

                To meet the needs of servicemembers working different shifts, meals will be served around the clock on Thanksgiving Day at many of the larger dining facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With this, we send to our troops a small reminder of our immeasurable gratitude for all they do to serve our country.  We also, of course, convey our hopes for their safe return home. 

 

                And with that, I'll take your questions.  I was going to call on Justin first, to be fair -- oh, he is there, in Barbara Starr's seat. 

 

                Q     He's in Barbara's chair.  Yeah.  She's out. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Threw me off.  For those who think I have some issue with Justin, please, Justin, have at it.  (Laughter.) 

 

                Q     Thanks, Geoff.  I really appreciate that.  Help us out with the rollout on the Afghan strategy next week.  We know the president will make an announcement on Tuesday.  What's the secretary doing?  Is he going to testify?  Are we going to see testimony from McChrystal, Petraeus perhaps?  What's the deal there? 

 

                Can you help us out with -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I just, as I assume all of you did, watched the president when he was asked this question, and I did not hear him offer any specific date for when he would announce a decision about the way ahead in Afghanistan, other than that it would be after Thanksgiving.  So I'm not going to offer any more clarity than the commander in chief has in terms of timing. 

 

                As for what would follow an announcement by the president, I think that the -- that the Congress has obviously been patiently waiting throughout this -- throughout these deliberations.  And I think the secretary and others are fully prepared to go up to the Hill in the aftermath of an announcement by the president and explain the decision to our elected representatives.   

 

                And as you've heard from the secretary previously -- I think it was on October the 5th, when he appeared with Secretary Clinton on the CNN broadcast from George Washington University -- he said, at the time, the minute the president makes his decisions, we will get General McChrystal back here as quickly as possible and up onto the Hill, because I will tell you, there is no one more knowledgeable and more persuasive on these issues than Stan McChrystal.   

 

                So without getting into specific dates, I think the secretary has been clear, you know, really from the outset of this process that he intends to get up there soon after a decision is announced, and he expects the commanding general to do the -- to do the same. 

 

                Q     Thanks for calling on me.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.   

 

                Q     That time you really didn't see me, so -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I didn't see you.  (Laughter.)  You're right.   

 

                It's my -- yeah, Ann (sp). 

 

                Q     Do you anticipate that the secretary and the chairman will testify side by side, and also, that General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry will testify side by side? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  As for the -- you know, the arrangements, the stagecraft, the participants, I mean, I think those are things that  are to be worked out.  I mean, you can go back and look to previous hearings of this kind and can probably, you know, draw some precedent for having the secretary and the chairman and the secretary of State together, and then as you do follow-on hearings, having representatives from country together.   

 

                But I think these are things that are being discussed as we get closer to a -- to a decision and an announcement, but I don't think anything's been finalized. 

 

                Q     Can I follow on that?  From your perspective, does Ambassador Eikenberry's -- do Ambassador Eikenberry's reservations about a troop increase complicate any testimony he might give, either alongside General McChrystal or separately? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that we -- I don't have a position on that.  I don't know that the department has a position on that.  And I think you're assuming that they would -- you're assuming a decision that would make it uncomfortable for Ambassador Eikenberry or General McChrystal.  I don't know what the decision is.  I don't know that a decision has been made.  I don't know what the president intends to announce.   

 

                So I think it's premature to determine who's going to be comfortable or uncomfortable by whatever it is he decides to do.  I think at this point, people are making preparations for who would be the cast of characters who would go and amplify or explain the decision to our elected representatives.  But beyond that, I don't think we're -- we're much further down the road. 

 

                Yeah, Dan. 

 

                Q     On Afghanistan.  You hear a lot about the need for the Karzai government to deliver, the need to combat corruption.  What is the U.S. prepared to do if that doesn't happen?  It's unclear what are the consequences if Kabul does not deliver. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean -- Dan, I think this is a question that's probably best directed at the White House or the State Department.  And I'd refer you to the secretary's remarks in terms of what this department would be prepared to do.  When he was up in Canada on Friday, he was asked this same question.   

 

                And obviously, there are enormous dollars that are spent by this department in Afghanistan.  We let very lucrative contracts that ultimately benefit the people of Afghanistan.  And we can use that as a vehicle to try -- we can use that as leverage to try to make sure that the Afghan government is reforming at the pace that we think is required.    

 

                But I don't have much more to add beyond what he has already stated on this subject. 

