SEC. GATES: Let me just -- a brief statement that we’ve obviously been monitoring the situation at Camp Ashraf in Diyala. We’re very concerned with reports of deaths and injuries resulting from this morning’s clash between Iraqi security forces and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. I urge the Iraqi government to show restraint and live up to their commitments to treat the residents of Ashraf -- (off mic.) -- and their international obligations.
Q: Did the U.S. troops have any knowledge or role in any -- (inaudible) -- presence?
SEC. GATES: They don’t. We have a nearby presence. And I was just told that we may be rendering some medical assistance, but that’s about the extent of it at this point.
Q: And deaths. You’re not sure there were any deaths?
SEC. GATES: We’ve heard that there have been some, but I don’t have any confirmation on numbers or anything else.
Q: Do you know why now -- why (inaudible) why -- this happened today?
SEC. GATES: I have no idea.
Q: Sir, if I may, a quick question on Libya. What’s your assessment of how effectively coalition forces are stepping up to fill the shoes where previously U.S. aircraft were flying?
SEC. GATES: Based on the numbers that I’ve been seeing, they are flying pretty close to the same number of sorties that were being flown when the U.S. was -- had our strike aircraft involved. So based on what I have seen -- admittedly I don’t get quite as much detail when I’m traveling -- it looks like the coalition is stepping up.
Q: But we’ve seen some complaints from rebels about friendly fire and slow reaction from the aircraft.
SEC. GATES: Well, if you’re -- my guess is if you’re on the ground and you’re in trouble, any reaction is probably too slow. I mean, I don’t know the specific circumstances, but we’ve talked about this before. With not having our own people on the ground, without having forward air controllers and observers and so on, and the pilots trying to go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties, obviously it becomes more difficult to support ground operations, if you will, as opposed to taking out fixed sites and obvious tanks and armor and things like that. The Gadhafi forces have shifted their tactics. They’re now using some of the same pickup trucks and same kinds of dress and so on that the opposition is using in Libya, so that complicates it even further.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did Kurdish leaders today give you any indication as to where they stand on extending the status of forces agreement?
SEC. GATES: Well, we had a very good discussion about it and I had the impression that there is interest. And so, I’m hopeful that Iraqi leaders will consult and let us know one way or the other. As I told them all, time is running out. And as I told these men and women in here, you know, we’re obviously committed in a lot of different places around the world. And if they want us to have some presence, even if it’s very modest, here after the end of December, they’re going to have to come to a conclusion and make a request pretty quick. As I told them, time is running out in Washington.
GEOFF MORRELL (Pentagon Press Secretary): Let’s take one last one. Kevin Baron?
Q: On the military pay issue, we’ve had two bases of troops raising this concern. Did you support the president’s veto threat of the Republican offer that did include the full funding for the department?
SEC. GATES: I have not. I have not been at all involved in the budget negotiations. And I obviously defer to the president.
MR. MORRELL: Okay. Thanks, guys.
SEC. GATES: Thank you.