DOD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon
SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming.
I'd like to begin with a personnel announcement, and then Admiral Mullen has an opening statement.
After consulting with the director of National Intelligence, I am pleased to announce that Letitia Long will be the next director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Ms. Long, currently the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is uniquely qualified to lead NGA.
Her more than 30 years of engineering and intelligence experience include service as the deputy undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, deputy director of Naval Intelligence and as a coordinator of intelligence community activities, for the director of Central Intelligence.
It gives me particular pleasure to note that Ms. Long will be NGA's first woman director and also the first woman to lead a major intelligence agency. She will take over later this year from Vice Admiral Robert Murrett, who has been an outstanding leader of NGA. Because of this, I extended him in this assignment, as director, for a fourth year.
While he has several months remaining in his distinguished stewardship of NGA, I want to ensure a smooth transition, given the agency's vital mission during wartime and the planned move to Fort Belvoir. At an appropriate time, I look forward to recognizing Admiral Murrett's outstanding performance, service and achievements.
I should note that rotating directors and deputies, between military and civilian leadership, is especially important at an organization like NGA given its unique, challenging mission and overall contributions to our efforts around the world.
As you probably know, we look at all positions in succession involving senior military officers months in advance. That review brought the decision on the future leadership of NGA forward at this time.
As some of you may know, I have a particular kinship for NGA, as I made decisions as DCI in 1992 that led ultimately to the creation of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in 1996.
This organization, which later became NGA, combined imagery elements from both CIA and DOD to provide a more centralized focus on this critical intelligence discipline.
I look forward to working with Admiral Murrett for the remainder of his leadership tenure, and also to working in the future with Ms. Long and the rest of the outstanding men and women of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
As many of you know, I just returned from a trip to the Middle East, where I visited with civilian and military leaders in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It was a trip I've been wanting to make, given the scope of our security commitments in the region and the mutual challenges we all still face. At each stop and in each meeting, I was encouraged to find that, though perspectives certainly vary, the desire for stability and security is as common as it is vigorous.
I was also struck by two other overarching themes. First, where the United States has military relationships in the region, they are strong and getting stronger. Our partners want to engage. They want to exercise and operate with us, and they want to pursue new and innovative ways to tackle common challenges there and around the world.
The Egyptians were proud of this year's Bright Star exercise and want to make it even more vibrant in the future. The Israelis, of course, remain a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments, a fact I reiterated many times while there.
And they are reaching out to the wider world, finding ways to contribute unique humanitarian skills and capabilities. I was delighted to meet with more than a hundred Israeli doctors and nurses who deployed to Haiti to help with the international relief efforts, and they really made a difference. To a person, they were proud of the impact they made and of the speed with which they made it.
In similar fashion, the Jordanians, long a key contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world, walked me through the medical support they have provided in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also showed me a new special-operations training center that has tremendous potential for how modern militaries can best prepare for counterterrorism operations in a harsh environment.
The Saudis shared with me valuable lessons they learned working with the Yemeni government to deal with the Houthi issue, and in the UAE, I was very impressed to see an air coordination and advanced training center that not only provides virtually unimpeded training opportunities to regional air forces but also improves real-world tactical air-coordination issues.
The second overarching theme was of course Iran. If there was one great concern shared by all of the nations I visited, it is over the direction they believe Iran is going and what that means for them and for their citizens. I maintain my conviction that Iran remains on a path to achieve nuclear weaponization, and that even this very pursuit further destabilizes the region.
But like us, it isn't just a nuclear-capable Iranian military our friends worry about -- it's an Iran with hegemonic ambitions and a desire to dominate its neighbors. This outcome drives many of the national security decisions our partners there are making, and I believe we must be mindful of that as we look to the future, post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan.
Let me be clear: We owe the secretary and the president a range of options for this threat. We owe the American people our readiness. But as I've said many times, I worry a lot about the unintended consequences of any sort of military action. For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international power are and ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope they are always and consistently pulled. No strike, however effective, will be, in and of itself, decisive.
