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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
October 05, 2010

                MR. MORRELL:  Good afternoon.  Pleasure to see you all. 

                Q     Good afternoon.

                MR. MORRELL:  It has been a while, so it’s good to be back out with you. 

                Let me just run through, if I may, a little bit of the secretary’s upcoming schedule before we get to your questions.  It features a number of important engagements both here and in -- here in Washington and abroad over the next week and a half or so. 

                First off, this Thursday and Friday, the secretary will host the Republic of Korea’s minister of defense -- minister of national defense, rather, for the 42nd annual Security Consultative Meeting. This meeting with Minister Kim offers the opportunity to review recent joint military exercises, which are a manifestation of our close cooperation and the strong state of our alliance sixty years after the start of the Korean War.  It will also reaffirm in the wake of the Cheonan sinking that we will not tolerate North Korean provocation and aggression. 

                Following these meetings, Secretary Gates will fly on Saturday to Hanoi, Vietnam, and participate in the inaugural ASEAN [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Defense Ministers plus eight meeting, a gathering of the defense ministers of the ASEAN nations, as well as their partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.   

                This forum will for the first time offer the opportunity for defense leaders from the region to formally come together and establish a regional security dialogue at the ministerial level.  A more regular exchange of views will help build trust and transparency in the region, which will be important as nations there continue to develop new, more advanced military capabilities. 

                The meeting is happening in large measure due to the vision of one of our close partners in the region, Vietnam, which has held the chairmanship of ASEAN this year and pushed to establish this forum. Secretary Gates will hold separate bilateral meetings with the Vietnamese minister of defense and the Vietnamese prime minister in Hanoi, where they will discuss further cooperation on a number of security issues, including humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping operations and maritime security. 

                They will, of course, also discuss our work towards -- toward the full possible -- fullest possible accounting of Americans missing from the Vietnam conflict.  That Vietnam has become one of our leading partners in the region reflects how far we have come in the 15 years since the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations. 

                Finally, the secretary will go straight from Hanoi to Brussels to attend a joint meeting of the NATO defense and foreign ministers. This will be an important chance to discuss progress in the war in Afghanistan with our coalition partners.  It will also be a crucial meeting ahead of the Lisbon summit, the head-of-state summit, in November, an opportunity to move ahead on the agenda to revitalize and reform NATO and to focus on delivering capabilities geared towards our most pressing needs, including cyber defense, counter-IED measures and a more mobile, deployable alliance. 

                With that, I will take your questions.  How about -- how about Anne? 

                Q      (Laughter.)  I’m tempted to ask you about your -- whether or not you’re going to be the new White House press secretary, but the -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  That’s not a -- I know that’s not a serious question. 

                Q     Well, not entirely.  (Soft laughter.)  But maybe you could shed some light on this -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  But that is funny.  (Laughter.) 

                Q     (Laughs.)  It can’t be anything be entertaining, right? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

                Q     Maybe you could shed some light on the events in Pakistan the last few days.  Were there any U.S. military assets, (inaudible) or otherwise, involved in the strike that killed German nationals yesterday?  And how concerned are you about the attacks on fuel supplies fairly deep into Pakistan?  What’s that say about Pak mil’s ability to protect those convoys? 

                MR. MORRELL:  To the first part of your question, obviously, we just don’t speak to those -- to those issues.  They don’t involve us, and we don’t speak to them. 

                With regards to your second part of the question, which does clearly very much impact us, speaking both of the closing of the Torkham gate passageway, the ground lines of communication into Afghanistan and the attacks on some of the fuel convoys, those obviously do very much involve our equities and are of concern to us. 

                But I think what I’ve seen that’s misleading or mistaken is to try to connect these two in any way.  I mean, the Torkham gate closing is something that we are working with the Pakistani government on reopening.  We have been given indications that we are making progress on that front and hope to have the gate reopened as soon as possible.   

