MR. MORRELL: Hi, guys. I apologize for being late.
Let me give you a lengthier than normal preview of the secretary's upcoming schedule and then take your questions.
But first, just a quick note on a couple of appointments he had this morning. The secretary had breakfast up on Capitol Hill with a few members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. He was part of a group of senior administration officials, including General Jim Jones, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher and others, who briefed congressional leaders on President Obama's ambitious plans to dramatically reform our nation's outdated export-control system.
While the Pentagon has traditionally been reluctant to really do anything but tinker with the existing rules and regulations, Secretary Gates is committed to working with the interagency, and with the Congress for that matter, to make meaningful and lasting changes to our export controls. He believes that is imperative to keep our nation competitive in this global economy, as well as to keep our friends and allies equipped well enough to contribute in a meaningful way to global security.
Also, today the secretary met with Grete Faremo, the Norwegian minister of Defense. They discussed a range of bilateral defense issues, as well as alliance issues, including the NATO strategic concept, headquarters reform and, of course, ongoing military operations in Afghanistan.
Secretary Gates thanked the minister for the outstanding service and sacrifice of the approximately 500 Norwegian troops in Afghanistan who are leading a PRT up in Regional Command North.
Later today Secretary Gates will meet with the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, Massoud Barzani. This is their third meeting, as some of you may know, because you've been along with us on trips to northern Iraq -- third meeting in seven months. It will serve as another opportunity for the secretary to reiterate U.S. support for the KRG's security and prosperity within a unified and stable Iraq, to reconfirm America's commitment to a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, and to offer our assistance in resolving outstanding disputes between the KRG and the government of Iraq.
Finally, later today, he will attend the president's address to Congress, the State of the Union.
On Friday, Secretary Gates will travel to Topeka, Kansas, where he will be honored by the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas with the Distinguished Kansan of the Year Award. The secretary's excited, of course, to return to his home state, humbled by this distinction, and very much look forward -- looks forward to accepting this award before an audience full of family and friends. His remarks, for those who are interested, will of course be open press.
The next couple of weeks are shaping up to be very busy. As many of you know by now, on Monday Secretary Gates will unveil the fiscal year 2011 Defense Department budget, as well as the Quadrennial Defense Review. Tuesday he will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the budget and the QDR. And on Wednesday he'll appear before the House Armed Services Committee on those same issues.
As soon as the Wednesday testimony is over, he'll straight -- head straight to Andrews, where he will catch a flight to Europe -- actually, to Istanbul, because he has to participate in the NATO defense ministerial that will be taking place there at the end of next week.
Over the weekend, he'll conduct meetings with the leaders of the Turkish government in Ankara, and will then travel on to Rome and Paris, where he'll discuss bilateral military issues with the Italian and French -- with Italian and French government officials, respectively, before returning to Washington Tuesday night, I think it is, February the 9th.
So with all that out of the way, much of it done in anticipation of the fact that because early next week is busy, I doubt you're going to get a briefing from up here, so now you at least know what we're going to be doing for the next couple of weeks.
Q What role does Defense Secretary Gates think that the U.S. should be playing in Yemen? Should the role be restricted to ISR planning assistance and the like, or is there room for more direct engagement to try to get after the terrorist threat there?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think as a government we obviously are strongly supportive, fully supportive of the efforts that the Yemeni government has been making to deal with the terrorist threat within their midst. We support it in many different ways, and we applaud them for their aggressive and forceful response to this growing terrorist threat in their country.
I think -- you know, I've gone from this podium through you with a litany of ways in which we are supportive, be it financially, be it training, be it advice, things of that nature. We've done that over the years. If that is something that the Yemeni government continues to find helpful, we will look for ways to continue to do that, if not broaden it.
But this is obviously a sensitive issue for the Yemeni government, and we are mindful of their sovereignty. And we are working with them as cooperatively as possible to deal with this threat that is -- not just poses a risk to them and their people, but to us, obviously as well, as evidenced by the Christmas Day attempted attack as well as the connections between a Yemeni-based cleric and the Fort Hood shooter.
Q Okay. Since you're not going to really address that question, then could we talk about the bilateral meetings in Rome and --
MR. MORRELL: I feel as though I have addressed the question.
Q Well, I mean, can you say whether or not the U.S. would consider more of a direct role in countering the terrorist threat there?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think it's appropriate -- I don't think it's appropriate for us from this podium to be considering future operations or future alternative methods of being supportive to the -- to Yemeni efforts to combat terrorism in their country.
I don't think that's helpful to the Yemenis, and I don't think it's helpful to us. And so I just don't think it's appropriate from here.
Q All right. Well -- and then can you talk about the bilateral meetings in Paris and Rome? What -- is there a goal that Gates has? What would those discussions entail? Why is he going?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think -- frankly, I think that although he meets with his counterparts in those countries with great frequency, with -- you know, because of these quarterly -- nearly quarterly NATO ministerials, as well as their quite frequent trips to Washington, most of those discussions have been focused on Afghanistan. And we have a -- well, much wider-ranging relationship with those countries in the military realm than just Afghanistan.
