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DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
December 16, 2009

         MR. MORRELL:  Hey, guys.  Good afternoon.  Happy holidays.  It is, as always, a pleasure to see you all.  I have a very brief update on the secretary's schedule, and then we'll take your questions.


         On Friday morning, the secretary will travel to Athens, Georgia, where he will deliver the commencement address at the University of Georgia.  He will encourage the 1,600 graduates to give back to their communities, whether it be through volunteerism, military service or careers in government.  Afterwards, he will administer the oath of office to Army and Air Force ROTC candidates being commissioned that day.


         Later that afternoon, he will then fly to Bloomington, Indiana, where, on Saturday morning, he will deliver a similar message to roughly 600 graduates at the University of Indiana, which happens to be where he graduated with a master's degree in history more than 40 years ago.


         This weekend he will receive another degree from his alma mater, this time an honorary doctor of humane letters.  So in addition to that honor, it will be a special weekend for the Gates family.  Not only is IU where he met his wife Becky; he was recruited by the CIA there, and his daughter Eleanor graduated from Indiana as well.


         So with that scheduling taken care of, let's get down to it.




         Q     Thanks, Geoff.  What do you -- can you say anything about this Iran missile test?  Is this -- represent a new capability for Iran?


         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I would -- I'm not going to speak to the -- what our intelligence may bear out about what did or did not take place and what kind of capabilities were demonstrated.  I will just say this:  The secretary has seen the intelligence on this latest launch, which, by our count, was on the 15th.  So I think that's -- what's that, the day before yesterday?  That's yesterday.  So that's what I am referring to as I speak to you.  


        There was activity yesterday that he has seen intel on, and based on that is clearly concerned, just as you've heard from frankly other world leaders, including Prime Minister Brown of the United Kingdom.  


         But this is just the latest in a series of provocative actions, by Iran, all seemingly oblivious to the scrutiny of the international community or perhaps more likely in spite of it.  


         At a time when the international community has offered Iran opportunities to begin to build trust and confidence, Iran's missile test only undermined Iran's claims of peaceful intentions.  


         Such actions will increase the seriousness and resolve of the international community to hold Iran accountable for its continued defiance of its international obligations.  


         But I'm not going to speak to any of the particulars of what may or may not have been fired and what the capabilities were that were demonstrated by that test.  


         Okay, yeah.  


         Q     There are some reports that there's a video that may surface of PFC Bowe Bergdahl who went missing in Afghanistan in July, I think it was. Can you update us on the military's search for him, where the U.S. believes he might be, what assets are still involved in the search to find him?  


         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, unfortunately those are the kind of specificity that I'm just not comfortable getting into.  


        I can tell you generally that ever since Private First Class Bergdahl went missing, it has been a top priority for our forces, particularly in RC East, to find him, recover him, bring him home safely.  And that remains the case today.  And we are going to extraordinary lengths to try to determine his whereabouts and ensure his safe return.  But I don't have anything in terms of -- in terms of where that investigation and that effort stands at this point.


         Q     Do you still think he's in Afghanistan?  Is that still the belief?


         MR. MORRELL:  I'm just -- I don't think it's appropriate for us to speculate from this podium as to where we believe him to be or not to be.




         Q    Is there any more clarity on how he went missing?  I know that was a point of confusion when it first -- when this story first came out.  Is there anything more you can provide for us on that?


         MR. MORRELL:  I can't.  But I can tell you this, Justin.  It's simply not a -- it is not our focus at this point.  Our focus in on making sure he gets home safely as soon as possible.


         As for the circumstances of his disappearance, there will be time enough to get to the bottom of that.  Our efforts at this point are focused exclusively on making sure we get him home safely.


         Q    Just back to Iran for one quick second.  Can you at least -- without going too much into the intelligence that you have, can you at least assure us that there's no real new capability demonstrated in this test; I mean, for instance, their perhaps being able to go longer range?  I know that's a concern with the Missile Defense Agency. They're preparing for a simulated long-range strike.  So was there any intelligence to suggest that they can go longer range?


         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, again, I'm not going to get into the particulars of what our intelligence shows, but I -- other than to say I don't think there was anything here that was particularly different from anything we've seen in the past.