 

                Yeah, Yoki (ph)? 

 

                Q     Geoff, the president today talked about not wanting to hand this war off to a successor and about the U.S. commitment not being open-ended.  Had the building -- the military or the civilian side -- been tasked with crafting a campaign plan that has a finite end point  timed to the end of his presidency and/or scenarios for gradually diminishing and ultimately ending the U.S. role in Afghanistan? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'm just not going to get into what it is we're working on as part of his decision-making process.  I think we need to respect the process, and I'm not going to get into that kind of detail. 

 

                Yeah, Tony. 

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- one question, though, on cost:  What would X number of troops cost?  There's a difference of opinion, apparently. OMB factors in about a million dollars per troop.  Your comptroller says it's closer to half a million (dollars).  I would ask that you reconcile what -- the numbers for whatever amounts that come out next week or in the week after, so that you have some clarity about the cost. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, let's get some clarity on what the numbers are, if there are additional forces heading to Afghanistan.  Let's -- why don't we keep the horse before the cart; and let's figure out what the president is going to decide; and if there are additional forces that he is going to allocate for this mission, that's -- let's then use that number and work with the commander to figure out how he's going to use them, where in the country, for what duration, for what purpose, what kind of equipping needs that will require; and then let's make an informed judgment about how much it will cost.  It does us no good in the abstract to try to come up with figures without knowing what the mission is, how many troops, how to equip them and so forth.  Right now it is a math problem with too many variables to come up with a conclusive number, an accurate number, about what the costs are. 

 

                Obviously costs have been a part of the conversation that has been taking place between the president and his advisers, although the secretary made clear to me it has not been a principal element to this conversation.  The driving force behind this has obviously been the national security needs of the United States.  But clearly cost has been a discussion -- has been part of that discussion.   

 

                But I think the only way to get a concrete grasp of what the cost is, is to first get a sense of how many troops, how long they're going there, what their mission will be, what their equipping needs will be, and all the other follow-on questions that need to be answered before we can actually tabulate what the cost of the mission will be. 

 

                Q     One follow-up.  Peter Orszag of CBO (sic) said a couple weeks ago the rough order -- about a million (dollars) per troop.  Your organization says about half a million.  So there's some -- there's some room for reconciliation there, as they say in the financial world.  So all I'm asking is that you come to some grips -- to come to some reconciliation of the figures next week or whenever -- figures -- troop announcement is made. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Tony, again, when something has been announced, I can guarantee you that the people who reside in the budget office, which is almost directly above this office, will be out there with their calculators, tabulating exactly what it will cost.   

 

                But it is -- we are not in a position to do so, at this point, because we don't know what is going to be asked of us.   

 

                Q     I know that.  So when you do it -- when there's an announcement made, have it ready so you don't --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  You're taking a number.  You're like at the butcher shop taking a number.  You want to take that number and wait.  Okay, got it.  We'll come back to you.   

 

                Brian.   

 

                Q     Another resource question and that is the actual troops that might be required.  If indeed there are more troops, even if it's 10, can you talk a little bit --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I love these questions.  It's so hypothetical, we're going to throw out 10 as the number, but okay.   

 

                Q     The main thrust of the question is, the drawdown in Iraq is contingent upon the parliamentary elections coming off early next year.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No.  The drawdown in Iraq is contingent of the fact that the president's policy is to have us down to roughly 50,000 troops by the end of next summer.  That's what the drawdown in Iraq is contingent upon.   

 

                The commander in Iraq would like to keep as high a level of forces as he reasonably can, through the uncertainty of the election period and the transfer-of-power period.  But sorry for correcting the assumption.   

 

                Q     That's okay.  But my question is, if the parliamentary elections are delayed, and obviously the timing of it seems to be much in doubt now, how much of an impact could that have, on the ability of the department to flow additional forces into Afghanistan?   

 

                In other words, would the ability to get them there, at a certain time, be delayed?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, I mean, there are, just as in the budgeting question, a number of variables involved here.  And I really -- I'm not comfortable getting into at this point what our force flow plan is, for whatever the president may or may not decide to do.   

 

                I think that people would not be making recommendations, to him, advocating or requesting additional forces, unless there were the means to supply those forces over some period of time.   

 

                Whatever he decides to do, this will not be done overnight.  As the secretary and others have made very clear to you all, this is going to take some time, to deploy additional forces to Afghanistan, if that is the route we take.   

