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Media Availability with Secretary Gates Enroute to India

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
January 19, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  Just a word about the first leg of the trip to India.  I see it as a natural follow-on to Prime Minister Singh's visit to Washington last November and the regular exchanges that we have had with the Indian military leadership, both civilian and in uniform.

 

                I was last here two years ago.  Last time I was here was with a broken arm, so at least I now have two working wings for this trip.

 

                We will be talking a lot about how we expand our defense cooperation.  There have been remarkable advances made just in the last few years.  We're halfway through the 10-year agreement that was signed in 2005, and there'll be a further review of the progress we're making in expanding the relationship, whether it's training exercises, defense trade and so on.  All of these things have grown significantly since that agreement was signed in 2005.

 

                We'll obviously talk about the situation in Afghanistan, and I'll be interested in their further views of the new strategy that the United States -- the president has approved and the measures that he announced at West Point.  All that was still being finalized when Prime Minister Singh was in Washington.

 

                The deputy secretary was over here last November, was in India last November as part of the ongoing strategic dialogue.  So I see this as a continuation of the effort to expand the relationship in a lot of different ways.

 

                Why don't I just stop there and invite whatever questions in.

 

                Q     Actually, a question on Haiti.  Do you think that the security situation is deteriorating?  And is there a choice to be made now about to what extent the U.S. military will step into that breach?  And if you could address the joint communique that was signed -- (inaudible) -- security?  Does that presage a greater U.S. security (presence ?)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think we still see the U.N. and MINUSTAH in the lead here.  We are there in support of them and the government of Haiti.  As you've seen on television and so on in the last 24 hours or so, we're getting more secure landing places for helicopters to drop off food.  And I think we obviously still have the problem of ground transportation within the city being a challenge.  And when you're dealing with a population of over 2 million people, doing it purely by helicopter is going to continue to be a challenge.

 

                I have the sense that some very good field hospitals have been established by several different nations that are now treating a lot of people.  I think we do have concerns.  As I said the other day, the worry is that as people -- until we can get ample supplies of food and water to people, there is a worry that in their desperation, some will turn to violence.  And we will work with the U.N. in trying to ensure that the security situation remains good.

 

                I saw one reference that for the last 24 or 48 hours or so, there has been a lot less violence in Port-au-Prince than there was before the earthquake.  So our hope is that we can get these done in parallel, that we can maintain with our partners, international partners, the Brazilians and MINUSTAH and so on, and the Haitians, maintain security as we try and fill these pipelines and get food and water and eventually some fuel to people.  But it's a challenge because of all the logistical issues that you all have already written about.

 

                Q     Sir, could I follow on Haiti?  There's been some confusion about what the rules of engagement are for U.S. forces there.  Are there any limits we've put on what you'd like to see the U.S. military engaged in there?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think, you know, obviously, anywhere we deploy our troops, they have the authority and the right to defend themselves, and they also have the right to defend innocent Haitians and other members of the -- and members of the international community if they see something happening.

 

                Q     (Inaudible.)  What do you think about the Karzai government's plans to essentially reconcile with Mullah Omar -- (inaudible)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, we haven't seen the detailed program that the Afghans are putting together for reconciliation.  I think we've felt all along that reintegration and reconciliation are critical to a resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

 

                I think that -- just speaking personally, I think that I'd be very surprised to see a reconciliation with Mullah Omar.  And I think it's our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, that the likelihood of significant reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great.

 

                I think, on the other hand, we may see a real growth of reintegration at the local or district provincial level, where people come under pressure and they know they can't win, and they know that if they reintegrate and accept the terms of the Afghan government, that they and their families can be protected.  I think that's the key in terms of the success of the reintegration.  But reconciliation, as I say, has to be a part of the ultimate conclusion here, just as it was in Iraq.  Whether that could include Mullah Omar, I frankly question whether that's realistic.

 

                Q     On Afghanistan, there was a major attack today.  Are we expecting more of those kind of strikes as the U.S. concentrates -- intensifies the campaign -- (inaudible)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I don't -- I think what you see is some of these highly visible attacks.  But we've seen those, as you well know, in recent months in Iraq as well.  In Iraq, they're clearly being undertaken by al Qaeda, and clearly because those are the only kinds of attacks basically that they can do anymore.  And they don't have enough resources to do them routinely, so they do periodic, very high-visibility ones.  And it's almost -- it's very difficult to provide perfect security in any of these places that have been engaged in these fights.

 

                So I wouldn't go so far as to say the attacks in Kabul are a manifestation of the Taliban feeling like they're on the ropes and have to do these highly visible things, as is the case with al Qaeda in Iraq.  My point is that these highly visible attacks are a tactic in this conflict, and it's very hard to stop all of them.

 

                Q     Do you have concerns that both the Karzai government -- (inaudible)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  No, I don't see a connection there.

 

                Q     Do you see a disaster like this, where the military is really the only entity that can respond quickly in the kind of numbers needed?  Do you feel like the department adequately understands and is prepared for humanitarian missions in the future?  And is that core enough to what the military does and understood as such that lessons learned here will be -- (inaudible) -- down the road, the next time you guys get called on to do this again?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Sure.  And I think the way we have been able to respond is indicative of our preparedness to deal with this sort of thing.  I mean, to get the number of ships and the number of people and the supplies forward as quickly as we have, I think, speaks to the capability of the military.