         Q    Hi, Geoff.


         MR. MORRELL:  Hi.


         Q     Hey.


         MR. MORRELL:  Happy Holidays.


         Q     You too.


         Back in November, you were talking about the OGC [Office of General Counsel] review of "don't ask, don't tell."  And the secretary talked about wanting to make the policy more humane.  And you said, "I think there's a product that he will be reviewing shortly."


         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I did say that.  I recall it.  And unfortunately, I don't have an update for you.  Okay?


         Yeah.  Joe.


         Q    I want to go back on Iran, if I can.  From a military point of view, what kind of concern do you think this test poses for the United States and for the U.S. interests in the region?


             MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think I've spoken to that.  I mean, obviously, it is another example of provocative actions on the part of the Iranian government that do nothing to instill any degree of confidence by -- in its neighbors that it has peaceful intentions and wishes to be a productive member of the regional and international community.  And it does nothing to reassure the United Nations and the P-5 plus one that they are serious about resolving some of these issues in a peaceful diplomatic way.  So it does not seem to jibe with their statements and their commitments that they have made previous to this.  So I think there is some confusion, consternation, about what Iran's intentions are.


         I think the secretary spoke of this -- spoke of this at length when we were in Kirkuk last week, when he was asked by, I think, a member of the Air Force for his take on what Iran was up to.  And he -- I think you all saw his remarks then but, you know, he gave a lengthy response about -- essentially saying that he believed that Iran was stiffing the international community, and that that had resulted in more resolve on the part of our international partners, including Russia and China, to pursue sanctions if by the date that the president laid out for them -- the end of the year -- for them to show progress, to respond to our outstretched hand, is not met.  So we are -- we're watching closely, and we are concerned.


         Yeah, Mike.


         Q     Geoff, the budget that was just passed up on the Hill -- for lack of a better term, for the building here -- included a bunch of earmarks that the secretary had said he did not want.  Does he have a reaction, or do you have a reaction on the passage of it?  I think it includes the extra engine --


         MR. MORRELL:  I would say this at this point, Mike.  I saw that it passed out of -- I guess the conference report passed the House last night.


        I have -- I have not seen -- I don't think we've seen the language yet in this building.  If we have, we've only just gotten it, and I think we're reviewing it.  I think our concerns are well known by you and others as to which programs we found problematic, if they were funded above and beyond what was requested.  But I'm not in a position at this point, based upon not having seen the language, to tell you whether there were any redlines that were crossed in that -- in the passage of that bill.


         Q     If the secretary does --


         MR. MORRELL:  Or that report.


         Q     Once he does see it, is he going to feel it necessary to talk to the president and suggest maybe a veto?


         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I think it just depends on what's in it.  I mean, I -- you know, I've only seen the reports of what's in it, and based upon that, I don't -- I don't see that.  But let's look at the language and see what's there.  I think it's premature for me to say what his reaction is when we haven't seen what the language actually calls for.  Sorry about that.


         Yeah, Bill.


         Q     Geoff, the president has indicated -- the White House has indicated that the administration's reviewing its policy about sending condolence letters to service members who commit suicide.  It doesn't currently, but it's reviewing its policy.  You've indicated that there -- that the -- that Secretary Gates, while he sends condolence letters to those who've died in OIF and OEF, does not send letters out to those who've committed suicide, whether in those operations or elsewhere.  What's the rationale for that?


         MR. MORRELL:  Well, for those of you who aren't familiar with what we do here, what the secretary's done in the three years since he's been here is, he takes condolence letters extraordinarily seriously, and personally, for that matter, writing one to each and every family who has lost a loved one in OIF or OEF.  


         You're right, he has not and does not send them to anyone who may have taken his or her own life in theater.  But for everyone else, he devotes an extraordinary amount of time and thought into writing a very personal letter to their families, basically expressing to them    our nation's appreciation for the service and sacrifice of their loved one.  


         And that process has evolved in -- from him writing a handwritten note to him requesting his staff to provide for him a photograph of each of the fallen, so that he can more closely identify with who it was he was writing about and the individual who had been taken from his -- you know, their family.