 

                So I think there is time, therefore, for forces to continue to draw down in Iraq and for forces potentially to plus-up in Afghanistan.  But again, we do not know that that's the direction the president is going to go at this point.  So let's get a decision and then we can talk to you and others in much greater detail about how we intend to supply the forces that the president has authorized -- the additional forces he's authorized for the mission. 

 

                Yes, Gordon. 

 

                Q     Geoff, what role, if any, do you expect NATO to be playing in what -- whenever the roll-out occurs?  And can you characterize your reaction to reports that the U.S. is target 5(thousand) to 7,000 NATO troops to make new contributions to the Afghanistan --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm -- I won't get into numbers.  I will say that -- that, you know, clearly if the president decides to commit additional forces to Afghanistan, there would be an expectation that our allies would also commit additional forces. 

 

                But I feel that it's my responsibility to remind you that, frankly, that's what's been happening over the course of the last three years that Secretary Gates has been here; that as we've plussed up, NATO has plussed up.  Some may take issue at the kinds of forces or the caveats that come with them and things of that nature, but the bottom line is there is no denying that NATO has ponied up significant numbers of additional forces as we have added forces over the last several years.  And I think that gets overlooked in the conversation.   

 

                In fact, there was a stretch there where they were virtually matching us force-for-force.  I think that obviously, with the addition of roughly 30,000 troops this year -- that obviously has changed, and we now have roughly 68,000 forces in Afghanistan to their, I think, 45,000 forces.  But if indeed we add more forces, it would be expected that our allies would find a way to do the same. And I'm sure appropriate conversations would be had with them about what they can do and when they can do it.   

 

                Q     He's expected to make the announcements within a week or so after --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, I think -- you know, you guys heard last week, I don't think we do expect -- I mean, listen.   

 

                We've been going through this process.  We've been trying to consult with our friends and allies around the world, particularly troop- contributing nations, about what it is the president is working on and where he's headed and things of that nature.  But ultimately they're going to be informed of this, you know, whenever the president makes his announcement, just as we all will be, as to the direction that the United States is going.   

 

                So I think it would then be reasonable to assume that they've got to do their own determination about what they can do, as we are doing what we're doing.  But I don't think there's any expectation that, on the heels of whatever it is the president announces, that all of a sudden you're going to have nations standing up, you know, in succession behind him, saying -- and -- "I'll raise you x hundred or x thousand."   

 

                I think that, as you heard from the German defense minister last week, you know, which is the third-largest troop-contributing nation to Afghanistan, that they want to wait at least until January, when there's going to be a conference in Europe on this subject, before they make a determination about adding forces beyond the 4,500 -- the 4,500 cap that they have right now.  And I think -- I think other nations have signaled the -- a similar desire to wait until that conference. 

 

                I mean, you may see -- I mean, obviously there's a force- generation conference that NATO is hosting in early December.  We may see something then.  But I don't think there's an expectation, guys, that you're going to see a bunch of nations standing up in rapid succession and declaring their intention to add large numbers of additional forces right away.  I think this is something that will likely take, you know, several weeks, probably, to come to fruition. 

 

                Okay?  Yeah. 

 

                Q     Is there a concern that, as the -- if the president builds up even more in Afghanistan, the NATO component will become, you know, somewhat irrelevant because they'll be so far outnumbered by the number of U.S. forces there? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, they aren't so far outnumbered by the number of U.S. forces.   

 

                Q     It would mean -- it would mean that -- if, you know, we were adding 40,000 more troops, it'd be -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let's see.  I mean, I don't know that.  I mean, you're just assuming that they wouldn't be.  I mean, are we -- I just think this is still all in the area of speculation.  We don't know what's going to be decided and what they're going to do in turn. 

 

                But I don't think there is a worry that this becomes a U.S. mission.   

 

                I mean, I don't know how it could be.  There are 45,000 NATO troops on the ground.  That is an enormous number.  And we couldn't be doing this all without them. 

 

                The fact that you have, you know, German forces in the north and the Italian and Spanish forces in the west obviate the need for us to have large numbers of American forces in those two regions, and allows us to focus our effort, you know, almost exclusively on the south and the east.  And that's -- you know, that is something that cannot be discounted, the fact that we get that support in the north and in the -- and in the west. 

 

                And if we can get more of it, that would help us, because obviously we do have some forces that are -- that are now doing some work in the north, and this would allow us to sort of focus all of our efforts in the south, or much more of our efforts in the south, which seems to be the hotbed of Taliban activity lately. 

