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DOD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen
May 18, 2011

                  SEC. GATES:  Good afternoon.

                 On April 13th, President Obama announced his framework for tackling our nation's considerable long-term fiscal challenges.  As part of that deficit reduction effort, he set a goal of holding the growth in base national security spending below inflation for the next 12 years, which would save about $400 billion, the preponderance of which would come from the Department of Defense.  The president also made clear that before making any specific budget decisions, we must first conduct a fundamental review of America's military missions, capabilities and security role around the world.

                 Today I'm announcing the framework for the comprehensive review that the Department of Defense is launching to inform future decisions about spending on national security.

                 First, some context.  For more than two years, the leadership of this department has been working on reforming the way the Pentagon does business to respond to the difficult fiscal situation facing the nation and to ensure that our military has the capabilities needed to protect our interests in a dangerous and unstable world.  This effort began two years ago with an overhaul of the department's approach to military acquisition, curtailing or canceling about 20 troubled weapons programs.  It continued last year with a department-wide campaign to generate savings from excessive overhead that was reallocated to the services for reinvestment -- new expenses as well as deficit reduction.  The overarching goal of these efforts was to carve out enough budget space to preserve and enhance key military capabilities in the face of declining rates of budget growth.

                 The new comprehensive review will ensure that future spending decisions are focused on strategy and risks, and are not simply a math and accounting exercise.  The overarching goal will be to preserve a U.S. military capable of meeting crucial national security priorities even if fiscal pressure requires reductions in the force's size.  In my view, we must reject the traditional approach of applying across-the-board cuts, the simplest and most politically expedient approach both inside this building and outside of it.  That kind of an approach preserves overhead and maintains force structure on paper.  It results in a hollowing-out of the force from a lack of proper training, maintenance and equipment.  We've been there before, in the 1970s and in the 1990s.

                 This review will be guided by the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy, the Chairman's Risk Assessment, and the Quadrennial Defense Review [QDR] to ensure appropriate focus on strategic policy choices first and corresponding changes in the DoD budget second.

                 The QDR provides today's basis for sizing the force, focusing its missions and shaping its capabilities.  But there is not a strong analytical link between the QDR and the present makeup of our forces.  This review will establish that linkage, so that we can see the impact of changing QDR strategy on force structure, missions and capabilities.  And only once competing strategy options are identified should the review begin to consider fiscal implications and options.

                 To do this, the review should develop specific program options that can be categorized in four bins.

                 The first bin is additional efficiencies, continuing the efforts we launched last year.  These changes would reduce DoD costs with minimal impact on military capability.  We must be even more aggressive in curtailing bureaucratic excess and overhead before considering fundamental changes in national strategy or force capabilities.

                 And while I believe the department can identify additional significant efficiencies, they will not result in sufficient savings to meet the president's direction.  Therefore, a second bin will involve a serious examination of established policies, programs, processes and mandates that drive the dramatic increase in defense operating costs, to include the way we deliver health care, compensate military personnel, provide retirement benefits, sustain our infrastructure and acquire goods and services.

                 The third bin will contain options to reduce or eliminate marginal missions and marginal capabilities, specialized and costly programs that are useful in only a limited range of circumstances or contingencies.  They represent missions that the department carries out today that, while of value, are not central to our core mission or are of lower priority.

                 The final bin and the hardest category strategically -- and I would say also intellectually -- will be specific alternative modifications to the QDR strategy that translate into options for reductions in force structure or capability needed to execute the strategy.  This latter bin will be informed by all the other activities in this framework.

                 In the end, this process must be about identifying options for the President and the Congress, where the nation is willing to accept risk in exchange for reduced investment in the Department of Defense.  The defense comprehensive review will be jointly led by the director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, the under secretary of defense for Policy and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

                 (Off mic.)


                 Q:  Pakistan obviously has been a key topic for the last four years.  You've been there several -- almost two dozen times.  Over that time, you've dealt with them extensively. 

                 Do you think you misjudged their willingness to cooperate?  Do you believe them when they say that they didn't know Osama bin Laden was there?  And particularly, Mr. Secretary, do you think -- what do you think of Congress' suggestion or request that we start tying funding to actual results in seeking out terrorists there?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  I think the investment, certainly that our military has made and I personally have made, has been one that has been very important in terms of working a critical relationship.  And obviously we've been through a great deal over time, not just recently.  And when you back away from this, the amount of training that we've provided, what, in fact, has occurred inside Pakistan with respect to their military forces in terms of getting at a growing terrorist threat that is very much in execution -- Pakistani citizens are dying regularly -- that that relationship has been a very important part in terms of their going after the terrorists in their own country. 