        And then wanting still more in terms of appreciating the gravity of the loss for this family and their community, he asked then for clippings to be provided, particularly from local papers, so he'd get a sense -- so he got a sense of, you know, the impact that individual had in their community, in their schools, in their churches, on their athletic teams and so forth.  


         So with all that, he writes personal letters to each and every person.  That is a time-consuming process, one he very much thinks is important and worthwhile, but it does require a lot of time and thought.  


         And as you indicated, the White House -- and I think they've indicated from the podium -- is now looking at how the president writes his letters, which I think is to form as we do, which is for OEF and OIF combat and non-combat deaths, excluding suicides.  I think they are reviewing that, and we are obviously going to work closely with them and -- but as it stands right now, our policy is what it is.


         Q     Why did the secretary exclude suicides?


         MR. MORRELL:  That is historically how it's been done in this building, I think going back years if not decades.  I think -- I think you could talk to people in this building who believe that if you were to extend your letting -- letter-writing to include suicide victims, that it would somehow diminish the sacrifice of those who have died in combat.  


         And there are those who also would say perhaps that that opens the door to writing letters to basically everybody who dies while in uniform.  And as you know, domestically, we obviously have a number of, you know, accidents that take place, car accidents, motorcycle accidents, training accidents, and the universe becomes larger and larger, and the responsibilities, in terms of writing very personal notes to each and every one of these people, become more difficult.


         I have not -- but that -- you know, that's -- this is how we -- this is how he has done it.


        And obviously, I think that as the president considers how he wants to proceed, we will consider how we want to proceed.


         Q     (Off mike) -- on that, so just to be clear, are you saying that this is a matter of time management for the secretary, why he's not writing these, because there's too many potential suicides in theater and the secretary doesn't have time to write them?


         MR. MORRELL:  No, I don't think I said.  I think I laid out for you a number of the circumstances that we're dealing with here, one of which being the notion, according to some, perhaps in uniform -- and you can walk around the hallways and talk with them about what -- if we were to extend the letter writing to include suicide victims, what that would mean to their potentially future sacrifice, what it means to the sacrifice of their brothers and sisters in arms who pay the ultimate price on the battlefield, and whether or not it does create, even forgetting the merits of it, whether or not it does create a situation where it's unclear where you draw the line on extending condolence letters to everybody who perishes.


         Q    So just to be clear, if someone's in a car accident in Baghdad, in no kind of a hostile action, a non-combat death, that person would get a letter of condolence from the secretary; correct?


         MR. MORRELL:  That's correct.  Absolutely.  Absolutely.




         Q    Geoff, has the secretary reviewed the use of senior retired officers as paid consultants to the military?  And if he has, what has he found, and what does he plan to do about it?


         MR. MORRELL:  If you're speaking, Tom, of your series in the USA Today, yes, he has read it.  (Laughs.)


         Q    (Off mike.)


         MR. MORRELL:  Yes.  He has, Tom, read your pieces and those of your colleague Ken Dilanian.  And frankly, he is very concerned about the senior mentor program.  He has had a discussion with the service secretaries about the issues raised in your articles, and he has asked the deputy secretary, Bill Lynn, to examine the program and get back to him as soon as possible on his findings.  I will tell you that he strongly endorses the objectives of the program -- you know, to use retired senior military leaders to train and mentor the next generation of military leaders -- but he has real concerns about the levels of compensation and the potential for conflict of interest.  And so I think he fundamentally believes that, at least based upon the anecdotes that he's read, that the money is obscene [Mr. Morrell later corrected the record by noting that "obscene" does not accurately reflect the secretary's characterization of compensation levels in this program], and -- for government work -- and that those participating in this valuable program should be motivated to do so out of a sense of patriotism and service rather than out of -- out of monetary gain.


             Q    Does he think that they can do this work and have outside interests with defense contractors as well as --


         MR. MORRELL:  Well, that's why I raise not just the compensation angle, but also the potential conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict of interest.  And so I think you're -- I think the deputy secretary is going to look at it from both perspectives, whether or not the compensation is appropriate and whether or not there is too much of a potential for a conflict of interest or the appearance of one to do this program credibly.  