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     Geoff, you said the plan in Iraq is to get down to about 50,000 troops by next fall, because that's the president's policy. Does that mean that the intention is to make that drawdown regardless of whether or when the Iraqis have an election or what the outcome is? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm just stating to you what the president's policy is.  I mean, when the president announced the way ahead in Iraq at Camp Lejeune shortly after his inauguration, he laid out what he was calling for from this department.  And that was to be down to 35(,000) to 50,000 troops by the end of the summer of 2010, and that's what we are working towards.  It would take a presidential decision to change that course. 

 

                But, guys, we're not there yet.  I mean, the election will -- you know, there is still plenty of time for these elections to be held. The election law was passed again.  I understand there is -- at least as I read it this morning, there is still a possibility of another veto, and maybe some more twists and turns in this process.  But here we are in November.  It's due to take place in January.  I think we are still operating under the assumption -- certainly the hope -- that these elections can be carried out as scheduled, you know, early next year, so -- 

 

                Q     If I could just follow up on that, if the Iraq withdrawal is pushed back towards the summer, or if the president decides to  extend his deadline, how does that impact the department's ability to provide forces to Afghanistan if more forces are required? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm going to have to draw a limit on the hypotheticals.  I mean, I've never -- I haven't counted so many ifs as I have today.  I'm just not going to go down this road.  I mean, let's figure out what is decided, both by the president and by the elected representatives in Iraq, and then make determinations about resources.  

 

                Okay, Elisabeth.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes, one second.  Elisabeth first.   

 

                Q     Okay, this is not a hypothetical.  This is a basic factual question.   

 

                Is Gates's work done right now on this decision-making process? And he's leaving for Thanksgiving.  Is he going to be in touch with the White House?  Are there still things that have to be ironed out? (Off mike.)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I would say this.  He is going.  He does leave for Thanksgiving recess or break -- whatever you want to call it, holiday -- this evening.  I think, Elisabeth, it is his understanding that last night's meeting was, in all likelihood, the final one that his attendance will be required at.  But obviously that could change.  And wherever he goes, he has the ability to participate in a meeting with the president securely.   

 

                So he's available should he be needed.  But I think he feels as though, speaking to the nine or 10 meetings that have taken place, over the last roughly three months, that it has been a very thorough and comprehensive review and one that has resulted in everyone involved coming away with a much better understanding of the situation in Afghanistan and the challenges we face there.   

 

                So I think he feels as though it's been a very worthwhile process.  And he like you now waits for a decision.   

 

                Q     So there's no further contact with the White House or the president.  He's done until his testimony date is decided.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know.  There certainly is the ability to have additional contact.  But at this point, until he gets back from a short Thanksgiving break, which has him back in the office Monday, he  leaves tonight.  And obviously he meets with the president this afternoon.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.)   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, the White House announced it.  It was in the president's daily schedule.  He has his normal weekly one-on-one with the president this afternoon.  They've spent a lot of time together lately.  They spent a few hours together last night.   

 

                He's actually going to attend the dinner for Prime Minister Singh tonight as well.  So -- and then he'll take off tomorrow morning.  I said tonight -- I'm sorry.  He leaves tomorrow morning.  

 

                Okay?  Yeah, Jeff.  I'm sorry.  I promised Elaine and then I'll come back to you, Jeff.  Sorry, Elaine. 

 

                Q     A big picture question on Afghanistan.  So the president said today that it's his intention to finish the job in Afghanistan. I mean, without going into strategy specifics, from your perspective, from the Pentagon's perspective, what would that look like -- finishing the job in Afghanistan? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, I -- Elaine, I can only base it upon what I've read -- the president -- what the president has said in some interviews that he's done, I think, on the Asia trip in which he made it clear, I think, that he does not want to hand off the Afghan war to whomever succeeds him.  So that's his goal, that he wants to work to solve this problem over the next four to eight years.   

 

                And I think everybody who works in this building would be entirely in favor of being -- with being done with this, with being able to re-deploy our forces back home.  But there is obviously still more work to be done there, and so everyone is committed to seeing it through over whatever period time that requires.  But I think everybody here would be fully supportive if it can be done in that period of time, getting it done in that period of time so that the next president and the next generation of forces doesn't have to carry this on.   