And so he wants -- it's been a while since he's visited European capitals. There's others that he had hoped to hit up on this trip that we're not going to be able to, due to scheduling conflicts. So you'll likely see us returning in the -- in the not-too-distant future to visit other capitals. But I think he feels the need to do nurturing on other non-Afghanistan bilateral defense issues.
That said, obviously Afghanistan will also be a part of these conversations. And I think this is -- I think it's been at least a couple of years since he's been to Europe, so -- for a nonministerial visit, so I think this is overdue.
Q Thanks, Geoff. Has the White House given the secretary and the department clear guidance about how long significant military assets will be needed for the operation in Haiti?
MR. MORRELL: I think that is -- it is a question that we are -- that the U.S. government is wrestling with right now. And we are -- the secretary's, I think, had a discussion with the president about this yesterday. I think it's taking place at obviously levels below that as well; certainly a discussion in the interagency as to how does this mission evolve.
Now a couple of weeks into it, we clearly have enormous assets on the ground now. Nearly 15,000 forces, 23 ships, probably averaging about a hundred flights a day in and out of -- in and out of Haiti.
I think that everybody would say by now that the aid is flowing in a very productive and helpful fashion. And -- but the question now becomes, now that this immediate relief has been provided, what do we want to do from here? What can we do from here?
Clearly, there's been a commitment made by the United States government, and by General Keen on the ground there in Port-au-Prince, that we as a government and we as a military are committed to seeing this through and helping the Haitian people get back on their feet after this horrific natural disaster. But what precisely that means, and how many forces are there, doing what kinds of things for how long and at what kind of expense, are precisely the discussions that are being had within this building and within the administration right now. So I can't give you any clarity on decisions on this. We're still wrestling with it at this point.
Q There's been buzz on Capitol Hill about "don't ask, don't tell." Do you expect the president tonight to say something that will move the ball forward significantly? Is the department prepared for that?
MR. MORRELL: I would urge you to talk to my counterpart at the White House for any previews that they wish to offer on the State of the Union. I'm just not in a position to do it from here.
Q I wanted to ask you about that -- something different on "don't ask, don't tell," but on Haiti first, you know, you said, and I understand, that, you know, the aid is flowing productively. But what I do want to ask you on that is we also have video today of U.N. troops being compelled to pepper-spray Haitians who are trying to get through because they hadn't had any food in three days. So, I mean, clearly, there's still pockets -- if military forces are forced to pepper-spray hungry people, there's still pockets where the aid is not flowing. And I'm wondering, you know, as you look at this now, as it enters its third week, are you really satisfied that people are getting at least food, water and shelter?
MR. MORRELL: I -- I'm not in a position to take issue at all -- I'm inclined to -- on this notion that there are pockets where it's not flowing. As far as I know, there is -- there is aid flowing to those who need it. Obviously, it's a -- there is a -- there's a large population there. It's been displaced from their homes. Some of it has made an exodus from Port-au-Prince out to the -- to the countryside and so forth. So we're going to have to continue to sort of reach out beyond Port-au-Prince to support those as they leave the metropolitan areas.
What I would say generally about the security situation if you're using that as an anecdote for it being unstable is, yes, the security situation right now is, we judge it to be stable but fragile.
And as evidenced by some of these scenes that you've seen on television, where there have been groups that become restless as aid is distributed to them, it shows that aid distribution is still very much a challenge and that we have to be mindful of the security climate there.
We have to provide the kind of security that is -- that will facilitate a safe, secure flow of food, water, medicine, whatever it may be to the population.
So our forces are trying to help -- trying to help the NGOs do that. Forces from around the world are contributing to that effort. And we will continue to do so, as long as we are needed.
Q Let me ask you, on "don't ask, don't tell," back in July, I believe the secretary said he was going to ask -- he was asking the general counsel for recommendations within the department on how to more, I think his words were, humanely implement the current policy.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q And we've heard very little.
MR. MORRELL: I don't have an update for you today on that.
Q Well, let me ask very specifically. It has been six months at least.
Has there been any progress on the secretary's request to the general counsel for recommendations? Have there been any recommendations? Or has nothing happened on this?
MR. MORRELL: I would certainly not say that there has not been anything that has happened. They have been working on it. I believe they continue to work on it. I don't have for you an update on where it stands right now.
Q Has the secretary asked the Joint Staff, the chairman or any of the relevant officials in this department for their advice and consent on changing the "don't ask, don't tell" law?
MR. MORRELL: Not to my knowledge at this point.
I mean, I would just say this, that I would urge everybody -- I mean, I talk to all my colleagues across the river about this, as a larger issue. We -- at this point, the only thing I would say is what we've been saying to you, for some time, is that we continue to work this problem. But I'm not going to get into it with any more specificity than that.
Q Colin Clark, DOD Buzz.
The space industry has probably been hit hardest by export control restrictions over the last 10 years. Do you know if the secretary supports any changes that would affect the satellite industry?
MR. MORRELL: I -- you know, you're asking me to delve into it at a far more micro level than I'm prepared to at this point.
I think what I can say to you is that he believes that this is -- what is required here is not, you know, tinkering around the edges of what is a rather cumbersome, antiquated, outdated, bureaucratic set of rules and regulations governing the export of technology.
