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Media Availability with Secretary Gates en route to Tampa

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
August 11, 2010

                 SEC. GATES:  (Off mike.)  The reporting that we're getting is that the -- that the flooding in Pakistan has the potential to be significantly more disastrous for the country than the earthquake of several years ago.

                 The president wants to lean forward in offering help to the Pakistanis; eager to do what we can.  We have the Peleliu, which is a Landing Platform, Helicopter -- LPH -- off of Karachi.  The helicopters that we had sent over from Afghanistan will be going back to Afghanistan.  We have about three times as many helicopters on the Peleliu.  And all of this will be -- the help we provide will clearly be at a pace and in a way determined by the Pakistanis.  And we'll be working with the Pakistani military.  Our embassy is very much engaged.

                 We also have to work this interagency.  There's no point in having a lot of helicopters if we don't have the relief supplies to deliver.  So we'll be working with State, USAID and all of this, in a whole-of-government effort to try and be helpful.

                 Again, to emphasize, this will be -- this will be the Pakistanis.  You know, we'll work this with them and do this at their pace, in a way they can absorb the assistance.  But we want to be as helpful as we can possibly be.

                 We're sending another LPH, the Kearsarge, that'll -- that at some point will relieve the Peleliu.  And we're trying also to get additional capability in there.  But we also don't want to overstretch the capacity of the Pakistanis to absorb this stuff, so we'll be taking it on at a pace that they determine.

                 So we will do what we can.  And clearly we were able to provide a lot of help at the time of the earthquake, and we're pleased to be able to offer help again.

                 Q     Are you concerned that there will be security ramifications because of the flooding and that this is going to put you in a -- that this is going to set back the Pakistani military's efforts in terms of going after extremists -- (off mike)?

                 SEC. GATES:  Clearly they're going to have to divert some troops, and already have, to trying to deal with the flooding.  But I would say that we weren't expecting them to undertake new offensives for some period of time anyway.  But I think that -- I think it just remains to be seen.  It really depends on how many troops they have to use.

                 Q     Are you concerned that Islamic groups that have been providing a certain amount of aid already will use this incident to expand their influence in the country to the detriment of the U.S. -- U.S. interests?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that -- I honestly, in all that I've seen, the only thing I've seen has been the clips on U.S. television and the references in the press to them providing assistance and food and so on.  It does offer them an opportunity. 

                 And so we're pleased to do what we can, to help the Pakistani government and military demonstrate their capacity and their intention to care for their own people. 

                 Q     How are you -- what are you seeing in terms of the Pakistanis' capacity?  And how are they handling the situation?  Are you able to coordinate and match up (Off mike.) 

                 SEC. GATES:  Yeah, and the cooperation so far has been terrific.  The Pakistani military has been very welcoming.  They've provided quarters for our people.  They've provided kitchens for our people.  They've provided ramp space. 

                 So they've been very helpful. 

                 Q     Are you concerned about relief supplies?  Because you mentioned that you don't need the helicopters.  (Off mike.) 

                 SEC. GATES:  No.  I just -- I just -- all I was trying to do was underscore the importance of our coordinating this closely, not just with the Pakistanis but with other elements of the U.S. government. 

                 Q     The Pakistani military now has to focus on these floods, for the next weeks anyway.  On the other side of the border in Afghanistan, we're entering a somewhat decisive phase for the U.S., in terms of pressing against the militants. 

                 How concerned are you that the humanitarian disaster will certainly impact the sort of overall campaign against militants in Afghanistan? 

                 SEC. GATES:  I was just saying it will draw off some troops for the relief effort.  But I think it remains to be seen how consequential it is. 

                 Q     But you also said that they -- you -- they weren't expecting any immediate offensives --

                SEC. GATES:  New offensives.

                 Q     -- in Pakistan.  I mean, what is critical for Pakistan to be doing in the months ahead, or the remainder of this year, would you say, on the militant threat?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I think obviously we want them to keep pressing forward, as they have been.  But right now they seem to be primarily in a consolidation phase, without launching new offensives into new areas, is what I was trying to get at.

                 Q     Mr. Secretary, is the -- is the Department of Defense providing other materials like satellite views of the flooded areas, any other types of materials to the Pakistanis?

                 SEC. GATES:  I don't know the answer to the question, but I would just say the guidance from the President is to lean forward.  And so we will try to provide whatever the Pakistanis need, where we can help.

                 Q     Sir, the floodings -- have they had any consequence on the supply routes going through Pakistan to Afghanistan?

                 SEC. GATES:  Not yet.

                 Q     (Off mike.)

                 Q     (Off mike) -- reaction to this morning’s The New York Times piece that you already -- (off mike) -- a slower drawdown in Afghanistan past July 2011?

                 SEC. GATES:  I think -- I think it -- you know, we keep going around and around and around on this, and the answer is the same as it's always been.  We will begin thinning our troops in July of 2011.  How many and how fast is going to depend on the situation on the ground.

                 Q     Sir, can you -- sorry.

                 Q     Do you have any readout at all from today's meeting about Iraq?  Can you give us any sense of any concerns that are -- that may have emerged in the discussions today about the drawdown?

                 SEC. GATES:  No, I think -- you know, I don't want to get into what was discussed at an NSC [National Security Council] meeting with the President.  But I would say that overall there was a sense of -- that things were going pretty well. 

                 Q     No lingering concerns that you should be looking for?  I mean, anything?  It seemed like a fairly high-level meeting. 

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I think one of the -- one of the concerns that has been discussed before has been the cut in the request of the State Department, for their transition and takeover of a number things and opening consulates and so on. 

                 The Congress took a pretty big cut in that money.  So figuring out how to deal with that in terms of the State Department's role is an ongoing issue.  But I would say that overall there was considerable satisfaction with the way things are going. 

                 Q     Sir, the Iraqi army chief of staff told the AFP [Agence France-Presse] today in an interview that he thought a withdrawal in 2011 would be too early for the Iraqi army to be ready, and that he thought that 2020 would be a more appropriate date. 

                 What do you think about that?  Is that something you're completely ruling out, to stay longer? 

                 SEC. GATES:  I think we have an agreement with the Iraqis that both governments have agreed to, that we will be out of Iraq at the end of 2011.  If a new government is formed there and they have a -- they want to talk about beyond 2011, we're obviously open to that discussion.  But that initiative will have to come from the Iraqis.

                 STAFF:  Okay, anything on efficiencies?  We all set on that?  We all understand that?  (Laughter.)  We understand it?

                 Q     Were you at all surprised by the reaction from the Virginia coalition about the Joint Forces Command?

                 SEC. GATES:  No.

                 Q     Did they have any valid concerns regarding the closure of the command, in terms of is it maybe going to trigger (Off mike.)?

                 SEC. GATES:  I think their -- I think their concerns over the potential loss of jobs is -- are absolutely valid.  And we're going to work very hard to limit the implications and to mitigate whatever consequences there are.

                 This is a planning process that will go forward.  Nothing is going to happen immediately, or in the very near future.  So I think we have some time to work through this.  But I think their concerns about jobs for their constituents are completely legitimate.

                 Q     Can I just ask you one more question on – (Off mike.)

                 STAFF:  Thank you.

                 Q     Thank you.

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