 

                Q     That was my question, and you mentioned that four to eight years.  I mean, can one realistically put a date certain on finishing the job in Afghanistan?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I don't know -- I don't -- you'd have to ask him whether that's a date -- whether that's a date certain.  I think it's a goal and it's one here that I think everyone would want to work towards.  I mean, I think it's unknowable how long it will take, but I think we all have to work with the idea that we have goals, landmarks, things to shoot for to get this done.  If you don't, then you -- you know, then you run the risk of sort of being there indefinitely.  And I think we all want to figure out the best way to get this completed successfully and get our forces home.   

 

                Q     Could the job conceivably be finished using a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think we're -- you know, right now, the discussion is about adding forces, not subtracting forces.  So I don't know that we're even in the stage now where we're thinking about what a residual force, if any, would be required in Afghanistan.  We're just -- we've got too much work ahead of us at this point.   

 

                Yeah, Louie -- or Jeff and then Louie.  Sorry, Jeff.  

 

                Q     Thanks.  When you were answering Brian's question, I thought I heard you say the president has authorized additional forces for Afghanistan.  Was that part of your answer? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know what you're referring to.   

 

                Q     I thought it was something about --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  What was the more complete part of --  

 

                Q     -- waiting to see for the addition forces the president has --  

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think I said probably 25 to 30 times here, conditionally, whatever the president decides.  If or if he doesn't decide to add.   

 

                I don't think anybody could walk out of this room believing that I in somehow -- some way telegraphed a decision of which I have no knowledge.  Okay? 

 

                Yes.  Yeah, back there. 

 

                Q     Geoff, thank you very much.  It's John Terrett, from Al Jazeera Television. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Hi, John. 

 

                Q     Thank you for taking the question.  Does the Pentagon have any comment on a report in The Nation today that, puts Blackwater, now Xe Services, firmly at the center of a covert operation in Karachi in Pakistan, from an anonymous source within the military.  And my question is -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes, I -- I -- 

 

                Q     The question is, you keep denying covert operations in Pakistan, but isn't this yet more evidence of one? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay, the best person to address this would be the State Department spokesman, who has already put out a statement, or a correction, basically saying these accusations are entirely false. Okay?  But I -- for more clarity and more specificity, I urge you to talk to them. 

 

                As for what we are doing in Afghanistan -- or in Pakistan, rather, I think we have been incredibly forthright about this.  And we have basically, I think, a few dozen forces on the ground in Pakistan who are involved in a train-the-trainer mission.  These are Special Operations Forces.  We've been very candid about this.  They are -- they have been for months, if not years now, training Pakistani forces so that they can in turn train other Pakistani military on how to -- on certain skills and operational techniques.  And that's the extent of our -- our, you know, military boots on the ground in Pakistan. Despite whatever conspiratorial theories that, you know, magazines or broadcast outlets may want to cook up, there is nothing to it. 

 

                And obviously, we've also made it perfectly clear that we are willing and able and happy to help the Pakistani military in any other ways that they may see fit.  But at this point, that's the extent to which they would like our help, in terms of American boots on the  ground.  And so we are totally respectful of that.  And that's what it's limited to at this point. 

 

                Okay? 

 

                Yes, sir. 

 

                Q     Yeah, I've got a funding question related to the process of moving forces from Okinawa to Guam.  The VA-military construction appropriations bill that the Senate has passed has a cut of, I think, more than two-thirds on the new facilities construction money.  Is that -- is that money -- is that something that you all still want fully funded for this year's appropriations bill?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'd have to get back to you on what our -- if I should take a firm stand on this, because I got to tell you the truth. We've been -- much of our conversation with the Japanese has been trying to encourage them to continue on with this agreement as it's been negotiated.  But it's -- as you saw from the president's trip, and actually in our trip, that there obviously are some issues that the Japanese -- new Japanese government would like to see resolved before they're prepared to move forward.  So let take the question and find out if we've -- if we've modified our desire for that money at this point. 

 

                But obviously what we're trying to do is a lot in a very short period of time, assuming that we all get the green light to proceed as agreed upon.  And therefore I think we would need this money up front, so that we could begin to prepare the facilities in Guam -- pardon me -- for the arrival of forces from Okinawa. 

 

                But let me -- I'll be glad to take the question and see if there's been any nuance to that since the last time I dealt with it. 

 

[On Nov 5, the White House released a Statement of Administration Policy which reflected its concerns about the reduction in military construction funding related to the Marines realignment from Japan to Guam.  We agree.