He believes you need to conduct a wholesale reform of export controls, really starting with a blank sheet of paper. And, you know, this is not his initiative. This is an initiative that the president has proposed, it's being led, I think, by the Department of Commerce, but one that he fully supports and is willing to go to bat for.
And that's what you saw this morning up on the Hill, and I think that's what you'll continue to see in the days and weeks to come.
Yeah. Brian (sp).
Q Geoff, you've described, I think from the podium, this annex to the Fort Hood investigation report as classified.
MR. MORRELL: I have not.
Q You have not.
MR. MORRELL: But I'm happy to.
Q Other department officials have.
MR. MORRELL: Okay.
Q But from what I understand from people who have seen it, it is not classified. It's for official use only, which legally is not classified.
So my question is, why -- number one, why would the department describe it as classified if it's not? And will you make it available to the public? If it's for official use only, one would think it's not --
MR. MORRELL: I think we've -- frankly, I think --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: I think these questions have been asked and answered. But as far as I know, Brian (sp), it is classified. We can certainly look to whether it -- whether as a whole it is -- there are parts of it that are -- whether there are differences in classifications throughout the annex.
I can tell you this: That there are things in the annex that deal specifically with the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting and, therefore, if they were shared in the public domain, could undermine his chances of getting a fair trial and the prosecution's chances of getting a conviction of the person they believe perpetrated these crimes. So that's the first and foremost reason.
I think additionally there is probably stuff in there -- and again, I have not read the annex, but as it's described to me I think there's stuff in there that deals with accountability in terms of, you know, lapses in accountability of those who supervised the suspect in the shooting, and whether there were red flags that should have been noted and dealt with sooner to avoid such a tragic outcome.
So that's the reasoning as I understand it, but we can certainly check with regards to how it's specifically classified.
But I think, whatever the classification, seems to me that there is a very good rationale for why, at this point, at least, it is not being shared with the public, as we are in the midst of preparing to prosecute the suspect in the shooting, okay, and perhaps discipline others who failed in their supervision of him.
Q This week, with the London conference, "Taliban reconciliation" is a phrase we're hearing a lot, and now, after the secretary's trip last week, some Pakistani press, other foreign press said the secretary left mixed messages with that trip, on one hand saying the Taliban were bad guys, not to be dealt with, and on the other hand saying they were part of a political fabric.
So if you can, you know, you know, kind of expand on that or clarify it, especially to, you know, troops who are fighting this fight -- are they fighting to win against the Taliban or fighting for a truce to help bring some Taliban possibly or -- not others, into the fold of some, you know, future solution? What are the messages --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think you -- listen, I think you go back in history; all -- well, not all conflicts, most conflicts, particularly modern conflicts, have ultimately ended with some sort of political resolution to what was a military confrontation. That's what we are seeing unfold in Iraq. It's what we're -- what we believe to be the solution ultimately to the situation in Afghanistan.
What -- our role in that is setting the conditions by which that can take place. Clearly the conditions are tenuous right now for such a thing to take place, because the perception is, at least, that the Taliban enjoys the momentum in this fight. So long as they are feeling emboldened by their successes, it is not likely that they are going to lay down their arms, recognize the democratically elected government in Kabul, pledge a legion to -- pledge allegiance to it and support it.
So we clearly need to reverse in that the momentum. That's what our 30,000 additional forces are there to do. That's what the additional coalition forces are there to do. And we are confident that hopefully, you know, in the next several months, that we will bring about that change in climate that would lead to more and more Taliban reassessing their allegiances.
We've spoken to this time and time again, Kevin, that it is the assessment of the intelligence community, it's the assessment of our military commanders, it's certainly Secretary Gates' belief, that the vast majority of Taliban foot soldiers are doing it out of -- either for economic reasons -- they need a job -- or because they are intimidated into doing so.
We are -- clearly, those are the ones, the ones who are not ideologically wed to the warped view of the world that the Taliban has, who we think are most ripe to perhaps set down their weapons and take a job in the civilian sector, in the private sector, and support the government.
The Taliban leadership -- and this is where I think there is a distinction between what Gates was saying. I mean, the Taliban leadership is clearly -- are bad guys, who it's highly unlikely are reconcilable. I mean, I don't know if Mullah Omar has given any indications he's ready to -- ready to sign up and support Hamid Karzai. So, you know, there is a distinction between the foot soldier and the leaders who gave a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda from which they launched attacks on this country on 9/11.
And so he sees the distinction. I don't think it should be lost on you. I think we can look at this with some -- some subtlety between these two, and go after the foot soldiers and try to win them over; and ultimately, figure out what to do with, you know, the hierarchy, as we go up the ladder.
Now, Omar is probably the extreme, the foot soldiers are the other extreme. The question is, what happens to the others? Can they be won over? Can they become a part of the political fabric, as Gates spoke of? And that's, I think, what we're all trying to figure out, and I don't know that we have an answer yet.
Q You know, at what point, then, does -- with the 30,000 new troops in the surge, who are there as, you know, as point-of-spear fighters, is the department set up to begin accepting converts -- well, however you want to call them -- from the Taliban, reconciliation centers as have been set up in other conflict zones, like in South America?