                But just to put that in context as well, the Chaman gate, which is another major passageway from Pakistan into Afghanistan, remains open and has remained open.  We obviously have a number of supply lines from the north as well, which provide us the ability to keep resupplying our forces.  And thus far even with the closure of the Torkham gate, which is an important route for us, it has not in any way adversely impacted our ability to supply our forces. 

                What’s consequential about Pakistan, in terms of ground lines of communication and particularly the Torkham gate, is how much fuel does come through there for our forces.  And so it is important, especially from that perspective, but it has not in any way impacted our ability to resupply our -- fuel to our operations around Afghanistan either. And we don’t suspect it will, even if this were to last into the future.  But we really do have a sense that we’re making progress and this can be resolved soon. 

                Now the attacks on the ground convoys, the fuel convoys, are things, sadly, that we’ve had to live with for years.  I mean, there have been attacks historically on NATO convoys passaging through Pakistan to Afghanistan, and they are sometimes sensational, and they are sometimes horrific, and they are sometimes deadly, and that is tragic.  But if you put this in context and in perspective, we’re talking about, you know, impacting about 1 percent of the supplies that we funnel through Pakistan into Afghanistan.  So they have never really adversely impacted our ability to conduct operations in Afghanistan. 

                That said, we want to get it reopened.  We want to make sure the supply lines are protected and that this fuel can go from the ships that bring it into, I think, Karachi and then up through Pakistan and into Afghanistan without incident. 

                And I would point out, Anne, that it is in the Pakistanis’ interest to do this.  I mean, this is a huge commercial enterprise for them, and they do not get paid until that fuel is delivered to the point of destination in Afghanistan.  So they have incentive to protect the convoys, to make sure that the situation is such that they can get to their destination safely. 

                So I just want to just disconnect those, to the ability that I can the Torkham gate closure and the fuel convoy attacks, which, by the way, have taken place far away from Torkham gate.  So -- but hopefully we’re making progress on both those counts:  improving the security for the convoys and also reopening the gate. 

                Q     Just to follow up --  

                MR. MORRELL:  If I may, let me run this if I can.  Thanks. 

                Q     Okay. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

                Q     Geoff, if you could step back for the bigger picture behind Anne’s question, which is U.S.-Pakistani tensions right now, are there tensions between the Pakistani military leadership and U.S. military leadership? 

                What are you doing to resolve the questions about the border -- cross- borders attacks? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, listen.  Let me step back a minute, if I can. In the past two weeks, ISAF forces have killed more than 100 Haqqani network fighters who have been operating in the border region, in RC East, and who have been taking advantage of the fact that they can, in some places along the border, operate with greater freedom than any of us would like.  So the threat is real.  And though we’ve had success in killing 110 of them, there clearly are more of them out there who remain a threat to our forces, remain a threat to Afghan forces and to some degree remain a threat to the Pakistanis as well.  So that’s the setting in which this is all taking place.   

                Obviously, there was an unfortunate incident in which it looks as though -- I think it was three Frontier Corps soldiers were killed as one of our helicopters was investigating a -- what looked to be a new fighting position that was being erected along the border that posed a potential threat to our forces in Afghanistan.  And I guess they came under fire while they were checking out that position.   

                That investigation is just about wrapped up.  I think ISAF was going to put out a joint release with the Pakistanis, because they did have two military representatives assigned by General Kayani to the investigation. And that investigation has wrapped up, and the -- and its results will be released, I think, within the next 24 hours.   

                So look for that. 

                But, you know, it was unfortunate that we -- that there were three -- that it turns out that the fire they were taking came from Frontier Corps soldiers.  And it was unfortunate that they were killed in the process.  It’s a regrettable incident.  It’s one for which the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan has apologized.  It’s one for which the secretary-general of NATO has expressed his deep regret.  It’s -- it has resulted in General Petraeus and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs making calls to General Kayani and offering their regret, their condolences, their desire to work together to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  That was the offer that was extended in those conversations:  to have Pakistani military representation in the investigation, full access to all the onboard cameras and the -- and the video, so that we could be as transparent as possible with them about what happened. 