 

The MILCON-VA Appropriations Bill that was approved by the Senate on November 17th was their 'markup' and now the pending legislation goes to committee to be negotiated with the House.  Since the legislation is not final, it would be inappropriate to discuss publicly.

 

We continue to engage Congress on all relevant issues during the budget cycle through briefings, discussion and responding to requests for information.]

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     To follow up on that, is that the purpose of the meeting today between Japanese defense officials and Foreign Ministry officials? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is this senior bilateral working group.  I think it's the second meeting that they have had.  I think it's in the wake of the president and the Japanese prime minister's discussion about forming a working group to take a look at the Futenma replacement facility and the broader realignment agreement and figure out the best way to proceed with implementing that agreement as it's been negotiated. 

 

                So this is the second such meeting.  I don't know how many more will be required, but I think it's everybody's desire to get this done as soon as possible, so that we can proceed with the larger effort to try to move significant numbers of U.S. forces from Japan to Guam. 

 

                Yeah, Brian (sp). 

 

                Q     Just for planning purposes, two big blueprints that the department is working on, Quadrennial Defense Review, Nuclear Posture Review -- can you give us any insight as to when they will be completed, when they will be made public?  You know, one's been led to believe it could be next month. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't have an update for the rollout of those, but I'm sure we will make it abundantly clear when they are coming -- to great fanfare. 

 

                Luis. 

 

                Q     Actually, that was going to be my question, but the follow- on to that is, there are several deadlines that to be met, as part of the QDR, of the rollout.  Is the secretary satisfied that those deadlines will be met over the coming months, particularly as it applies to scoring the document and all that? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'm frankly not familiar with the deadline.  I'm going to have to look into it for you. 

 

                Steve? 

 

                Q     Last month the president restated his commitment to doing away with "don't ask, don't tell," and since then the AMA has come out against the policy.  Is there anything happening at the Pentagon to lay the groundwork for any possible change of policy? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  We're working it. 

 

                Q     In what way? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think that's as clear as -- as much clarity as I want to offer to it.  I mean, we are -- we are -- Steve, we are well aware of the president's stated desires to do away with "don't ask, don't tell," and he's -- he and the secretary and the chairman have had a number of conversations about this issue.  And all I can say is that we are working it.   

 

                At the end of the day, you know, it's going to require some sort of legislative remedy to do away with it.  And whenever that comes, I think we've -- our admonition, our concern is that it -- that we implement this in a very careful way, when that comes to be, if that comes to be, because we have -- are obviously a force that's under enormous stress at this point, having fought -- or fighting two wars over the past eight years simultaneously.  And so you can't just flip a switch and change this place.   

 

                But we're working it, and we are -- we're in close consultation with the president, with the White House on this subject. 

 

                Q     Aside from any stress the force is under, do you sense any less opposition in the military now than there was when President Clinton tried to do this? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I'd -- I wouldn't be in a position to characterize this -- the force as if it's a monolith that I could sum up to you with, you know, one pronouncement as for or against.  I mean, this is, you know, 2 million-plus people, individuals, and all -- from all kinds of different backgrounds, from all over the country, from different economic backgrounds, different education levels and so forth.   

 

                So I don't think it would be fair to characterize how the force feels about it at this point.  And that's why whatever happens needs to be in a way such that all of these different kinds of people within the force were to become familiar with, educated on a change, if that's indeed where we head. 

 

                Q     Well, actually, I meant military leaders more than the whole force. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I'd ask you to direct that at individual leaders, then, because they, too, are individuals.  They've got their own opinions on this matter.  Yeah.  But there is no doubt among any of them what the president's marching orders on -- are on this subject. I mean, he has made that abundantly clear to this department.  So there's no ambiguity there. 

 

                So we are working this issue, and we are at the same time waiting for direction from the White House in terms of an ultimate legislative remedy.  The one thing I can tell you is -- the one thing the secretary has taken, as you've heard him, months ago, he has taken for review whether or not we can more -- as he put it, more humanely implement or apply the policy -- the law when it comes to individuals who have been outed by a third party; who have otherwise been in perfect compliance with the law, and yet someone has come forward and said that they are -- that they are gay or lesbian and serving in the force. 

 

                Q     And has there been more humane treatment, then? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No, what I -- what he's done is he's asked the general counsel to review this.  I think we are -- I think there is a product that he will be reviewing shortly.  Okay? 

 

                Q     May I follow up on that?  A quick question. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, let me just share the wealth here.  Nancy. 