                 Clearly we've had challenges with respect to the long-term strategic partnership.  I've gone into this with my eyes wide open.  We were not trusted because we left for a significant period of time.  And that trust isn't going to be re-established overnight. 

                 I think the region continues to be critical and our relationship continues to be critical.  There are still challenges associated with things that we think need to be done.  Yet, from my perspective, we can't just mail that in and say, gee, would you do this?  I think it would be a really significantly negative outcome if the relationship got broken.  And so -- from my perspective, that investment brought us to this position, which I think we need to leverage to sustain the relationship -- not just at my level or with the military, but, quite frankly, between the two countries.

                 Q:  But do you believe them when they say --

                 ADM. MULLEN:  I've seen -- I've seen no evidence after -- since the bin Laden raid that indicates that the top leadership knew bin Laden was there.

                 SEC. GATES:  I can understand Congress' frustration.  And I think Senator Kerry was pretty explicit in his meetings in Pakistan that the circumstances have led to a lot of -- a lot of skepticism on the Hill and that U.S. assistance to Pakistan is now more controversial than it was before.

                 That said, I think -- I think we have to proceed with some caution.  We do have significant interests in Pakistan.  I think that my own view would be there is -- we need to continue the assistance that we have provided that benefits the Pakistani people.  Coalition support funds are actually a reimbursement for services rendered for things they have actually done.  We have a very rigorous review process for those claims by the Pakistanis.  They're reviewed by ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], then they're reviewed by our embassy, they're reviewed at CENTCOM [Central Command], and then they're reviewed again up here.  Generally, we do not pay a hundred percent based on their claims, but it is -- it is a serious process.

                 But I think -- I think we do need to be cognizant of the concerns on the Hill.  And frankly, I think the Pakistanis need to be as well.  But that said, we do have interests in common and we do need to try and move forward.

                 SEC. GATES:  Jim.

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary, Senator Kerry went to Islamabad and claims that he pressed the Pakistanis on pursuing the leadership of the Taliban that has taken safe haven in Pakistan, primarily Mullah Omar and also the Haqqani Network.  And you yourself have made it a point to do as much as you could to provide protection to our American forces.  But many of the attacks that -- launched against Americans are conducted from or launched from those safe havens in Afghanistan [sic; Pakistan].

                 So can you understand the frustration not only of the military but the American people at the apparent reluctance of the Pakistanis to go after the leadership that has had safe haven there for nearly 10 years?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, of course I share that frustration.  I understand that frustration and I share it.  I think we have an opportunity here.  The Pakistanis -- and I'd invite the chairman to comment -- the Pakistanis over the last couple of weeks have expressed the view that they are willing to go after some of these people and that we should not repeat the bin Laden operation because we -- they will undertake this themselves.  I think this provides us an opportunity, and I think we ought to take them up on that.  And it also offers them an opportunity to address this frustration and the skepticism that I referred to.

                 I don't know if you want to add --

                 ADM. MULLEN:  The only thing I'd add, Jim, is this is certainly not the first time that this issue has been raised with the Pakistani leadership.  It's been something that has been raised over the course of -- certainly my engagement -- for the past couple of years.  And I think they do understand it is a priority and it is -- I would just reemphasize what the secretary said.  It is their desire now to do this themselves.  And I think they certainly understand the importance of it.

                 All of that said, they've also had some internal priorities, as this terrorist threat has grown internally to them.  And their capacity, in some regards -- they've prioritized internally to go after the TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan] and others, but they know this is a priority for us.  And I think we've clearly -- as Senator Kerry did, the secretary just said -- we all need to make sure that they understand very clearly that this priority isn't going to go away and that these safe havens -- the safe havens for these leaders have to be eliminated.

                 Q:  If I could follow up -- you say they understand, but have they made a commitment to the U.S. to pursue these leadership members of the Taliban?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  I'll be specific about Haqqani, because my engagement with General Kayani over the years -- he has committed to that.  I think one of the issues that is just a challenge for us is our clock moves a lot faster than his clock.  That has been the case so far, and I think it will be the case in the future.  I'm not trying to give him an excuse, but matching those clocks has been pretty difficult.