MR. MORRELL: I don’t think the department's -- that's not an issue for the department. This is an issue for the government of Afghanistan. And clearly, I mean, if -- just reading President Karzai's comments in the press, particularly in the lead-up to this conference in London, it is their desire to work more aggressively towards a reintegration -- at the very least, a reintegration plan, and ultimately perhaps a reconciliation plan.
We have always been supportive of that notion.
And that's why we're committing additional resources, to try to change the dynamic on the ground, to lead toward that possibility.
And that's why I think financially there is support, from us and other countries, to try to figure out what we can do, in a nonmilitary sense, to provide an alternative for these foot soldiers: jobs, et cetera.
Q I have a question about Blackwater, just to have you clarify the secretary's remarks last week, in Pakistan, about Blackwater.
He -- was he getting --
MR. MORRELL: You were there and are still confused.
Q I'm still confused.
Was he getting confused with --
MR. MORRELL: I think you've been reading too much of the Pakistani press. (Laughter.)
Q Well, it's been popping up everywhere.
Was he getting confused between the CIA operations with Blackwater in Pakistan? Is that why he said --
MR. MORRELL: I wouldn't -- first of all, I wouldn't know the CIA operations if there are any operations. I wouldn't speak to them even if I did know them.
I don't think he was confused at all. I think he got a rather convoluted question, which asked a number of different things. In the most generic sense, it asked whether security companies in Afghanistan working for us -- the USG, I presume -- have rules and regulations governing their behavior. And he answered in the affirmative.
In between there, they threw in as examples DynCorp and Blackwater. I don't think the secretary knows who the State Department hires to be their security. I don't know -- you know, I don't know that he knows all the contractors that are working for us.
So subsequent to that, I think he was crystal clear the next day, in the roundtable, where he made it clear. We do not have Blackwater working for us in Afghanistan.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: We just don't.
Q Can I ask you about "don't ask, don't tell"?
Is the secretary satisfied with the pace at which this is moving, the slow pace through the Pentagon, that the move towards changing the law as the president called for, during the campaign and more recently last fall?
MR. MORRELL: I think there's some confusion here about responsibilities. This is a law that we have to abide by. If there's a change in the law, we will abide by the change in the law.
There's nothing this department can do, you know, short of a change in the law. I say that. And clearly he has asked the general counsel to look into, short of changing the law, are there things we can to do apply it more humanely?
If you're asking, is he satisfied with the pace at which they have examined this question?
Q Or just in general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a group that is looking at how this might be implemented.
MR. MORRELL: I have not heard him say that. What I've heard is, we get loud and clear what the president's directive is on this. He wants to see a change. And if there is a change, when there is a change, we will do what we need to do to facilitate that change.
I think you've heard him say publicly the fact that there would -- you know, this would have to be a very careful process. And so that's -- but there's no update. I have no update for you. We'll have to see.
Q Can I follow up on that?
Q (Off mike) -- you said -- but you didn't answer your own question. Was he satisfied with the pace of the general counsel's activities?
MR. MORRELL: Oh, the general counsel's -- you know, I have not heard him express any dissatisfaction with it.
Q And can I still have another question?
MR. MORRELL: Sure.
Q When you talked about Mullah Omar before and reconciliation and reintegration, you said he was at one end of the extreme. Very precisely, is the United States willing and will it continuously support Afghanistan if Mullah Omar and Hamid Karzai have come to some reconciliation? You have a bounty on Mullah Omar's head. Are you willing to have him come back in, and would he -- is that something that's acceptable to the United States?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, listen, I would -- I think it's most appropriate to ask that question at the White House, because that's obviously a big question. I mean, I think we've stated -- I think you've heard Secretary Gates state before that Mullah Omar is probably a bridge too far. I mean, he has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands.
But ultimately, I think that those kinds of decisions you -- will be made between the government of Afghanistan in consultation with the president of the United States. But I'm not in a position to elaborate on it from here.
Q A follow-up on this?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah – Courtney?
Q Well, I have a follow on "don't ask." I don't have a follow on Mullah Omar, though.
MR. MORRELL: Okay.
Q (Off mike) -- follow up.
Q The United --
MR. MORRELL: I’m just "Mr. Agreeable." Wherever you want to go.
Q Okay. The United Nations removed five senior Taliban people from their terrorist list -- I believe it was today -- including, I think, a former foreign minister. Are those the type of people you're talking about? Was the department in any way involved in vetting those folks?
MR. MORRELL: Not that I know of.
Q Is that the sort of level that could have -- that could be reconciled with?
MR. MORRELL: I'd talk to the U.N. about it.
Q Back on "don't ask, don't tell," President Obama has also said that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" is an issue of leadership. But it's a matter of someone taking the leadership to figure out how to do it and what -- and what needs to be done, and what the issues are. I mean, that's essentially going to have to come from this building, what the issues are. But --
MR. MORRELL: I -- listen, I'm not going to -- I'm just going to get into all this.
Q Well, here's the -- here's my question --
MR. MORRELL: I'm just not. If you guys want to talk to the White House today about it and see if they have anything for you -- I don't have anything for you today beyond what we've said on this subject.