                So -- and the secretary, of course, deeply regrets the incident, and is very much encouraging of his staff to work closely with the Pakistani military to ensure that we are devising ways to prevent this from happening in the future. 

                Now, that’s the backdrop to all of this.  What I would say about the relations is incidents like this, unfortunately, do happen. There are occasional setbacks in our day-to-day relations -- this being one of them, the most recent of them.  But there are mistakes. There are incidents which create misunderstandings. 

                There are setbacks.  But that does not mean the relationship -- this crucial relationship to us -- is in any way derailed. 

                In fact, throughout this period of tension, if you will, relation -- mil-to-mil relations have proceeded.  We -- there has not -- they were not in any way -- there was no suspension.  There was no disengagement.  There were no reprisals in that sense.  We have continued to work closely with the Pakistani military throughout the aftermath of this incident. 

                And in fact, I would argue, Julian, that the relationship in a -- from a military-to-military perspective, is stronger than it ever has been; in the sense that, listen, you know, we’ve got, clearly, good communication going on at -- throughout the highest levels of the military -- the chairman, the ISAF commander.  We’ve got Pakistani representatives in these investigations.  Tripartite border cooperation continues throughout this whole thing.  We’ve still got humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief operations under way; you know, fixed-wing and rotary aircraft continuing to ferry -- to move internally displaced people affected by the floods.  I think we’re over 20,000 people, Pakistanis who have been impacted by the floods, have been rescued by U.S. helicopters.  I think we’re over 20 million pounds of supplies, have been moved.  I think we’ve spent upwards of $60 million thus far.  So the relationship continues despite these setbacks. 

                And there are going to be setbacks occasionally.  And I think the best testament to it is the fact that we are looking forward to hosting -- the State Department is -- the strategic dialogue, the next round of the strategic dialogue, with the Pakistanis later this month, where the highest-level representation from that country, including, at least -- I don’t know the full delegation roster, but General Kayani will certainly will be there. 

                Qureshi, the foreign minister, will be there.  And we will continue the dialogue that they wish to have and we wish to have about growing even closer in our relations with the Pakistanis.

                Q     So, Geoff, so is closing Torkham Gate just a sort of public gesture that doesn’t reflect any sort of real animosity on the part of Pakistan? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, I would -- listen, all I can -- all I can tell you is that it -- I will take their statements at face value that the stated reason -- and I would remind you, it was the Pakistani government and not the Pakistani military that shut down the Torkham Gate.   

                But the stated public reasons for the closure of Torkham Gate was to protect the convoys; that in the aftermath of the cross-border assault and the killing of these three Frontier Corpsmen, that they thought it best to shut down the gate, I suppose to eliminate the possibility of there being attacks as the convoys moved through that narrow passageway between Pakistan and Afghanistan.  But you’d have to talk to them about the rationale behind it beyond that. 

                Our focus has been on making sure our forces are adequately supplied during this temporary setback.  Luckily our guys at TRANSCOM and EUCOM and CENTCOM have worked really hard over the past year plus to develop a range of alternate supply routes from the north.  And the Northern Distribution Network, assisted immensely by Russia, has really provided us with a lot of alternate ways of supplying our forces.   

                But in terms of fuel -- in terms of fuel, the Pakistani lines of communication are very important. 

                And so we’re looking to figure out how to get them all flowing so that we don’t have any adverse impact to our operations. 

                Q     Geoff, just to also pick up on something that Anne mentioned, what does it say about the state of Pakistani-U.S. relations that, after nine years of a strategic partnership at war, you can’t figure out how to move gas across Pakistan without having it blown up?  You know, the -- (inaudible) -- paper this morning -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, it’s -- it really is -- it’s a -- it’s a sort of a snarky question, but I’ll try to take it seriously. 

                Q     No, it’s a real question, because it’s a war of perception, right? 

                MR. MORRELL:  The question you’re asking me:  How is that after nine years of war in Afghanistan we can’t move fuel safely through Pakistan?  Have you noticed that Pakistan is fighting a war against terrorists in their midst as well, that it’s not just us dealing with terrorists in Afghanistan, but there happens to be a real hornet’s nest of terrorists in Pakistan as well and that they pose a threat -- an existential threat to the government of that country as well?   