         I think he believes that the program is extraordinarily worthwhile, I mean at least what the objectives of it are.  But we got to figure out how we can do it in a way that still allows these very, very experienced and committed and bright retired senior military leaders to devote their time and their expertise to helping the next generation of three- and four-star leaders, and even more junior than that, obviously; and whether we can entice people with those skills to come back and do that and yet pay them in a way that most people would expect government employees and government consultants to be paid; and whether this can be done without the potential for conflict of interest.


         Q    Does Secretary Lynn have a timeline on when he's to make recommendations?


         MR. MORRELL:  I do not believe so, other than that, obviously, this is an issue of concern to the secretary -- Secretary Gates, that is -- and I think he wants to -- he wants to see some recommendations sooner than later.  I mean, obviously we're about to embark on a -- on a brief break for the holidays, so I don't expect anything, obviously, before the New Year.  But it has garnered his attention and he has asked the deputy to look into this.  Okay?


         Peter?  Do you have a story you want me to comment on, one of yours?  


             Q     (Off mike.)  


         Since I think last you were here at the podium, we've had some comments from General Rodriguez on the timing of -- the ability to get 30,000 in theater.  


         MR. MORRELL:  Right.  


         Q     Can you just bring us up to date about the ability of this building to get the 30,000 into theater on the president's schedule that he requested?  


         MR. MORRELL:  Well, first of all, I would note that the first surge forces have arrived in Afghanistan.  I think that first Marine battalion has -- they already have boots on the ground.  And the rest of them will be flowing in I believe before Christmas.  


         So the surge has begun in earnest.  As for when it will be complete, I think, the secretary has been loud and clear and consistent on this since the policy was unveiled earlier this month.  


         And that is that the preponderance of the 30,000 forces will be in theater, will be in Afghanistan, by mid-summer.  And the remainder of the 30,000 surge forces will be there by the end of summer.  That said, we can't be cavalier about this, because this is going to be extraordinarily difficult to pull off.  


         We all recognize the huge logistical challenges involved in getting 30,000 forces and all their equipment, because they're not falling in on any equipment, and all their equipment over to Afghanistan in the next, you know, eight or nine months, 10 months, whatever it may be.  You do the math.  


         And so you know, there is precedent.  We did 30,000 forces into Iraq in five months.  But obviously we're now dealing with a land- locked country, without the airfields inherited from Saddam Hussein and with a security climate that makes it difficult and with a road system that is, that is rudimentary at best and with very difficult terrain.  


         So given all that, it's going to be a challenge.  But the president's direction has been very clear on this.  He wants -- he wants a surge.  He doesn't want -- he doesn't want a protracted deployment.    And so we are determined to make sure we take all the resources in this building, you know -- whether it be using, you know -- you know, committing TRANSCOM [Transportation Command] to do more than perhaps was originally thought possible or, on the absorption side in Afghanistan, more than they thought or think is initially possible and figuring out what more resources need to be devoted to it, what more personnel, what more efforts, in order to alleviate any potential bottlenecks in the system -- and make sure we get all these guys and their equipment and gals over there, within the time period that this policy calls for.  


             Q     Can I just follow up?  In terms of -- any concerns raised by the White House that as signs are that this may shift to the right, that it's not going to meet the deadline the president set?


         MR. MORRELL:  Concerns -- the White House fears that it won't meet the timeline?


         Q     Yes.  


         MR. MORRELL:  No, I don't -- I don't get the sense that there's [sic] concerns.  But they shouldn't be concerned, because I think there's -- you know, the secretary of Defense has been explicit on this, you know, for days now.  He is determined to push this building as far as need to be get to these forces over there according to the prescribed timelines, not because they're arbitrary, but because that's the whole strategy -- to get a very robust surge of additional forces.  This is not a protracted deployment. The effect here we're trying to get is more sooner, so that we can change the momentum on the ground, knock the Taliban back on their heels, protect the population, win over the support of the Afghan people and ultimately, by doing so, defeating this insurgency.  That's what we're trying to do, and that's why it's important that we push the building to do whatever it can to make sure -- we'd probably go above and beyond what most people think is most feasible.  This is an aggressive timeline, but we're going to do our darnedest to make -- to make sure we meet it.