Now, if I may, just a word about the ongoing operations in Marja. As you've all been seeing, we're making steady, if perhaps a bit slower than anticipated, progress. I'm encouraged by the good work being done, by the focus on protecting the people vice killing the enemy, and by the bravery of the Afghan people, their security forces and of course coalition troops.
By all accounts, the Taliban's resistance has been, at best, disjointed, but we have experienced difficulties. In some places the enemy fights harder than expected. The IEDs he has planted along the roads and at intersections, though crude, are still deadly. And yesterday's terrible loss of more -- of innocent civilians remind us -- reminds us of just how fragile and how tragic any move we can make -- any move we make can ultimately be.
That incident is being investigated, so I can't speak to many details. But I do offer my heartfelt condolences not only to the loved ones of those killed in this incident but to the Afghan people themselves, and to the family and friends of all those killed or wounded thus far in this operation, Afghan and coalition alike.
I would remind everyone of an essential truth: War is bloody and uneven. It's messy and ugly and incredibly wasteful, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the cost. We must steel ourselves, no matter how successful we are on any given day, for harder days yet to come. Too sanguine an approach to whatever progress we make in Marja specifically or Afghanistan writ large is just as treacherous as too little fortitude to see it through. If we've learned nothing else these past eight years, it is that failure makes itself plainly clear, but success takes longer to see. We will see success in Marja, but we must be patient, and we must resist the temptation to derive from any one event, good or bad, an unnecessary trend. The long view here is the best view.
SEC. GATES: Anne.
Q Question for both of you, please. On the capture of Mullah Baradar, do you see him as a potential breakthrough toward the ending the war, perhaps by providing intelligence or broking -- brokering some kind of deal with the Taliban? Is that something you would accept, if it were even possible?
And why do you think he and perhaps other Taliban leaders are being captured in Pakistan now?
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't want to get into specific captures. But I would say that what we are seeing is the importance of operations, on both sides of the border, and a manifestation of real progress, on the Pakistani side, of dealing with the threats that I've talked about; whether they're the Pakistan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban or al Qaeda, that they all work together, and the success of one is success of the rest.
So I think that the recent events have been another positive indication of the Pakistanis' commitment to stabilizing this border area.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I'd just -- I guess I'd just re-emphasize what I said at the end of my statement. I think the longer view here is important and that any single event -- you know, hanging our hat on any single event, to get to a conclusion -- at this point in time, it's just too early.
And I'd just echo what the secretary says, about the change in -- what the Pakistani forces and government quite frankly have done.
Q Do you still believe that the U.S. is not winning in Afghanistan and is therefore losing?
ADM. MULLEN: When I said that, the main -- which was September '08, I think -- the main thrust of that statement was to get to the underresourcing effort -- the underresourcing of the Afghanistan campaign and to be very clear about that, which it had been and certainly I think even more so, as General McChrystal showed up, than I had understood at the time.
So the main focus was there.
I think that what -- with the strategy, with the resources, with the leadership with a focus on the people, as is indicated in this operation, that we can succeed there. It's going to take some time, and I think it's going to be hard.
Q But just on the winning or losing question, what would you say today?
ADM. MULLEN: I haven't -- I mean, I'm just -- I haven't -- I haven't really made any assessment with respect to that. I think we're headed in the right direction. We got the right leadership, the right strategy, the right resources. And I think we can succeed.
SEC. GATES: I think it's worth noting General McChrystal's comment recently that, where he had been saying that the situation is serious and deteriorating, he believes that the situation remains serious but is no longer deteriorating.
And I think the key thing, since the chairman first addressed the question of under-resourcing, is we have put in about 65,000 additional troops, and the allies, our partners, have put in about another 25 (thousand) to 30,000. So there has been a huge increase over the space of the -- of the past year.
Q I want to ask about the Fort Hood investigation. Apparently, the Army has found that Major Nidal Hasan's supervisors failed to see clear signs of his growing Islamist extremism. And along those lines, last month Senators Lieberman and Collins wrote you a letter saying that DOD needs to revise its approach to the threat of service members who adopt a violent Islamist extremist ideology. They call for more training and they also -- to understand the warning signs. They also said DOD should encourage service members to report signs of Islamist extremism.