                I mean, come on.  You know the climate there as well as I do. There are terrorists who exist and operate and conduct operations in Pakistan as well as those who exist and operate and conduct operations in Afghanistan.  We are dealing with -- that’s why our strategy is about Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We cannot divorce these two entities from one another.  Obviously, we are able to maintain distinct bilateral relationships with each, but in terms of a terrorist problem, this is one we’ve collectively got to deal with. 

                This gentleman here.  I’m sorry; I cut you off earlier.  

                Q     It was just to follow up on that.  The -- will you like to define the word "tensions," which has been given out as an -- a reason by the Pakistanis to close this gate?  Which are the parties involved in this tension? 

                Because it seems that the definition is different from your point of view and their point of view. 

                MR. MORRELL:  I’m not too sure I understand the question.  You’re asking me to define who is -- who is tense with one another? 

                Q     Yeah.  Who is tense?  Because they are saying the gate is closed because of the tensions, if you see their statement. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, no, I just -- the statement I’ve -- the statement I’ve seen refers to the gate being closed because of, I suppose, that tensions could start violence against the convoys, and therefore this is a measure to protect the convoys and the personnel that drive them. 

                Listen, I have to take it at face value that that’s the rationale behind it.  I think I did use -- I said "tensions, if you will" in my description of it.  I -- again, I don’t know quite who you’re asking the tensions are with.  I mean -- 

                Q     The word "tensions," the tension has to be between two people -- two parties. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, obviously, we’re dealing -- this is an issue between the U.S. and the -- the coalition, the U.S. and Pakistan, when it comes to the fact that there was this unfortunate incident in which three Frontier Corpsmen were killed.  And then that necessitated, in the minds of the Pakistani government at least, the closure of the Torkham gate.  And now we’re working with the Pakistani government to reopen that gate. 

                But as I just gave -- you know, a long-winded, I know, response to Julian, in which I tried to make the case that, you know, the truth is, despite this temporary setback, despite this mistake, this regrettable mistake, relations between our two militaries, at least, remains very strong.  I can’t speak to the government-to-government relationship, although I suspect, as far as I can tell, that remains strong as well.  But my colleagues at State may want to elaborate on that. 

                Yeah, Yochi. 

                Q     Geoff, I -- there have been obviously recent moves in the past -- after air strikes within Afghanistan that had civilian  casualties, for instance -- to tighten the rules about how air power was used, under what circumstances.  As part of this review that you said is near completion, do you expect that there will be tactical changes in how aircraft are used near the border or on cross-border operations? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Listen, we’ve always been, I think, pretty reticent to speak to, you know, tactical issues from here. I would refer you to the ISAF team. 

                That said, I’ve heard -- having been in communication with them over the past couple days in the aftermath of this, I’ve heard nothing of that sort.  I think you should take a look at the investigation and see what it says.  I don’t think it differs, frankly, the ultimate conclusion, that much from what we’ve been speaking to publicly as to what happened. 

                And remember, I mean, we will retain the right to defend our forces, to defend ourselves.  And our forces who operate on the border with Pakistan are in a very dangerous and difficult situation.  That is why it is so important for there to be excellent communication and cooperation between coalition, Afghan and Pakistani forces who patrol and protect both sides of that border and try to minimize the traffic of insurgents going back and forth and threatening people on both sides of that border. 

                Al Pessin.  I’m sorry.  Phil.  I’m sorry.   

                Q      That’s okay.   

                MR. MORRELL:  Phil and then Al, because Phil I sort of teased at the beginning.  Phil. 

                Q     That’s okay.  A lot of -- talk about Pakistan has often revolved around perceptions of the United States within Pakistan.  And a lot of the effort toward -- (off mike) -- relief has been described as sort of -- not just a humanitarian gesture that’s worthwhile, but also one that would show Pakistanis the U.S. is committed to them in the long haul. 