         Q     I want to say, "Happy holidays."


         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah.  Thank you.  Appreciate that.


         Q     When you said the first surge forces would be in -- where the Marines would be in by Christmas, you're referring to the first 1,500, not the 6,200 on top of that?


         MR. MORRELL:  You're correct.  I was speaking to that battalion.




         Q     Geoff, Secretary Gates had a meeting on Monday night with the president of Lebanon.  


         MR. MORRELL:  And I -- if you're asking me for a readout --


         Q     If -- 


         MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I -- it's one thing I forgot to do for you. I will do it for you; I promise.  I just -- I forgot to ask about that, Joe.  Okay?  And if you -- I will find out for you.  I apologize.




         Q     Geoff, what is your latest estimate on how much the war supplemental request will be?  And when are we going to receive a breakdown of that?


         MR. MORRELL:  I don't -- you know, obviously the determination about how the surge is funded will be one that will be made by the White House, obviously, and OMB [Office of Management and Budget], and in -- you know, in consultation with this department.  And all I can do at this point -- so I won't speak to the vehicle by which this will be funded, but as for how much it could potentially cost, I would direct you to what Secretary Gates said during the testimony that followed the president's announcement. When asked about this, he said, in his estimation, the department's estimation, it was between $30 (billion) and $35 billion. 


         But I will tell you this.  This is still a work in progress. We're still trying to determine the precise costs associated with surging these additional forces into theater.  


         Q     Do you know when we'll get more details?


             MR. MORRELL:  I don't.  But I would give you heads-up to -- when you do get them.  I mean, one of the people -- you know, people have suggested that this figure differs from others that have been quoted to you all.  I mean, I think this figure reflects not just the costs associated with flowing in these additional forces, but also other unmet commitments that we have that have come up over the course of the year; things such as the fuel costs, which we -- are always difficult to gauge, and so we have an outstanding fuel bill.


         Additionally, there are force-protection needs that need to be funded.  For example, the MRAPs that we've been buying thus far have been largely cash-flow.  So we've gone and -- you know, we've taken money from other parts of the department to buy those MRAPs.  Well, we're now buying even more MRAPs to outfit the surge forces.  So we've got to pay back the coffers of those departments -- of those areas of the department that we've taken money from, and we've also got to fund the additional MRAPs needed for the forces here.


         So -- so I'm just giving you heads-up to the fact that when you ultimately do see a number, you will likely see a number that not just reflects the cost of the 30,000 additional forces, but also some unmet commitments that we -- that are outstanding.  Okay?  But I couldn't tell you -- I mean, hope soon.  I can't -- you know, I don't think, again, it'll be before the New Year.  (Chuckles.)


         Justin -- no, wait, wait, I'm sorry, Yoso -- Jayhawk.


         Q     (Chuckles.)  Yeah.  The Japanese Hatoyama government announced to postpone its decision on Futenma’s relocation until sometime next year.  How much impact do you think this postponement gives to U.S.-Japan alliance?  And what does U.S. government expect the Japanese government to do on this issue now?


         MR. MORRELL:  I've only seen the press reports that you speak of. I, obviously, saw reports quoting the prime minister.  I don't know that we've received any sort of official communication yet from the government of Japan as to what their intentions are in terms of addressing this outstanding issue.  So -- but I would -- so I'd refer you to the government of Japan in terms of what their precise way ahead is.


        I would -- I will tell you this, though:  The United States is continuing to engage the Japanese government in direct discussions to maintain alliance capabilities while reducing the impact of our bases on local communities.  We believe that the realignment road map is the best plan for reducing the burden on Okinawa while maintaining our alliance capabilities.  And I think that's where I want to leave it at this point.  I know that's perhaps more generic than you would like, but I think that's where we want to leave it at this point, okay? Sorry, Yoso.




         Q     Geoff, correct me if I'm wrong here, but when President Obama took office in January, wasn't one of his stated goals -- a promise, if you will -- to not have any more war supplemental funding from the Pentagon?  Was it a mistake to make that kind of a promise when he hasn't even gotten through a year without doing that?