 

                Q     I have a preview question.  When the president does make his announcement, will it include an adjustment of numbers of forces that the United States wants to train, number of Afghan police and army forces that it wants to train? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Oh, you know, I don't know.  I mean, obviously, you know, you saw in General McChrystal's assessment his very strong belief that we need to rapidly grow the Afghan national security forces.  So -- and I think you've heard from the secretary on a number of occasions talk about that as the ultimate key to our success.  The sooner we can get up a force in Afghanistan -- be it the military, the police, or intelligence -- and intelligence services -- that is capable of providing for its own defenses, that's capable of making  sure that that country does not become a launching pad for terrorism again, the sooner we can extract ourselves. 

 

                Q     Can I follow? 

 

                Q     But you don't know the number at this point? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't. 

 

                Q     Okay.  And the follow-up is, will there be an announcement of any sort of benchmarks or decisional point?  And if so, what does that mean for the benchmark that the National Security Council laid out about a month ago? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I just don't know.  I mean, guys, you're asking me what the president is going to announce and what he's not going to announce.  Only he is in a position -- or the White -- his spokesman at the White House is in a position, if they so choose, to provide that kind of preview. 

 

                Yeah, Al. 

 

                Q     (A follow on ?) the Afghan troops.  Have you heard concern expressed either from CSTC-A or elsewhere in the department about perhaps overexpectations or limiting factors on how big and how fast the confidence can grow among the Afghan forces? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think you've seen a new commander take over at CSTC-A, our NATO training mission in Afghanistan now.  Lieutenant General Caldwell is now at the helm of that organization.  And I think we expect great things out of them.  He's going to be under the gun, so to speak, to get the Afghan forces up and growing and even more capable at an even faster rate, I presume. 

 

                But I have not heard, Al, any sort of systemic kinds of concerns, any institutional concerns, any cultural concerns that we couldn't grow the Afghan national security forces at the rate that the commander believes they need to. 

 

                Q     Is there an estimate about when they would be ready to take on significant amounts of the responsibility? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think we -- I -- clearly, we've heard from President Karzai how soon he would like -- 

 

                Q     I was talking about the DOD estimate. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.  I know.  We've heard from President Karzai how soon he would like his forces to be in charge of security.  But I have not heard whether or not we, as a department, or we as a government, for that matter, have a timeline.  That could be part of this announcement, if and when it comes.   

 

                Yeah. 

 

                Q     On Afghanistan and Pakistan, there's been these repeated accusations that Pakistan has not gone after some of the Taliban leadership that's posing a serious problem for Afghanistan.  And is this -- is this a concern?  And is this being addressed, the Taliban in Baluchistan? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, Dan, I think the Pakistani military has certainly had its hands full lately.  They've paid an enormous price for the fact that they live with a number of terrorist and  insurgent groups in their midst.  Post-9/11, they've lost thousands of their soldiers.  They are, and have been really for the past several months, involved in nonstop military operations, now down in South Waziristan, and I think we've applauded them every step of the way.   

 

                But would we like to see more?  I think what we'd like to see more of is the kind of thing that they're doing right now which is sustained, committed, deliberate operations against this enemy within their midst.  And that's what we are encouraging.   

 

                Obviously as they take steps and gain back ground and capture or kill these terrorists, it then provides them the opportunity to go after others.  And we hope they continue on this course.  That's the best way I can describe it at this point.   

 

                Let's take one or two more.   

 

                Jeff.   

 

                Q     Thanks.   

 

                On the Oshkosh trip, the secretary talked -- he mentioned briefly that a new task force will be set up, Task Force ODIN, in Afghanistan, new persistent ISR.  I've asked over at CENTAF -- (inaudible) -- at OSD.  I haven't been able to get anymore information on this.   

 

                Do you have anything more you can talk about?   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, we're obviously putting in a number of ODIN-type planes.  We're putting in, you know, these 50 MC-12s, the first one of which will arrive and be deployed in January.  Then they will be -- they will afford the commander the kind of persistent eyes in the sky that he's looking for.   

 

                I mean, obviously we've got a lot of ISR in Afghanistan.  We need more.  Part of it is clearly devoted to sort of operational needs. Others of it is used for counter-IED purposes, much like Task Force ODIN was in Iraq.  And clearly we've got a real IED problem.   

 

                So we're going to want to dedicate some of these additional airframes, to making sure that our routes are clear and making sure that we've got -- we are watching these IED emplacers as they go about their business, that we're mapping and diagramming the networks and ultimately in a position to break them down.   