                How have these -- what was the United States doing to offset a perception that these incidents have created and -- well, let’s stop right there. 

                MR. MORRELL:  That what have we done in the aftermath of this Frontier Corps incident to counterbalance the fact that others may be using this against us? 

                Yeah, I -- I don’t know that we here are necessarily doing anything. We’d have to -- you know, our folks in -- at ODRP [Office of Defense Representative,-Pakistan], in Islamabad, or perhaps even our folks at the ISAF command may be undertaking things. I think this is a -- this is not something you sort of do on an ad hoc basis in the aftermath of an -- of an incident.  This is a long-term effort that I know the State Department and Embassy Islamabad has been working on for quite some time to try to change perceptions of American -- of America by Pakistanis.   

                I mean, clearly there is goodness unto itself in providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in the wake of these incredible floods in Pakistan.  The ancillary benefit is, of course, that as we spend -- and we budgeted $120 million thus far for flood relief -- but as we spend, you know -- you know, the taxpayers’ hard- earned dollars that it is also enhancing our reputation and our image in Pakistan.  We want to be thought of as we think of ourselves:  as a nation that is incredibly generous and helping to those in need.   

                But this is a long-term effort to try to counter perceptions, including there are those within Pakistan who are using propaganda and manipulation to try to stir up anti-American sentiment because it suits their purposes.  And that’s why we have tried to work closely with the Pakistani government to try to counterbalance those malign influences.  But it’s a long-term project.  It’s not something you can just do in response to a particular incident. 

                Q     Geoff? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

                Q     (Inaudible.) 

                MR. MORRELL:  I’m sorry.  I’m all over the place.   

                Al and then Joe.  Al. 

                Q     Well, my question was going to be similar to Yochi, so I’ll put it a little different way.  How free are U.S. forces to cross into Pakistan or to fire into Pakistan as they prosecute their counterterrorism mission? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah, I don’t -- I don’t see any purpose in sort of delineating from you -- for you all, you know our rules of engagement.  You know, if our -- my colleagues downrange want to offer that up; they perhaps have better judgment about the efficacy of doing that than I do.  My attitude about it is, I will express to you the principle here, which is that obviously wherever our forces are deployed around the world, they retain the right to defend themselves and will not be shy about exercising that right if they feel threatened. 

                Q     But the United States has asserted the right to attack terrorists and their supporters anywhere.  So does that apply along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, perhaps outside of the specific situation of self-defense, but as they prosecute this counterterrorism -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think you -- I think our position on this is well known.  I don’t -- I don’t care to re-articulate it. 

                Yeah, John. 

                Q     Geoff, we have seen in the past weeks, as you said an increase of airstrikes against the Haqqani network.  I was wondering if you see -- if you have seen any connection between what’s going on on the border with Pakistan and the terror warnings in Europe.  Do you see any relation, any link? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I mean, listen, I don’t care to talk to intelligence matters here today.  I think the State Department and to some degree the White House has spoken, I think, at length about this latest threat stream that has resulted in a travel alert by the State Department for Americans in Europe.  And I don’t think I have much, if anything, to add to that discussion. 

                Yeah, in the back.  You, yeah. 

                Q     Hey.  Could I change the subject, please, to -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  Anybody else on Pakistan before we change the subject?  Yes, here.  I’ll come back to you. 

                Q     Is the Pentagon planning to take any action against those who are responsible for killing the three frontier guards in the –(inaudiable).  

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, as I said, there is an investigation, a joint investigation that has just wrapped up, the results of which will be released probably overnight, early tomorrow morning in Pakistan -- or, pardon me, in Afghanistan, in Kabul.  So you’ll see what the conclusion is that the investigators come to.  I think it would be presumptuous of me, premature of me to offer any thoughts on that at this point. 

