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Press Conference with Secretary Gates from Istanbul, Turkey

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
February 05, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  First of all, I would like to apologize for the brevity of this press conference.  I have to leave at a quarter till to keep an appointment with the prime minister in Ankara.

 

                For the past two days we've had a series of productive meetings for NATO, our current operations and our priorities as we prepare for the threats of the 21st century.  We just wrapped up a lengthy session on Afghanistan, far and away the most important mission for NATO and the other troop-contributing nations.

 

                As you know, this is the first ministerial since President Obama committed 30,000 additional troops in December.  Thousands of them have already arrived, as well as more civilian resources.  And the goal of this strategy is to quickly reverse the Taliban's momentum, secure the population and redouble efforts to build Afghan national security forces, so that they can take over security responsibility as conditions permit.

 

                I thank all of those nations that have stepped forward with additional commitments, ensuring General McChrystal will soon have nearly all the combat forces he asked for.

 

                However, more trainers are needed, and needed immediately.  I pressed the alliance to meet the long-standing demands of thousands more instructors and mentors for the Afghan army and police.  As more Afghans join their nation's security forces, we have to be able to train them in order to get them into the fight as quickly as possible.

 

                The biggest threat to all of our forces, Afghan and coalition alike, remains IEDs.  We discussed collective efforts to defeat this tactic and destroy the networks that employ IEDs.  Today I told our allies that going forward, the United States will be able to offer them more intelligence, training and equipment, including jammers, route clearance robots, surveillance systems and ground penetrating radars.

 

                Of course, these tools will never be able to prevent all IED attacks.  We have learned the hard way that the most effective last line of defense for our troops is the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP.  They have saved thousands of limbs and lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The United States will now do whatever we can, within the limits of U.S. law, and as soon as we can, to provide as many surplus MRAPs as possible to allies, especially those operating in high-risk areas.

 

                This is a critical moment in Afghanistan.  With a new comprehensive strategy and new resources commensurate with the size and scale of the mission, I believe the pieces are being put in place to make real measurable progress.  Just yesterday, General McChrystal said that additional forces are already having an impact, and that although the situation remains serious, he no longer believes that it is deteriorating. 

 

                I'm confident that we can achieve our objectives, but only if the coalition continues to muster the resolve for this difficult and dangerous mission.  That sense of urgency has to carry over to other aspects of the alliance, since our effectiveness on battlefields is directly related to our institutional strength.  Whether the issue is missile defense, which I believe gives real meaning to Article 5, or developing a new strategic concept, the alliance must make necessary changes to respond to new security challenges. 

 

                The current NATO budget crisis illustrates how imperative it is for us to fundamentally reform how we set priorities and allocate resources.  In the short term, we need to provide our troops in the field the resources they need and fund other urgent priorities, such as missile defense.  All other expenditures have to be thoroughly scrutinized. 

 

                As we reform NATO, nothing should be off-limits, especially excess infrastructure and outdated command structures that bear little resemblance to our real-world needs.  That is why I strongly support the secretary-general's initiative to provide far-reaching proposals for the ministers for cuts and reforms for discussion at our next meeting.  If we come together and make the right choices, both operationally and institutionally, this will continue to be the most successful military alliance in history. 

 

                I have time for a couple of questions.

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- IEDs, if you could put a dollar amount on that.  And also that this -- (off mike) -- an issue for several years.  Why do this now?  Is this because forces are drawing down in Iraq that you are able to provide assistance?

 

                SEC. GATES:  It is certainly is.  But first of all, I think that the dollar amounts that we're talking about are not -- are not gigantic, and I think -- I think quite manageable.  We are all in this together, and doing what we can as allies to help each other, I think, is critical. 

 

                You put your finger on the potential availability of MRAPs.  Only with the drawdowns in Iraq are we in a position to be able to try and provide or sell some MRAPs to our allies.

 

                U.S. law requires that all the needs of U.S. troops be met before we can provide surplus equipment to others.  We are in that position, I think, or close to it, with the regular MRAPs that we've had in Iraq.  We are not in that position with the all-terrain vehicles, which are just now going into the theater.  So what we are looking at is the kind of MRAPs we've had in Iraq, which are very good on roads.  They do not have the off-road capability of the all-terrain vehicles, but they are certainly better protection than our allies have right now.

 

                Q     (Off mike) -- Mr. Secretary -- (off mike) -- Americans in Helmand.  So -- (off mike).  And will Georgian soldiers take part in this operation -- (off mike)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I honestly don't know whether Georgian soldiers will be participating in that operation.

 

                Q     Mr. Secretary, do you think Turkey has a role to play in missile defense?  If so, what is this role?  (Off mike)?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that what I -- rather than single Turkey out, what I would say is that what we have done is -- what I said this morning was that the United States will -- considers the phased adaptive approach for missile defense to be our national contribution to a NATO-wide missile defense.  So the two are complementary.  And obviously the wider participation by other NATO members in NATO missile defense, the better it will be for the entire alliance.

 

                As I say, I think that it's important.  It's a manifestation of our -- of our collective defense.  And I would say that another virtue of it is the open invitation for the Russians to participate with us.

 

                STAFF:  (Off mike.)

 

                Q     Mr. Gates, what's new about the strategy -- (off mike) – combat troops are now pushing forward to the south?  And how many of the 30,000 troops you are sending to Afghanistan now will be involved in the training mission?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that the biggest -- the biggest change in the strategy, in my view, is General McChrystal's view that success is measured not by the number of Taliban that are killed but by the number of Afghans who are protected, the number of Afghan citizens who are protected. 

 

                The additional forces are intended in the south -- mainly in the south, and to a lesser extent in the east -- to provide the kind of protection for the Afghan people that will prevent them from being attacked by the Taliban. 

               

                And I would say our basic strategy is, is to reverse the momentum of the Taliban; to deny them control of population centers and production centers; and then third, degrade their capabilities to the point where a larger and better-trained Afghan national security force can manage the Taliban threat on a domestic basis and so that the security presence from the -- from ISAF can begin to diminish. 

 

                So the additional troops are really more about providing population protection than they are more people getting into the fight, if you will, directly with the Taliban, although that certainly is going to be the case at the front end.

 

                Last question.

 

                Q    (Off mike. Did you also discuss .. some of the Taliban members that don’t have anything to do with the violence … off mike)

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it has gone without saying that, as we've seen in Iraq, these kinds of conflicts at the end always involve some kind of political outcome.  And I think the key is, when talking about that kind of an outcome, that the key is to do this on the terms of the Afghan government; that if Taliban want to come over and join the political process, that it's on the terms of the Afghan government in terms of they're putting their arms down, agreeing to submit to the constitution and so on.  And President Karzai is working through a more detailed strategy on this right now, and we will work -- obviously work with him on that.

 

                But again as I say, I think that at the end, this needs to be consistent with the Afghan constitution and on the terms of the Afghan government.   Thank you all. 

 

 

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