What's your sense of all this? Does DOD have to do more with the particular area of Islamist extremism?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that what I said when reporting the conclusions of the review, the outside review, we had not done nearly enough inside the department to monitor self-radicalization and had not done nearly enough to prepare for and train for violence in the workplace. And frankly -- and I would not limit it to extremist Islam; I think that we need to be on the lookout for it wherever it is and from wherever it emanates. These are areas where we have to make improvements.
So I think that the generic nature of those -- of those criticisms of what we need to do is absolutely right. And that's what we're working on.
Q So the more training and so forth, like what they --
SEC. GATES: Absolutely. And another deficiency that we found was that -- in the way that personnel evaluations are carried out, that often comments about behavior, about difficult personalities, does not get recorded as part of the formal evaluation, and often doesn't get passed on to the next duty station as a -- this is a person who has some problems or has some issues and needs careful monitoring and mentoring. So both of -- in all of those areas, we clearly need to make improvements.
Q On Iran -- turn to that a second -- Mr. Chairman, you alluded to the fact that strikes, however effective, might not be decisive or would not be decisive.
Last year, Mr. Secretary, I think you said that strikes might derail their program for two to three years. The new International Atomic Energy report has raised the issue again of efficacy of military strikes.
Can you give us your current -- both of your current thinking on, realistically what could military strikes accomplish? And obviously a last resort, but what's the efficacy of them, if you even tried?
ADM. MULLEN: I would -- actually I think the views have been very consistent on that, that it would delay the program. And based on your assumptions, first of all, you'd assume they have it -- secondly -- or they're pretty close to it and secondly that it would delay it for one to three years.
And that's been pretty consistent. And based on the assumptions that you make, it could be earlier or later. But by and large, that's been pretty steady. So when I talked about a military strike not being decisive, it's really in that realm.
SEC. GATES: What he said.
(Laughter, cross talk.)
Q Iran last week unveiled a new -- their first ever missile- guided destroyer. Is this a (inaudible) development that could destabilize the region? Or is this more in line with modernization that any maritime nation would go along with and not particularly disturbing?
ADM. MULLEN: Depends on how they use it. But their navy is actually -- I mean, we've been at sea with them in that region for a long time. And we've got and understand about, you know, when they are acting responsibly and when they're not.
So at this point in time, I really -- it sort of depends on how they use it.
SEC. GATES: Barbara.
Q Admiral Mullen, I wanted to go back to what you said about Afghanistan, versus what General McChrystal has recently said when he spoke about setting the conditions for steady progress. Today, you seem to be a little less sanguine than that. You talked about, progress is slower than anticipated.
What's your assessment at this point in Marja? If it's slower than anticipated, did the military get it wrong? Did you not understand how tough the opposition would be? And do you now think maybe it was a mistake to advertise openly, so many days in advance, that you were planning this campaign?
ADM. MULLEN: One of the real strengths of that advertisement -- and it was done days and weeks in advance, actually -- I thought was the two-day shura with the leadership, which -- the number I was given was about 450 tribal leaders that essentially signed up to this -- to the plan and in its execution.
And, no I don't think it was a mistake. I think we are -- we are proceeding in a way that -- that focuses on the outcome but at the same time very judiciously, particularly with respect to the IEDs, the -- the explosive devices and IEDs. And they've been a real challenge.
So I just -- what I'm trying to say today is we need to be very realistic about this. This is the second week of this operation. It's well-planned. There -- Afghans are in the lead. There are some 4,500 Afghans and I think more than a thousand or so more than that in U.S. forces that are there, or coalition forces, sorry.
But it's going to take some time. There have been some successes and there have also been some tougher spots. I just think it's early.
Q Well, what if --
ADM. MULLEN: And I'm in the same place that General McChrystal is on this. I'm not trying to differentiate myself from that standpoint. He has a much better handle on what's going on the ground than I. But based on the reports that I've seen, conversations I've had with him, that's where we are.