                Q     And secondly, General Pervez Musharraf has announced a decision to come back to politics and, as you know in democracy, might be the leader of the country at some time in the future.  Are you comfortable with he being the head of the state, head of the country, dealing with him? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I don’t think I’m the best guy to address those questions to.  I mean, I think as long as -- you know, we respect constitutional processes.  And, you know, whatever the results of such a -- such an election, we obviously would respect those results. 

                But I think you would have to probably address that question to my colleagues at the White House, where I do not work, or the State Department. 

                Q     How do you sense his role in the war against terrorism -- because he was the president of the country and you were -- the Pentagon was a close –(inaudible).  

                MR. MORRELL:  Say it again, the top part? 

                Q     How do you sense his role in war against terrorism as the president of the country, as the leader of the country? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Well, General Musharraf’s tenure as leader of Pakistan, I believe, predates my time here.  So I just observed it mostly as a -- mostly as -- well, I guess it didn’t.  I was here for the -- I guess I was -- I was -- mostly as a reporter myself. 

                But clearly, he was a very close -- a close ally.  They had a very tough choice to make, Pakistan did, in the wake of the attacks of 9/11, given some of the terrorist threats within their own country. 

                And they came out strongly and forcefully as an ally of this country in the war on terror.  And that’s where they’ve remained ever since. And so we’re enormously appreciative of that fact. 

                Q     Yesterday, in an interview -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  This is not an interview.  I’ll come back to you in a second. 

                Q     Okay, thank you.  Change of topic?  I have two questions. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay, if we’re going to change topics, I’m going to go to this bow-tie guy.  What -- you got anything?  (Scattered laughter.)   

                Q     Change topic. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay.  Go ahead, sir. 

                Q     Thank you very much. 

                Allegations swirling again around members of the Stryker Brigade based at Fort Lewis killing Afghanistan civilians, covering up evidence, mutilating bodies, drug use.   

                This is a chain-of-command question:  How concerned are you and people here that the chain of command did not notice this sort of activity and take action, and are there any investigations into what happened up the chain of command? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Not that I know of.  But I would address that question also to the Army to see to what extent they’re looking at those issues. 

                I mean, obviously, I am very limited in what I can say with regards to this incident, because it is being adjudicated right now in the military justice system.  And so I don’t want to do anything that could in any way jeopardize the prosecution or their ability of the defendants in this case to get a fair trial.  So I’m going to beg off on speaking to these issues. 

                I’ve addressed them before.  I don’t have anything new particularly to add other than the fact that these remain allegations. They are abhorrent, even as allegations.  But I think they are -- they are an aberration in terms of the behavior of our force, thankfully, and so I don’t think they are in any way representative of how, you know, American military men and women behave in the field. 

                But let’s let this trial take place and let’s see what judgment is ultimately rendered. 

                And talk to the Army about whether there’s a larger effort to try to look into the chain-of-command issues. 

                Michael. 

                Q     Twice in the last month, I think, General Petraeus has said that he has evidence of high-ranking Taliban being interested in negotiating with the Afghan government.  Do you have any evidence of any third parties, such as Saudi Arabia, suddenly showing increasing interest in getting involved in that process? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I personally don’t.  But that -- if -- given the fact that General Petraeus has been speaking to this issue, perhaps he and -- or his spokesman would want to elaborate on it.  I mean, I think what we have seen, Michael -- and you travel with us; you heard this firsthand from General Petraeus when you all spoke with him then -- is we have seen high-level outreach by some members of the Taliban to the Afghan government.  And I think that’s as much as we’ve said about it. 

                What we’ve been somewhat more expansive on in terms of talking about is the lower-level reintegration and reconciliation efforts.  We have seen more and more foot soldiers and, you know, sort of ground commanders coming over to the government and wishing to renounce their ties to the Taliban and become a part of the constitutional government and at least respect the constitutional government.  And so we’ve seen examples of that throughout the country.   

                I think recently, in Helmand, that we’ve seen some larger numbers.  But I don’t know that anybody is to the point yet where they see a trend or a connection between these individual or small groups that have been reintegrating themselves into the mainstream. 