         MR. MORRELL:  I seem to recall the statements to that effect.  I mean, I think it's -- and that's perfectly reasonable.  This administration has made a commitment I've seen it -- and I think you've seen it -- follow through on, which is that they wanted to fund the wars, you know, through a budget process that -- through the same budget process that we looked at for the base budget.  So while it wasn't technically part of the base budget, both those numbers were sent to the Hill simultaneously, and the overseas contingency operations fund and the base budget were scrutinized in the same way, by the same committees, on the same timetable.  And that remains the case to this day.


         Now, obviously there have been developments that have taken place.  There's been a decision -- an extraordinary decision to surge additional forces in.  That is the -- that would require emergency funding.  And I think the administration, the White House, OMB, this department, are in the process of trying to determine how best -- how best to fund those operations.  I don't know that a decision has been made as to whether it will require an additional supplemental, whether there will be an -- you know, whether you will amend something that, you know -- any of the budget bills that are currently up on the Hill. I don't know.  They're the best people to address that to.


         But I think the president's commitment to having the Congress be able to scrutinize the Defense budget, the war budgets in a very deliberate way remains strong to this day.  And -- but I think -- I don't think the commander in chief has ever taken an option that he has off the table.  


        I don't think there was ever a promise, a determination that you would never perhaps fund things through emergency funding.  Things happen that sometimes require that you fund them in extraordinary ways.  But let's see what they ultimately determine as to the way ahead.


         Yeah, Tom.


         Q    Geoff, Chairman Skelton sent -- has purportedly sent a letter to Secretary Gates with concerns about inadequate training and equipment for troops headed to Afghanistan.  Has the secretary reviewed the letter?  Does he share those concerns?


         MR. MORRELL:  The first I've heard of it, Tom.  I doubt -- I mean, obviously he takes the chairman's concerns and questions very seriously.  I think he would be -- I think that would stand in contrast to anything he has heard from any of his military leaders or, frankly, from his visits to troops in the field, pre-deployment or post-deployment or during deployments.  I'm usually with him for all those meetings, and I have never heard complaints from troops, either downrange or prior to deploying, that they are inadequately trained or inadequately equipped for the operations that we're asking of them.




         Q     Geoff, there's been some reporting about the secretary's recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing some potential slights that he may have suffered on the part of Iraqi and Afghan leadership.  How does he -- does he agree with those characterizations?  What's your thinking on those characterizations?


         MR. MORRELL:  I don't know what slights you're speaking of.


         Q    Well, President Karzai mentioning the 15- to 20-year timeline for self-funding for Afghan security forces, potentially catching the secretary off guard; the meetings rescheduled with Prime Minister Maliki and the rescheduling the following morning, that there was just a morning session; and that we should be thankful that the secretary actually -- that the prime minister was making available his morning time for the secretary.


         MR. MORRELL:  I will -- I mean, I'll be go through these point by point with you, because I find them just absolutely absurd.  And I just think it reflects a pettiness in reporting that is really disappointing.  As for President Karzai's statements, he's the head of state meeting with the secretary of Defense in a joint press conference in front of U.S. and Afghan press.  He was asked a question.


        And he responded, you know, candidly to it based upon his assessment of what he thinks his armed forces and his government are capable of doing.  


         He's not a puppet.  He's the elected leader of a sovereign country.  And he offered his candid and honest assessment, which I would hope a reporter would want a leader to offer, to the question that was asked.  


         Now, I know people noted that the secretary was surprised by it. I don't think he was surprised by the notion that this -- that this country which has I think a budget of roughly seven -- $800 million and on which we're going to spend, I don't know, $900 billion training and equipping their forces in the next fiscal year -- I don't think it's unreasonable for -- I'll look up the numbers.  


         God, you guys, I see the eyes rolling.  Everybody's eyes are rolling.  


         Q     You just said 900 billion.  


         MR. MORRELL:  Oh, I said 900 billion.  I meant -- 


         (Cross talk, laughter.)  


         I'm sorry, I'm sorry, 8.9 billion in fiscal year '10, which will be for training and equipping and growing the ANSF -- that means the army and police -- in fiscal year '10 to a total force of roughly 230,000.  