Q The secretary has been -- but can I just finish my -- I didn't even get my question.
MR. MORRELL: I think I have made it clear. I'm not going to delve further into this subject at this point.
Q (Off mike) -- let me finish? (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: I have nothing -- I have nothing to add. I really don't.
Okay, finish your question.
Q Mr. --
MR. MORRELL: I'll humor you, and we'll finish the questions. Okay.
Q The secretary -- I mean, one of the things that's marked his term here in this building is responsibility for leadership. He's fired numerous department heads, service heads. So if this is an issue of leadership, I don't understand why he doesn't feel either more pressure or more -- the need to move this along faster if the president has specifically said the reason this hasn't been repealed is an issue of leadership.
MR. MORRELL: I would direct your question at the White House.
Okay? Yeah. Go ahead.
Q I want to just ask you about the possibility of further Taiwan arms sales. Can you give us a picture of where the -- where the 2001 pledge to Taiwan stands in terms of how much of that -- I think it was 11 billion (dollars) -- was -- has been fulfilled so far? There was an October 2008 notification to Congress that amounted to about 5 or 6 billion (dollars) of that. Is there more coming? And what discussions are you having with Congress on that at this point?
MR. MORRELL: A couple things. I -- frankly, I don't know where we stand in the inventory of things that were slated to be sold. As for your second question, which is, is there anything pending, we don't talk about future arms sales. There is a process by which we notify Congress if there are sales that we wish to proceed with. At that point, it becomes -- there is a public notification component through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. They'll post it on their website. I don't believe there is anything posted on that website, but I urge you, you know, if you're interested in this subject to look there.
And finally, the -- any -- you know, any and all arms sales with Taiwan are done in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. The United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
MR. MORRELL: Follow-up -- yes.
Q Yeah, I'd like you to -- also to comment on how would that affect the mil-to-mil with China, given SECDEF and Admiral Mullen are invited to China this year.
MR. MORRELL: How will this hypothetical -- I mean -- I don't want to get into what is or isn't pending. I frankly don't know what is or isn't pending.
With regards to the importance of military-to-military relations and the prospect of those being adversely impacted, if, hypothetically, there were such a sale, listen, we believe -- and you've heard it from Secretary Gates time and time again now -- that this relationship is too important to go through the fits and starts that we have over the years, where every little bump in the road results in a -- in a breaking of communication and a suspension of dialogue and a hiatus in the direct military-to-military relations.
We have to be mature enough, this relationship has to be important enough to both of us -- not just us, both of us -- to continue to focus on this and do the hard work it requires to continue to engage, even when times get tough.
So we are -- we are fully committed to continuing this dialogue and believe it's important for both of us to do so.
Q Geoff --
MR. MORRELL: Yoki (sp).
Q -- Geoff, there have been a series of strikes, as you know, in Yemen over the past couple of weeks. What is the department's assessment of how serious the al Qaeda affiliate threat remains in Yemen after those strikes?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that I have -- I mean, I don't think I'm going to give sort of an intelligence assessment of where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stands in the wake of some of the efforts that have been made lately by the Yemeni government to go after them, other than to say that that kind of action is precisely what we believe is needed, we applaud it, we continue to support it, and we need to remain vigilant and aggressive in going after this -- these terrorists who operate in and around Yemen.
Q (Off mike) assistance we’re providing to -- on the defense side -- to the Yemeni government -- is that still training, some intel-sharing, some drone-related data, but not U.S. combat troops on the ground taking part in combat?
MR. MORRELL: Again, I think I've gone through -- I think you were a little late to arrive, Yoki (sp), but I've gone -- I've gone through the fact that previously I've discussed with you the range of support we provide, most of it financial, others of it training, advice and so forth. But operationally, I certainly wouldn't speak to anything else.
Q Geoff --
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q Thank you. The secretary just came back from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
MR. MORRELL: No, he didn't.
MR. MORRELL: India and Pakistan. We did not stop in Afghanistan.
Q Okay. Now, as far as with Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden again spoke via audiotape, not video, and now the London conference -- so as far as his trip to India is concerned, is he still as convincing or if Indian government is now willing -- any more involvement in Afghanistan as far as troops are concerned? What is discussion on the table while in New Delhi --
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, well, I --
Q -- and also the London conference and Afghanistan is concerned, what is the future now?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'd refer you to a transcript of his press conference we conducted in Delhi last week -- it's on our website -- for more precise answers. But clearly we did discuss Afghanistan with the government in Delhi and discussed the need for the Indian government to be as transparent as they can be with the Pakistani government about their activities in Afghanistan.
They clearly have contributed much in a monetary sense, financial support to the government in Afghanistan. And that is greatly appreciated by us, by the Afghans, and I think by the international community. But beyond that, I think you saw him speak to this -- there was this talk of perhaps the Indians providing training to Afghan forces. And that is not something that we -- that I think anybody is pursuing at this point.
Q Also, on this audiotape from Osama bin Laden, do you believe, or anybody here or somewhere in the U.S. government, that Osama bin Laden is still directing his evil administration or people against innocent people around the globe, as far as terrorists activities are concerned?