                But we’re clearly encouraged by -- by this taking place. However, I think it’s too soon to suggest that there is -- that these are connected or that there is a wider movement afoot, that the tide is turning in terms of reintegration and reconciliation.

                I think we believe -- the secretary, I know, believes -- that we still need to make more progress with regards to security on the ground.  We need to take the fight more -- more aggressively and for a greater duration to -- to the Taliban and its -- and other extremists in Afghanistan for them to feel the kind of pressure necessary for there to be -- to spark a movement of -- of reintegration and reconciliation. 

                But I would point out, just while you give me that opening, that clearly Operation Hamkari in Kandahar and -- and its latest wave, something-strike -- what’s it called? 

                Q     Dragon Strike. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Dragon Strike -- thank you, Luis -- Dragon Strike is -- is continuing to put the pressure on these guys.  I mean, these ink spots of security that are sort of expanding around -- in Helmand and now in Kandahar, are growing, are expanding, and are really putting the pressure, according to General Petraeus, on the insurgents who have not fled that area.  Those who have remained and dug and who are determined to fight are feeling enormous pressure. 

                And the operational tempo that we’re now undertaking is extraordinarily fast.  It’s -- we have more troops than we have ever had before, conducting more operations than ever before.  And the Taliban is clearly feeling it. 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me -- you’ve already had your chance; going to this gentleman over here. 

                Q     (Name inaudible) -- with China Press.  I have two questions regarding U.S.-China and Japan relations. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Okay. 

                Q     The first one, it was reported by the Japanese Sankei Shimbun newspaper that the United States and Japan are slated to hold a joint military exercise in November as a mock operation to retake Diaoyutai Islands of China occupies them. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yeah. 

                Q     Can you -- could you confirm this report?  If it’s true, what would be the purpose of this operation? 

                And, secondly, do you have any updated information about Secretary Gates’ visit to China?  Will he meet his Chinese counterpart in Hanoi? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me take the second part first.  And then remind me to come back to the first part. 

                The question is, will he meet with his counterpart in Hanoi -- his Chinese counterpart in Hanoi.  I think we are efforting to put together a meeting of that sort when Secretary Gates and his Chinese counterpart are attending the ASEAN-plus ministerial in Hanoi early next week. 

                I don’t know that we have confirmed it, as of yet.  But I think both sides clearly wish to have such a meeting, so we’re working right now on the logistics of doing so.  I expect that we will be able to find a time and a place to have such a meeting.  And that would be significant in that it has been -- it would have been the first time the secretary has had a chance to engage with his Chinese counterpart for nearly a year, I want to say. 

                Q     Is it the same general who came here? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I believe it is, yes.  And [Gen. Xu Caihou visited the Pentagon in Oct. 2009.  Gen. Liang Guanglie, the PRC Minister of Defense, is expected to attend the ASEAN-plus ministerial.]

                Q     (Off mike.) 

                MR. MORRELL:  And then I think we would -- and then the effort would be, of course, to try to figure out a time -- a date and a time for the secretary to travel to Beijing. 

                When DASD Schiffer went over to Beijing a couple of weeks ago to begin to lay out how the resumption of military-to-military engagements would proceed, among the things they talked about, in addition to next week’s plenary, which will take place in Hawaii -- I think it’s the week of the 11th; that’s next week -- that’s next week, right?  The 11th is next week.  Anyway, so the week of the 11th, they will -- the Marine military consultative agreement [sic – Military Maritime Consultative Agreement] talks will take place in Hawaii.  I think there will be a two-star from PACOM representing the U.S., and I’m not sure of the rank of the Chinese rep.  But they will have conversations about operational safety and at -- at sea and in the air, and work on a work plan for us over the next year.  And that will be reported out to the defense consultative talks in November or December -- we haven’t nailed it down -- that Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of Defense for policy, would host here in Washington. 

                So this is sort of the resumption -- the resuming of the military-to-military relationship with China.  I think mostly, thus far, the talks have been largely focused on the mechanisms, the logistics.  There’s been some substance, but I think you’ll see the first substance next week, then November or December with the -- with the defense consultative talks led by Michele, and of course with the secretary’s engagement, if we’re able to schedule it, in Hanoi.  And then ultimately, I think realistically we’re probably looking at early next year before we have a chance to get to Beijing. 