Q Why so many civilian casualty incidents in the last two weeks?
ADM. MULLEN: There have -- it's been an area of great focus. As I indicated in my statement, you know, warfighting combat is very difficult. General McChrystal -- for this most recent incident they got ahold of the president, President Karzai, immediately and apologized. He's going to -- he is actually going to go out publicly to the Afghan people. He addressed their commanders, 06 and below, this morning by VTC.
Nobody's been more focused on this than Stan McChrystal.
Q If you -- (inaudible) -- why is this happening?
ADM. MULLEN: I think it's just -- it's a very difficult environment. It's a -- it's tough terrain. It's tough to know. And these are split-second decisions that commanders in combat on the ground have to make. And it is the focus of the military leadership right down to the unit level. And it's indicative, I think, of how difficult it is.
Q Mr. Secretary, just to -- (off mike) -- on the air strike, do you have a clear sense yet of who actually called that strike in? And also, given that General McChrystal's tactical guidance was, if you're taking fire, disengage; if you're not taking fire, don't call in a strike -- since this seems to be fairly clearly not a situation where they were taking fire, why was this strike approved?
SEC. GATES: The answer to your first question is, I don't know. That's what we're looking into right now. And General McChrystal has an investigation of this going on so that, you know, frankly I don't have -- I have very few details on the situation other than the fact of the civilian casualties. And we'll just have to wait.
The one thing you learn in this is that the first reports are always wrong, one way or the other, and so we just have to wait until we get the facts.
Q Secretary, if I could just follow up, the first reports about the Kunduz strike were actually fairly accurate, but that was a situation, obviously, where there was tremendous loss of life, but there was not much military follow-through as far as discipline, as far as holding anyone really accountable for that strike.
So if you're trying to communicate to the Afghans that these strikes are serious and that this is not what we're trying to do, why has there not been an effort to discipline people, let's say in Kunduz, and potentially not here, either?
SEC. GATES: Well, I can't -- I can't speak to Kunduz because that was almost entirely a German operation, as I recall, and I haven't followed the details of that.
I know that there was a good deal of difficulty within the German government and, in fact, if I'm not mistaken, that the handling of that was one of the reasons that the defense minister was replaced. So I would say that's a pretty high level --
ADM. MULLEN: (cross talk) CHOD [chief of defense]
SEC. GATES: -- (inaudible) defense minister.
ADM. MULLEN: The -- okay. (Laughter.) I know the chief of defense was.
SEC. GATES: Yeah. And my -- and my counterpart was replaced, also. So I'd say that's a pretty high level of accountability, in terms of how that was dealt with, so --
ADM. MULLEN: But -- I would only answer that -- or add that the whole issue of accountability is one that's very well understood by the leaders that are out there, including General McChrystal. It's just too early to know specifically what happened. And we obviously await the results of the investigation, and we'll move -- you know, we'll go forward from there.
SEC. GATES: But the thing -- the thing to remember is that we're at war. We are doing everything possible -- General McChrystal is doing everything humanly possible to avoid civilian casualties. But it is also a fact that the Taliban mingle with civilians, they use them for cover, which obviously complicates any decision process by a commander on the ground in knowing whether he's dealing with the Taliban or innocent civilians, or a combination of the two.
I'm -- I'm not defending it at all. I'm just saying that these kinds of things, in many respects, are inherent in a war. It's what makes war so ugly. And General McChrystal is more on top of the importance of avoiding civilian casualties, and the strategic consequences of civilian casualties, than anybody.
And so I'm confident that there will be lessons learned, and they will be applied in the future.
Q Do we have the use of air power right, right now? In other words, there are some people who have critiqued General McChrystal and said he's gone too far at restricting when and where air power is used. And one could see these incidents as, you know, forcing an even further restriction on the -- on the use of airstrikes or other airborne fires. What's your thought on that issue?