MR. MORRELL: Directing in what sense? In an operational sense, aligned --
MR. MORRELL: I -- you know, listen, I'd urge you to talk to the DNI or somebody about that. I mean, I'm no expert on that. But clearly, he is an inspiration to terrorists around the world, and his communications, you know, only fuel that. And so he clearly must be dealt with. And we're doing everything we can to find him, and capture or kill him.
Q And finally, somebody -- that means somebody's still giving him safe haven somewhere in the world.
MR. MORRELL: He seems to be somewhere.
Q Geoff, do you have a specific schedule of Assistant Secretary Chip Gregson's coming trip to Tokyo? And what is the goal of this trip? And do you expect any development of Futenma issue?
MR. MORRELL: I understand he's going to Tokyo -- I think today, arriving tomorrow. I think he'll be there until mid next week. I think there's a -- there are two -- there are two things that he's doing. I think at one hand, in Tokyo, I think he's participating in the SSC (sic) -- which is what again? Security --
STAFF: It’s right up above that. Security consultative talks.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, something. All right. The Security Consultative Committee. So he's going to participate in that. And then he's also going to be in Okinawa to continue discussions with Okinawan officials about realignment, Futenma replacement and so forth.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: So that's the -- that's the agenda for that particular trip.
(Cross talk, laughter.)
Q Thank you. Satoshi Ogawa, Yomiuri Shimbun.
New Nago mayor was elected last Sunday. And he announced that he would reject any new base construction in Nago, including the current FRF (Futenma Replacement Facility) plan.
So does the U.S. government keep its position with the current FRF plan is the best and only operationally capable plan? And Japanese government is looking for a new location for FRF, so I’m wondering if the U.S. government is ready to renegotiate FRF plan?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I would just say in a generic sense that we have heard the prime minister and understand his timetable to address this between now and May. We continue to work with the Japanese government in the interim on that issue, as well as a range of others.
And you know, our relationship extends well beyond just Futenma replacement. I mean, it is -- it is of paramount importance to both of us that we continue to have a strong bilateral relationship particularly on the security side.
It is to both our benefit. It's to the region's benefit. And so we deal with each other on a host of other issues beyond Futenma replacement. So any sense that there is some sort of preoccupation with this, and we're paralyzed by it, and the relationship is frozen as a result of it, I think, is just overblown.
We're talking. We continue to talk about a number of other things. And we continue to work the Futenma replacement issue. It's an important one. It's a fundamental part of the base realignment that we have both agreed to.
We understand the timetable the prime minister is working under. We respect it. We'll work with it. And, but we still do believe fundamentally that the road map is the best plan for reducing the burden on the island of Okinawa and as it's been constructed.
That said, we continue to work with our friends in Japan.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, Joe.
Q Thank you, Geoff --
MR. MORRELL: I'll come back to you.
Q Thank you, Geoff. I would like to ask you about the latest attacks in Baghdad. How could you address these incidents? And do you agree with General Odierno that -- he used the term of insurgency -- the insurgency is using new tactics? How could you address this issue?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I -- first of all, the attacks are deplorable. They're reprehensible. They're despicable. And they -- and our heart goes out to those who lost their lives over the last couple of days.
It has -- it fits into a pattern that we have seen develop since August, where roughly every six to nine weeks these terrorist organizations are able to husband enough personnel, money, ammunition, explosives, devise a plan and perpetrate a high-profile attack that results in mass casualties. We saw it in August. We saw it in October. We saw it in December. And now we've seen it here in late January.
I think what you heard from General Odierno was that this is a sign that this has morphed from an insurgency into strictly a terror -- a terrorist organization, that this is -- these -- this is the work of terrorists, not of insurgents. And despite, clearly, the fact that they have been able to wreak damage and death on this six-to-nine-week cycle, it has not resulted in what they clearly wish it to, and that is, first and foremost, resparking the sectarian violence which nearly destroyed that country several years ago; nor has it resulted in an undermining of the confidence of the Iraqi people in their government or their security forces.
As far as we can tell, the blame for these attacks, as far as the Iraqi people is concerned, is directed at the perpetrators, at the terrorists. And finally, it has not served to derail the March elections, which has to be one of the goals here.
So as awful as they are and as much as we sympathize with those who have lost loved ones, these terrorists have not been able to achieve any of their goals as a result of this, other than to get us talking about it.
Q But based on the SOFA agreement, do you expect that the Iraqi government will come up and ask Washington or the Department of Defense to go again -- to send U.S. troops inside the city if the trend of these attacks continue?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I have no indication, Joe, that that is something that's being considered by the Iraqi government. Obviously, we still have a significant force in Iraq, but it is a dwindling force. So, as it reduces, you know, our ability to perform some of these responsibilities is limited. We still have a-hundred-thousand- plus forces on the ground. Obviously, we're going to -- you know, shortly after the elections, there's going to be a pretty steep drop- off to get down to basically six advise-and-assist brigades, under 50,000 forces.
That said, we're there to help. And if the Iraqi government, if the Iraqi security forces need our help, we'll obviously do what we can to support them. Right now in the aftermath of these bombings what we've been doing is providing them with the kinds of forensics expertise they need to analyze the crime that took place and to figure out who perpetrated it, and so that they can go back -- they can go out and get them. And I -- you know, I don't know if it's coincidence or ironic or if it was deliberate that what was targeted yesterday was the forensics facility for the Iraqi security forces.