                But I think what’s been asked of us now is the Chinese have expressed to us a desire to host the secretary.  They’ve asked us to look for opportunities in his calendar.  We’re doing that right now, looking forward to reporting back on some possible dates.  And our expectation is that we would be able to travel and engage with the Chinese as soon as possible. 

                Q     How about on the first question? 

                MR. MORRELL:  The first question was about this exercise -- the U.S.-Japanese military exercise -- and I think you tried to connect it to the island dispute.  Absolutely no connection.  It’s a long-planned exercise not relating to any current events.  This is merely about keeping up our operational -- our ability to operate well together. And long-planned, not related to the island dispute at all. 

                Q     So you mean the newspaper connect the two things together, right? 

                MR. MORRELL:  I’m sorry? 

                Q     The newspaper connect the exercise with the -- (inaudible). 

                MR. MORRELL:  They did that?  Newspapers.  I can’t believe that. (Chuckles.) 

                Yes, oftentimes things that are unrelated are connected in news stories.  And that’s part of why I have a job, to push back on such things. 

                Yes. 

                Q     If I could return to the question about the Taliban negotiations, you said we have seen a high-level outreach by some members of the Taliban to members of the Afghan government.  Has the U.S. government made known any conditions it would like to set on those kind of talks? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Greg, this is an Afghan process.  This is Afghan- led.  It’s an Afghan process.  I think you saw the -- President Karzai announced this new peace council that will be instrumental in ultimate -- in the ultimate, you know, reconciliation we all hope will take place at some point.  But this is very much their process. 

                To the extent that they want our input, we clearly provide it. But this is Afghan-led and -driven, and the engagements thus far have been between, you know, Taliban or their representatives and the Afghan government. 

                All right, I think you’ve pretty much exhausted me and my knowledge.  But I do have Tony here, and let’s finish up with Tony. 

                Q     I just wanted to ask you, the Pentagon Friday night announced a stoppage of flight testing for the F-35 program; lots of interest in the program, obviously.  Was it a significant problem that caused the grounding?  And when do you feel the flight tests may resume? 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let me give you what I have here, Tony.  You’ve probably already gotten it from my colleagues, but I’m no expert on the machinations of the testing procedures. 

                But what I understand is that during ground testing, a software anomaly in the fuel boost pumps was detected, indicating a potential failure that could affect the engine during flight.  The incorrect sequencing was discovered during laboratory testing.  It could possibly trigger a shutdown of all three boost pumps, potentially further causing engine stall. 

                Such a simultaneous shutdown is unlikely, but prudence dictated a suspension of operations until the fuel boost pump signal timing was corrected.  A software update has been deployed and is planned to be completed -- and is planned to complete required functional and safety tests prior to installation in test aircraft beginning Tuesday, October the 5th. 

                The fuel boost pumps provide positive pressure to the engine during all flight conditions.  The minor software modification will correctly align the fuel boost pump signal sequencing. 

                So I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me. (Laughs, laughter.) 

                Q     Very clear.  Very clear. 

                MR. MORRELL:  But, listen, I get -- your fundamental question is how serious is this, how concerning is it.  And I think the answer is the person who’s in charge of this program, Vice Admiral Venlet, does not believe it to be a serious setback. 

                This is precisely why we have a test program -- to try to encounter problems early, fix them and move on from that.  I don’t believe there is an aircraft we have ever developed, certainly not an advanced fighter like the F-35 that has not encountered some technical issue along the way that has needed to be fixed or modified before the plane is fully developed, and I think that’s what we’ve encountered here.  It sounds like, from what I’ve just relayed to you, that this is something they believe they know the cause of and how to fix it, and they’re in the process of doing so. 

                I hope that answers your question. 

                Thanks, guys.  Appreciate it.  Have a good rest of the week.

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