SEC. GATES: My thought is that I'm not going to try and second- guess Stan McChrystal from 9,000 miles away. He's the commander. I have confidence in his judgment. I'll leave it to him to make those decisions about the right balance. Just as he is concerned about civilian casualties, he is also deeply concerned about the potential for American and coalition casualties.
We had a very tough weekend. There were, I think, nine American soldiers and Marines killed in this operation, another two outside of Kandahar. So, you know, we're very mindful -- and I leave it to Stan McChrystal to make that call. That's what -- that's what his job is, and to try and second-guess him from back here, I think, would be a terrible mistake.
ADM. MULLEN: The one thing -- the one thing I'd add to that, Julian, is in talking about air crews -- and I spent some time on this trip with air crews, both right after General McChrystal changed the rules -- there's a conversation going on now. Everybody's aware of this, certainly not just those on the ground but those in the air. And I'm encouraged by that, to try to get -- to try to obviously hit the right balance here with respect to both ROE, protecting our own forces, supporting them and obviously not killing any civilians.
SEC. GATES: Jim.
Q For both of you, please: From the very beginning, the offensive in and around Marja was advertised as a joint operation during which Afghan forces would have a robust participation, if not take the lead in some operations.
But over the past week we're hearing many instances where the Afghan forces have to be dragged into the fight; their performance is spotty, if -- and in some cases nonexistent. What do you think is the capability of the Afghan forces at this point? And does overstating their capability undermine their credibility and ISAF credibility?
ADM. MULLEN: I think you presume that it is overstated. They are in the lead; there have been -- there have been Afghan security forces that have performed exceptionally well. There's certainly no frequency of reports that they're not doing that. I've seen the media reports, specifically, so I -- you know, so I take that aboard.
I mean, they have -- for the forces that they sent in, they've got battalions prepared to do this. And in my interaction with the leadership out there, you know, some of them are better than others. And so I guess I'm not surprised in some of these cases. But at the same time, they are -- they are in many ways very courageous, leading, and we're with them, and we understand that.
And certainly the reports that I've seen where we've -- where we've worked to get them more in the game in a certain situation I understand. But, by and large, I haven't heard anything back from the commanders out there that it's -- that they are in any way a detriment. In fact, they've sacrificed, lost people. It is their country, and they're anxious to lead.
Q I understand that, but even given the casualty numbers, the number of U.S. and ISAF casualties far outweigh the number of Afghan casualties, which would seem to indicate they're not participating as much in the fight as had been advertised.
ADM. MULLEN: I mean, I could -- I'm not sure where to go with that, Jim.
It would depend on, you know, sort of how the enemy saw it as well. In all these situations, the enemy gets a vote. So I just don't know -- you know, I'm not sure that's a good comparison right now.
Q If the Marja progress is going slower than expected, how does that impact your timetable for perhaps other offensives and, big picture, when you'll be able to give a grade of this new strategy?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think -- first of all, I think that it's way early to begin evaluating the strategy. And based on everything that I've seen, even though it's going a little slower than expected, I haven't seen anything that indicates that it has had any impact on the future planning that General McChrystal is doing for subsequent operations.
Q When you say it's -- when you say it's slower than expected, what measure points are you using? I mean, is it much less -- much less that we're seeing than you thought it was going to be at this point? Or are we just like a tad off?
ADM. MULLEN: I'd say, no, it's not much less. It's just a tough operation. And we're working our way through it. And I would just echo what the secretary said in terms of, we don't see anything that's impacting the longer-term plan at this particular point in time.
Q Just going back to the incident yesterday, can you tell us what made commanders think it was a hostile convoy? And was a civilian pattern-of-life analysis done?
SEC. GATES: Don't know.
Q Last question: Was it dropped by a UAV or unmanned aircraft? Do you know?
ADM. MULLEN: I'm just not going to -- I mean, I wouldn't go into the details of that, until I actually saw them from those on the ground. I just don't have it yet.
Q Mr. Secretary, the Boeing tanker RFP [request for proposal] is rumored to be imminent? Is it? And has it been amended to take into account some of the concerns Northrop has expressed about the competition?