         So my point being if the government's got a budget of 700-$800 million, and the bill alone to grow the force is $9 billion this fiscal year, obviously there's a disparity between, you know, the means and -- you know, and the ends.  


         And so we are -- that's not lost on us.  It's certainly not lost on the secretary.  I don't know that he had heard President Karzai mention those specific numbers before.  I don't think they came up. They had a one-on-one, so I don't know if they came up in their meeting prior to.  But I don't think that caught anybody by surprise.  


         As for Prime Minister Maliki, Prime Minister Maliki again a popularly elected leader of a sovereign state, in the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack in the capital of his country, was called before the people's representatives, before the council of representatives, to testify for six hours about what happened and what was the response to this attack and what do we have to do to avoid them in the future.  


         That to me would be a sign of enormous progress in Iraq that, instead of people sniping about, people should be embracing and say, you know what; that's what we want out of this democratically elected government in Iraq.  


        We want their leaders to be responsible to the people through their elected representatives.  


         And I can tell you for darn certain that Secretary Gates was not in the least offended by the notion that Prime Minister Maliki had to delay their appointment by a few hours.  And he was extremely gratified that the prime minister, who -- frankly, we operate in the Western culture on a slightly different time schedule than the Iraqis do -- i.e., we normally work, you know, from early in the morning until early in the evening.  The Iraqis normally work from later in the morning till later in the evening.  Prime Minister Maliki broke from his norm and his protocol and met with the secretary at 7:50 a.m. because that was the only time that we would be able to meet him and carry on with the rest of our schedule.  So we were enormously pleased by that.  


         There's no slight, there's no snub, and any reporting suggesting that is just petty and does not recognize the fact that what is going on here is democracy at work.  And we should be applauding it, not being snarky about it.


         Q     Geoff, if I can ask another question, the -- (laughter) -- on the recent pay increase for Afghan security forces up to $240 a month, did the secretary have a big hand in having that process occur that's (inaudible) -- 


         MR. MORRELL:  Listen, I am always one to pat my boss on the back, but I can't -- I don't think I can say to you with any certainty or with any conviction that indeed that was his doing.  I'll have to check on that for you.  I don't know it to be so.  So I'm not going to claim credit for him.  That probably was something that was done in- country rather than back here.  Okay?


         Courtney, and then I know Bryan wants me to get out of here.  So Courtney.  


         Q     This is an -- it's an easy one, but it involves money, so you may want to -- careful -- 


         MR. MORRELL:  Careful?


         Q     (Inaudible.)


         MR. MORRELL:  Nine hundred billion.  Nine billion.  I'm sorry. It's only a few zeroes.   


         Q     Can you just -- I know you don't want to talk about specifics in the budget, but can you just give us any -- an update on where the secretary stands about the acquisition of additional C-17s? We haven't heard about that since -- 


         MR. MORRELL:  Well, I mean, I think C-17s -- listen, I think you've heard from the beginning of this process back on April the 6th, when the budget was unveiled, the fact that the secretary believes we have enough lift as is.  


        We don't need more C-17s.  


         That said, he loves C-17s.  He flies in them all the time. They're extraordinarily good aircraft.  This is not to disparage the C-17 at all.  It is just to make the point that we have enough lift as -- in our fleet as is, and that the more we are asked to buy, forced to buy, you know, budgeted to buy, it requires us to take money out of something which we think is a more urgent need and, you know -- and divert it to, if not buying the C-17s, then certainly operating them and maintaining them over the long term.


         That said, it was not part of the statement of administration policy that was sent to the Hill.  This was not one of the -- of the veto redlines that the secretary had articulated to leadership over the course of this process.  So whether there are three additional C- 17s or 10 additional C-17s, I do not believe you're going to see the secretary recommend to the president of the United States that he veto the defense appropriations bill.  


         That said, I do believe he is very serious about there being enough C-17s in our fleet.  And so I would think, you know, as a -- an item to look ahead on, I think he is going to be very adamant about this in the future in terms of budget priorities in FY '11.  Okay? Thanks so much. 








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