Yes, you in the back, sir.
Q I'm afraid -- I'm aware that you already talked about Haiti, but I wanted to know, who is in charge in Haiti? What is the main role of the military forces? And how long they will stay there?
MR. MORRELL: From a U.S. government perspective, I think the lead in this is the USAID, and we are there to support their efforts to provide aid and comfort and assistance to the people of Haiti. So we are a facilitator and enabler for the government effort as well as the NGO effort to provide relief to the Haitian people.
You know, the truth is, no one can provide the kinds of assistance we can, and we are happy to be doing it. It is -- it's an honor for us to provide that kind of assistance to people when they're in need. It shows -- it shows the world that obviously we are not a one-dimensional force, we are a force for good and try to provide assistance to those who need it around the world, not just in combat zones but in disaster relief, humanitarian assistance.
I mean, this is -- we have -- we have answered this call throughout our history. And we're happy to be doing it again. It's unfortunate that it's under these circumstances.
But I don't think -- if you ask those troops that are on the ground, those 15,000 and those on ships, there's not place they'd rather be than helping the people of Haiti in their hour of need.
Q Are you assessing the situation every single day, to determine if you increase or withdraw troops?
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
I mean, right now I don't think we're at the point of even considering withdrawing troops. I mean, I think, there are still forces flowing towards Haiti, not away from Haiti.
There are still many, many thousands of additional forces that are in the pipeline to be going towards Haiti. So we envision that there will be a role for the United States military for some time to come in Haiti.
The question is, when does it change? When does it -- when does -- what is the tipping point by which it transitions into less of a military role, more of perhaps a facilitator in terms of security, transportation, logistics, that kind of thing.
Some of the forces that have been deployed to Haiti obviously are forces that were destined to be doing other things. The 24th MEU being one of them, that was going to the theater reserve and is going to be the theater reserve in CENTCOM.
And the Haiti operation has forced us to cancel a couple of training exercises that they were supposed to be engaged in en route to that AOR. But that's not the end of the world. We can make up that training at other times with those partners. And right now their focus -- the 24th MEU -- is dealing with Haiti.
So far it has not adversely impacted anything in Operation Enduring Freedom. Nothing that was destined to be going to Afghanistan has been impacted by the operations in Haiti.
But, and -- but we are well aware that the president's priority is to make sure we get a rapid, expedited surge of forces into Afghanistan, to change the momentum. And so we have got to be mindful of that.
And we are constantly looking at, does anything we are doing in Haiti perhaps adversely impact what we need to do in Operation Enduring Freedom? As of right now it doesn't. But we are going to be vigilant about watching that.
Not to mention, you know -- you know, we are also being very mindful of the costs associated.
This is an extraordinary, expensive undertaking and a necessary undertaking, but it's --
Q Do you know how much?
MR. MORRELL: You know, I think we're still working that. But I mean, you know, we've got 24 ships out there. You've got 15,000 personnel. You've got flights. This is a -- this is a very expensive operation. We have committed enormous capabilities towards this mission, and the -- and the meter is running. And so I don't know that we've gotten arms quite yet around how much, but -- you know, probably hundreds of millions of dollars.
Q The people that is being evacuated is coming here to the U.S.?
MR. MORRELL: Say it again?
Q The people that is being evacuated from Haiti is coming to the U.S.?
MR. MORRELL: I think that there have been -- you've seen some American citizens that have been brought back to the United States. You've seen -- I've -- we've all seen the stories of these Haitian orphans who have been brought back to be adopted by American parents. But I know of no -- no exodus of Haitians that are being brought back to the United States or anywhere else. That is not -- that is not in the works. I think our focus is providing enough resources to make life more bearable, livable, on the island of Haiti than anywhere else. That's we think the most appropriate way of trying to be helpful.
Yes -- (off mike).
Q (Off mike) -- back on North Korea, it is reported yesterday North Korean coastal artillery has fired toward the South Korean territory waters. That seems to be a clear military provocation. What is your comment?
MR. MORRELL: Well, we're aware of those reports. And I really, first and foremost, direct you to the -- to the Republic of Korea. They are probably best able and most appropriate to respond to it.
I would say this; that although this is a bilateral issue, fundamentally, between the North and the South, we clearly are discouraging of any further acts of aggression which would in any way increase the tensions along this historically disputed boundary area.
So we want to see everybody exercise restraint as they deal with this issue.
Q But is that putting any adverse effects to the coming six-party talks?
MR. MORRELL: I would say that it's always difficult to interpret the intentions behind North Korea's actions. And we, however, have made it very clear that the -- that there is a path open to the North Koreans in the framework of the six-party talks to achieve the security, international respect that they seek -- or they -- at least they say they seek. So, provocative actions such as those that we saw yesterday are clearly not part of that path.
Yeah, Justin. Just a couple more and then we're going to go.
Q Thanks, Geoff. Was Secretary Gates ever asked if Abdulmutallab should be taken to the DOD rather than -- that DOD should take him rather than putting him in the federal court system?