 

                And, you know, this is far from the first time we've done this.  I mean, just in recent years you've had the tsunami in Southeast Asia, where we had a huge role.  You had the earthquake in Pakistan, where we had a huge humanitarian assistance disaster-relief effort; the hurricane in Haiti in 2005, I think.  So we end up doing this with some regularity, and we learn -- the circumstances in each case are different, but we obviously learn each time.  But frankly, I don't think there's anybody in the world better at it than the American military.

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, quick India question.  To what extent is the India-Pakistan relationship on your agenda or on your mind as you go into India?  And are there steps you would like to see India take or that it could take to decrease tensions with Pakistan in the near term?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, we're always interested in that.  Regional stability is very important for everybody involved.  But I think it's clear that both sides prefer to deal with this bilaterally and that others not be involved.  Obviously if there's anything we could do to help that we got asked to do, we would be prepared to do.  But this really is -- both sides, I think, prefer to deal with their relationship in a bilateral way.

 

                Q     Do you feel like it's yielding results, the bilateral -- the kind of results you'd like to see as fast as you'd like to see them?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think we never see results as fast as we'd like to see them on anything.  I think that the -- you know, the bombing in Mumbai was a really terrible event.  And frankly, I believe that the Indians responded subsequently with a great deal of restraint and have conducted themselves in a very statesmanlike manner since that attack.

 

                Obviously, we would hope that there wouldn't be any more attacks.  But I think, even within the framework of that attack and the suspicions that it created, the two sides have managed to keep the tensions between them at a manageable level.

 

                Q    (Inaudible) -- one more question about India.  When Secretary Clinton was there in July, she made some headway on the question of end-use monitoring -- (inaudible) -- reached an agreement with the Indians on that.  What more would you want to see?  What are you aiming for in this visit in terms of technology transfer?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I want to talk to the Indians about our efforts at export control reform that we're undertaking in the administration.  I want to talk to them.  We have several agreements that are not an obstacle to the further expansion of our relationship and our cooperation, but they are obstacle -- not getting these agreements signed is an obstacle to Indian access to the very highest level of technology, which they're interested in.  And so we will be pursuing those agreements.

 

                I talked about it when I was here in 2008.  The end-use monitoring agreement was hugely important, and I think provides a basis that really helps the further expansion of the relationship, of the defense-trade relationship.  Some of these other agreements would, I think, create even greater opportunities to expand that relationship.  One --

 

                Q     (Inaudible.)  Sorry, sir.

 

                SEC. GATES:  One is the communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement.  Another is a logistics supply agreement where we basically agree to help each other out.  So there are two or three of these agreements.

 

                Q     On Afghanistan, how significant are the U.S. -- (inaudible) -- achievements in southern Helmand?  (Inaudible) -- more and more U.S. troops.  There are soon going to be twice as many U.S. troops -- (inaudible).  Is it likely that the U.S. will take over -- (inaudible) -- in Helmand, or maybe the British could take it over, the Canadians -- (inaudible)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I don't think that the discussions have advanced that far on the command arrangements in the future.  I think that -- I think people are heartened by the early signs of the success of the Marines in Helmand.  But it's early yet, and I don't think anyone is prepared to go too far in sort of talking about success down there.

 

                I would say there's been real satisfaction with the progress they've made.  I think there's a growing sense that it is -- in places like Nawa and so on, that it is proving that the principles that underpinned General McChrystal's campaign are, in fact, the correct ones and are working.  But as I say, it's early yet.

 

                Q     Secretary, on Afghanistan still, is it -- (inaudible)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  No, I think we knew from the outset that it will be -- that it would be a challenge.  As I've indicated -- and we still are on track to have about 92 percent of the forces in there by the end of August.  And to tell you the truth, there are some that we don't need to have in there before the end of August.

 

                I'll give you an example.  One of the elements of the 30,000 the United States will take over by an agreement that we reached two years ago, from November of '08 until November of '09, the Dutch commanded in RC South.  From November '09 to November '10, the British will command in RC South.  By longstanding agreement, the U.S. will take over command in RC South in November of 2010.

 

                That is a headquarters element, and so there are probably more than a thousand people associated with us taking over the command leadership, and we don't want them there too much before that turnover, because they'd just be stepping all over each other and the current command structure.  So that's an example of a small piece of the 30,000 that actually is better to go in in the fall rather than get in there in the summer.  But in terms of the combat forces, my estimation is that we'll have virtually all of those in by the end of the summer.

 

                Okay?

 

                STAFF:  Last one.

 

                Q     Are you going to talk to the Indians about China?  (Inaudible.)

 

                SEC. GATES:  Yeah, I certainly will be interested in their thoughts in terms of the Chinese military modernization and so on.

 

                Q     Could I just ask you to clarify on that joint communique that Secretary Clinton signed?  I mean, it does talk about U.S. security -- (inaudible).  Why is that language in there?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Because we have -- by tonight, we'll have 5,000 troops on the ground there.  Obviously the United States -- a high priority for us and for the U.N., as well as for AID, is maintaining the security situation.  After all, we can't deliver the food and water if we don't have a reasonable security situation.  So that obviously has to be an element of any work that we're doing with the government of Haiti and the U.N.

 

                Okay?

 

                Q     (Inaudible.)

 

                SEC. GATES:  I don't think that -- I haven't heard of us playing a policing role at any point.

 

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