                 Q:  Admiral, staying with Haqqani, you know, you were there last month in Pakistan.  You talked about the strain the relationship between the ISI [Inter Services Intelligence] and Haqqani has on the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.  Is it time to just say to the Pakistanis, "Clearly, you have a relationship with him.  Just turn him over to the United States"?  Is it time to do that?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  Well, I think my comments from a month ago, you know, still stand, from that perspective.  I was very clear about the priority for the leadership, in particular with respect to the Haqqani Network and the need to get at that.  And I wouldn't --

                 Q:  Well, what --

                 ADM. MULLEN:  And I wouldn't change that right now.

                 Q:  Well, could it justify aid, to the fact that -- you know, you turn over Haqqani, and we're going to tie that to our aid to Pakistan.  Is that the right thing to do?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  Well, I think our approach needs to continue to be with Pakistan a very comprehensive approach, across the totality of government.  I think picking an individual string that says this is how we're going to do it -- that isn't going to answer the mail.  I think we -- it has to be a comprehensive approach.

                 The secretary talked about the resources which are -- which are considerable.  And certainly, that's -- it's understandable that there would be those that would look at that, I mean, and I understand that.  And I think, quite frankly, the Pakistani leadership -- military leadership, in particular -- would understand that.

                 Q:  Also, following up what you said, you said you don't think the top leadership in Pakistan knew that bin Laden was there.  Do you presume that someone in the ISI or the army knew he was there and was supporting him?  Could you both address that?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  I -- as I said, I have seen no evidence that the top leadership knows.

                 Q:  Well, what about the rest of the --

                 ADM. MULLEN:  I -- actually there's -- I think there's -- with the evaluation of the sensitive site material and exploitation that's going on, it's just going to take us a while to see if there's anything else.

                 SEC. GATES:  I guess the way I would put it is, first of all, I would echo exactly what the chairman said.  I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew.  In fact, I've seen some evidence to the contrary.  But -- and we have no evidence yet with respect to anybody else.  My supposition is:  Somebody knew.


                 Q:  Let me ask about the budget rollout that just -- you announced here.  Can you give the public a sense of what one or two missions will definitely be reviewed?  You know, COIN [counterinsurgency], NEO [noncombatant evacuation operations] operations -- what will be reviewed?  Can you give one or two examples, and the resource implications to some of these missions?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, let me give you an example of the -- of the hardest bin, the third bin, in terms of the strategic alternatives.  We have had the -- it has been our strategy for many years now to be able to fight two regional -- two major regional conflicts simultaneously.  If you were to tell yourself the likelihood of having two such fights simultaneously is low and you could therefore plan to fight sequentially, that would have huge implications in terms of the size of force that you need to maintain.  But the other side of that is the risk involved if you're wrong.  And the other guys always have a vote.  So that's the kind of strategy and risk that we want to surface for the president and for the Congress.

                 You know, I mean, what I am really working against here is what we did in the '70s and in the '90s, which was these across-the-board cuts that hollowed out the force.  We have got to avoid that, no matter what happens in this process.  But the consequence of avoiding that is everybody -- from the services to the chairman to the secretary of this department -- making tough decisions, and then the president and the Congress making tough decisions, because they have to accept responsibility for risk.

                 And I want to force that kind of a discussion.  If we're going to cut the military, if we're going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. military, people need to make conscious choices about what the implications of that are for the security of the country as well as for the operations that we have around the world.

                 And I just -- that's why I want this review in place, to provide the substance for making those kinds of conscientious decisions where the political leadership of the country, in essence, says:  We are prepared to accept this risk in return for reduced investment in defense.

                 Q:  One of the big programs is the F-35.  It overlays many of these scenarios, many of the rules and missions of the military.  To what extent will this large -- the Pentagon's largest program and its 2,400 airplanes and about $11 billion a year investment over the next decade -- to what extent will that -- will that quantity be reviewed to see whether the program should be scaled back accordingly?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, the country needs the F-35.  We need a fifth-generation fighter and -- in addition to the F-22.  And so we must have that.  Obviously, if you're going to change strategies or missions, that has implications for the amount of equipment that you buy.  And I would expect that to apply across the board, not just to the F-35. 