MR. MORRELL: I don't believe he was asked. I mean, I -- I've seen the reports, as you have. I don't -- I mean, I think -- as far -- I'm just basing this on what I’ve read, and that was that this was handled by the Justice Department.
Q So the -- so he was never consulted ahead of reading him his Miranda rights, as far as --
MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I don't believe so, no.
Q Does the secretary believe, then, that any valuable information may have been lost, or any opportunity to gain valuable information from the Christmas Day bomber would have been lost?
MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I have not heard him say that. I have not -- I mean, I don't know it to be the case. So I'm not in a position to help you on that.
Q That's it. Thank you.
MR. MORRELL: Okay.
Yes. How are you?
Q I'm good. Thanks for taking my question. Should we expect any sweeping changes in the Defense budget on Monday? Any areas of particular interest that you may be able to point out?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, I think, you know, we've been leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, you know, over the past several years in terms of where the secretary was heading in terms of reforming the Defense budget. You saw in dramatic fashion last April when he announced the FY '10 budget proposals, and I think you will see FY '11 continue to build upon the reforms and the rebalancing that were first put forth in the '10 budget.
But I'd urge you to stay tuned to Monday afternoon. We'll have a full schedule for you. I think you'll likely see him in the early afternoon with the chairman, and then likely the comptroller and Michele Flournoy to talk about the QDR. And then, obviously, each of the services will talk to you with greater specificity about their budgets.
But I don't think there will be any surprises in terms of where, philosophically, we are headed. This is very much about building upon the progress that was made in the fiscal year '10 budget and continuing the rebalancing so that there is focus on our forces and their families; that there is a greater commitment of resources necessary to win the wars that we are currently fighting; while at the same time obviously doing the prudent kind of planning for deterring or if necessary fighting future perhaps conventional conflicts against near peers. And that's the trajectory we've been on, and that's the one we'll continue to head on.
I mean, obviously we're dealing with a fiscally constrained environment, and so you know, every dollar we spend has to be dedicated to something we really do need. So there have been hard choices made. There are -- there are things that will be cut and things that will be added to, to achieve the proper balance that the secretary believes we must have.
Q One quick follow-up on export controls, since you opened up with that. Is Secretary Gates pressing for a single agency to deal with export controls in the future once the system is reformed?
MR. MORRELL: I think this -- I think he is embracing the notion of wholesale reform. I don't think he goes into it necessarily with any preconceived notions of how this should be done other than that we need to, you know, reassess this from top to bottom.
And we are -- you know, this is not an effort that's being led by this department; it's being led, I believe, by the Department of Commerce. But this department has historically been an impediment, an obstacle to meaningful change, and what's different now is that he is fully supportive of dramatic change. And so he's willing to do whatever it takes to support that effort in the coming weeks.
Why are people -- more hands go up, not fewer.
MR. MORRELL: I haven't called on Luis, in the interest of fairness, I haven't done that.
So let me end on Luis Martinez.
Q Two quickies, here. You said the secretary's budget is focused on the family. The White House issued a point paper yesterday talking about how the pay raise, the annual pay raise for this year, is going to be 1.4 percent, which is the lowest one in the history of the all-volunteer force. What's the rationale behind that?
And if I could switch over to North Korea/South Korea real quick, was the secretary informed last night when these activities occurred on the West Coast?
MR. MORRELL: I, frankly, don't know, but I doubt it. I mean, there's a lot of things that happen that he is ultimately informed of, but I don't know at what hour it happened and whether that would have required an emergency phone call. I don't -- I doubt it.
Your question about the pay raise, I mean, it happens to be something they've -- the White House has already spoken to, I guess, with the first lady. I would -- let me just put it in some context for you. Obviously, providing the appropriate level of compensation to our men in uniform -- men and women in uniform -- is a high priority for this department. We need that in order for us to recruit and retain quality people.
But just the context here would be that between 2001 and 2008, basic pay rose 37 percent in the United States military. That's compared to a 28-percent raise -- rise in the private sector. So pay raises have now -- we've now fully closed the gap that had been identified by the Ninth Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation between the military and the private sector. That has been closed. And I think we are at a point now where when you -- when compared to civilians with equivalent education and work experience, junior enlisted compensation is equivalent to, or exceeds, 90 percent of the civilian workforce.
So, I mean, obviously, compensation is of great importance to us. I think the military has been -- we've obviously, as you've seen in past years, put forth proposals to the Congress, in terms of what we believe to be an appropriate pay raise. I would note that, historically, whatever we've put forth has been bumped -- up, higher. I don't know that that will be the case again this year.
But I think we've always done our level best to make sure that our men and women in uniform are given appropriate salary and bonuses, so that we can recruit and retain the best possible people.
It's in the interest of our nation's security.
Did you have another one?
Q That was it.
Q Follow-up on Japan?
MR. MORRELL: What more can I say about Japan now?
Q Well, because you said that Gregson was meeting with Okinawan officials, and then you said you think the current plan is the best plan. It sounds like an opening for further discussions about an alternative plan.
MR. MORRELL: I think I've said what I have to say on the subject.
Thank you all for coming today.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2010, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL CARINA NYBERG AT 202-347-1400.