And if they don't participate, do you care?
SEC. GATES: Actually, it's an Air Force RFP. And we are very hopeful that we will have two competitors. And we think that it is a very fair RFP. I expect it to be released pretty soon.
Q A question on China. The department said a couple of weeks ago that after the Taiwan arms sale, China did inform the department that it would be suspending some exchanges and some things that had been planned. What's your sense, and your sense, Admiral, of how extensive the actual Chinese reaction has been, as opposed to the rhetoric? And will it affect the relationship in a significant way, including your plans to visit this year?
SEC. GATES: I've heard nothing about -- about my plans that would cause me to change them at this point. We just had a ship visit in Hong Kong. I think we'll have to wait and see what unfolds in terms of actual actions by the Chinese. But in terms of those two specifics, I just throw those out.
Q A quick follow on that. Have there been any military exchanges with China that had started that were being threatened by -- or that would be threatened by the rhetoric that Al mentioned?
And my other question was going to be, General Odierno was just in here and telling us that there's still Iranian influence seen in Iraq. In Afghanistan, especially in the west, are we seeing any Iranian influence, perhaps more than in the past, in training or equipping or even operational supply to insurgents in Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: I would say that -- let me just answer the second part, let the admiral answer the first part. We have really not seen an increase of Iranian assistance, whether it's equipment or weapons or training, in western Afghanistan.
There is some, but it, to this point, I think, has been considered to be pretty low-level. And we're obviously keeping an eye on it, but it seems pretty modest at this point.
ADM. MULLEN: I'm not aware of any mil-to-mil activities that have been called off that were ongoing at the time of the Taiwan weapons sale.
Q Didn't that get started with -- (inaudible) -- mentioning, after his visit, there was supposed to be a start of maritime search- and-rescue joint operations, things like that? Has any of that gotten started yet?
ADM. MULLEN: Sure. Well, it is -- my understanding, it's in the planning phase. And whether -- I don't think -- I don't think we've executed any of those to this point.
SEC. GATES: That was -- those were all agreements in principle to go forward with exchanges in that area. I just don't think they've gotten to the point where there's anything to cancel.
Q Mr. Secretary, February 2nd you announced the demise of the defense integrated management software, the system that was going to be a one-size-fits-all pay-and-personnel system for the entire military, and that this had spent, I guess, in excess of 500 million (dollars) -- GAO says as much as $1 billion on the system over a 10- year period.
You've had a long record of accountability, of demanding accountability. How could this have happened over a decade? And are you -- are you seeking to demand any accountability from folks in your (ATL (sic)/AT&L [Acquisition Technology & Logistics]) directorate or from the -- or from the Defense Business Transportation -- Transformation Agency?
SEC. GATES: No, not any more than I did with a number of the other programs that I canceled last year.
Some of these problems are systemic. Some of them spread over -- as you just suggested, spread over a number of years and a number of people.
And where I think someone has been negligent or has not done their job properly, I'm willing to take action. But I -- but I also don't see any reason to go back in every one of these instances and try and figure out the actions of managers of people at a time when I was still president of Texas A&M.
Q How disturbed were you -- how disturbed were you when you found out or you discovered how much money had been spent on the program over that period of time?
SEC. GATES: Well, I've been getting reports on DIMHRS [Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System] for a couple of years. And it just -- you know, I've seen this happen in other -- I saw it happen in CIA back in the -- in the '80s. You try and design a really big system, and the challenges are just huge when you're trying to cover a range of different organizations, services and everything else.
STAFF: We probably have time for one more.
Q Sir, General Odierno also mentioned a -- kind of a Plan B should the drawdown need to be changed somewhat in Iraq. I'm just -- if I could ask a quick hypothetical question, what kind of triggers would you see as being acceptable to substantially change the drawdown plan as it's currently envisioned?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think we would, before we would consider recommending anything like that, we would have to see a pretty considerable deterioration of the situation in Iraq, and we don't see that, certainly, at this point.
SEC. GATES: Thank you all.
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