 

                Q     (Off mike.)  If you find someone bearing an IED, you can take him out with a Hellfire missile.   

 

                MR. MORRELL:  No.  I think as you've seen -- for those who traveled down to Greenville, Texas, with us -- that these are not  kinetic platforms.  The MC-12s are all about -- you know, they're full-motion video.  They're sort of persistent eyes in the sky.   

 

                But we have other platforms that are capable of taking out a threat.  They can then call in, you know, an attack helicopter or a plane or if need be, you know, a Predator or another armed platform.   

 

                But these in particular are -- the whole point of them is that we can build them cheaply and quickly and make sure we can get more of them.   

 

                I mean, we are maxing out the Predator line as it is now.  So rather than wait until we can build more Predators, we can get more eyes in the sky that aren't armed that will allow us to, as I said, map, diagram, trace these networks as they're going about their IMB -- IED emplacing, and ultimately use that intelligence to deploy forces on the ground to go after the networks. 

 

                Yeah, Ann.  Last two. 

 

                Q     Can I follow on something you mentioned earlier, this conference in Europe related to Afghanistan?  What is your understanding of where and when that would take place, and the scope of it?  I mean, I -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I -- you know -- 

 

                Q     -- (inaudible) -- in the planning -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  It's a good question.  And I think the -- as far as I've read from -- and as far as we heard from the German minister last week, I think it is all TBD at this point.  I think they are trying to determine when it should take place, where, and who will be included and things of that nature. 

 

                I think the bottom line is, they want to have a larger conversation about this before they commit additional forces. 

 

                Q     He seemed to be saying that it was going to be in Germany, right?  And -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know. 

 

                Q     But -- okay.  And what would the -- wherever it is, do you anticipate the secretary will attend? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't know that it's -- that this is an American -- this requires an American presence.  I mean, I think this a European conversation.  I don't know.  I mean, if we are invited, I assume he would entertain the invitation, but I don't think that -- I don't think it's our expectation at this point that his attendance would be required. 

 

                Okay, Justin and then Brian, and then I'm going to bid you all a happy Thanksgiving. 

 

                Q     On don't -- back -- "don't ask, don't tell," you seemed to suggest that it's going to be difficult to change -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  This is a FOX double-team here, from the left and the right. 

 

                Q     Well, we just -- well, this is something that he's laid out as a priority from the start, and we haven't really seen any movement. You haven't offered us much clarity today.  I'm -- you seemed to suggest that it's going to be difficult to change this policy in wartime.  I wonder if the president is sympathetic to that viewpoint. 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think he is.  I think if you go back and look at the statements coming from the president and the White House on this issue, that he is fully cognizant this is a force that is under considerable strain, that has been, you know, at an -- working at an extremely high operational tempo since -- late 2001, and that the course he sets on this issue will be mindful of that. 

 

                Now, that doesn't make him any less determined to overturn or change the law, but I think he and the secretary and the chairman are all very cognizant of the fact that we've got a force that we have -- that we have asked more of, probably, than any force in history.  And we need to be mindful of that as we make these decisions. 

 

                Q     Has the secretary tasked anybody internally to review this? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think what I said to Steve, and I'll repeat to you, is that we are working this issue. 

 

                Okay, Brian, last one. 

 

                Q     Quick question.  Secretary McHugh, as you know, ordered this review of operations at Arlington National Cemetery, after some evidence of unknown graves, that sort of thing -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I actually didn't know that until I read that; but, yes.  So what's your -- 

 

                Q     Well, I'm curious, given that this is where America's war dead in many cases are buried every day, has the secretary at all paid attention to this?  Is he concerned about this?  Has he been involved at all in trying to figure out how to get to the bottom of this? 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don't think he's been involved in it, frankly, Brian, and I don't believe he's necessarily aware of it.  I don't know how wide the coverage of this incident has been.  I read it in -- in an online publication, I think --  

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- CNN -- 

 

                MR. MORRELL:  And in reading it, it was alarming, and I think we're all glad to see that the Army secretary is going to look into it and see if there's any truth to the reports. 

 

                It is a sacred place, especially for people who work in this building, and we want to make sure that everything there is as it should be.  But as you know, the Army is in charge of that installation, and they're the best people to take a look at what's going on there -- or what isn't going on there. 

 

                Okay, thank you all.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Safe travels.

 

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