                 But everything in terms of looking at these strategic equations, if you will, has to do with the amount of capability that you buy or that you invest in.  But I would just make the point -- and here's where this -- where the rubber meets the road on this -- we must buy a new tanker.  We must buy a fifth-generation fighter.  We must replace the ballistic missile submarines toward the end of this decade.  There are -- there are a number of things -- the Army must reset after Afghanistan, and Marine Corps as well, just -- but to a lesser extent. 

                 So the point is, there are some significant new investments that must be made.  So how do you pay for that in the context that we're talking about?  Those are the kinds of hard choices that I want to surface and have people address, and I -- because, frankly, as I said in my opening statement, both within this building and outside it the easiest thing is to say cut defense by X percent.  And I think that would be the most dangerous approach of all.

                 Q:  What does the $400 billion represent --

                 SEC. GATES:  That’s enough (inaudible).  (Cross talk and laughter.)


                 Q:  You know, at Camp Lejeune you got everyone's attention when you said you were concerned about operational security revelations on the mission.  So this notion that you had a White House agreement, can you explain a little bit more?  With respect, did you get sold out by the White House?  Because it's very clear on camera the White House was talking extensively about the mission.  What was the agreement?  Why did it fall apart?  Did you try -- either of you gentlemen -- try and do anything to get it back in the box?

                 And you also expressed your concern about pumping up security around the SEALs.  I'm assuming you cannot give us any specifics, but is there -- can you say have you had to do anything to, as you said, pump up security around the team and their families, since they have expressed their concerns?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, in my comments at Camp Lejeune, I didn't single anybody out.  And, I mean, in a way, you all, every one of you, probably knows the answer to this question better than I do.  And my--my concern is that there were too many people in too many places talking too much about this operation.  And we had reached agreement that we would not talk about the operational details, and as I said at Camp Lejeune, that lasted about 15 hours. 

                 And so I just -- I'm very concerned about this because we -- we want to retain the capability to carry out these kinds of operations in the future.  And when so much detail is available, it makes that both more difficult and riskier.

                 Now, with respect to the SEALs, in my meeting with them the Thursday after the operation, they did express concern, not so much for themselves but for their families.  And all I will say is that we have been taking a close look at that and we will do whatever is necessary.

                 ADM. MULLEN:  We have, from my perspective, gotten to a point where we are close to jeopardizing this precious capability that we have, and we can't afford to do that.  This fight isn't over, first of all.  Secondly, when you now extend that to concern with individuals in the military and their families, from my perspective it is time to stop talking.  And we have talked far too much about this.  We need to move on.  It's a story that, if we don't stop talking, it will never end.  And it needs to.

                 Q:  Sir, what would you say to troops and families in special operations units who look at this, and troops may say:  I'm concerned.  I'm concerned for my family.  I -- you know, I don't know what's going to happen.

                 What do you say to them?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  Well, it's not actually -- the response inside the community is the same that we have inside the military: that they are taking proper steps, based on their concerns, first of all.  And secondly, you know, the whole issue for us in terms of operational security is an absolute requirement in many, many -- so many of the things that we do.

                 We've had -- and it's not all just leaks from one part of the government.  We've had far too many retired members who've spoken up, and we just need to get off the net.

                 Q:  Can both of you assure the American public that no U.S. aid money to Pakistan ended up helping them to broaden their nuclear program? 

                 And on a separate issue, the War Powers Act is coming into play on Friday because it's 60 days after the Libyan operation began.  Does the president and does this building plan to ignore the War Powers Act?  Or will that 60-day deadline affect what you're doing in Libya?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, the War Powers Act question is above my pay grade, and so I would refer you to the White House. 

                 Q:  Are you advising on that issue?

                 SEC. GATES:  There are many lawyers advising the White House, I am convinced --

                 Q:  (Off mic.)

                 SEC. GATES:  -- and I'm not one of them. 

                 The -- and I'm sorry.  The first --

                 Q:  With regards to Pakistan, can you assure --

                 SEC. GATES:  Oh.  Well, as I say, on the Coalition Support Funds, they have to document -- it's money they've already spent that we are reimbursing and that they have to file a specific claim for.  So you know, how they spend money -- I mean, money is fungible, but when we -- when we reimburse them, it is for a specific thing they have done with respect to the war against terror in Pakistan or in support of what we're trying to do.

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary, you said your supposition is someone within the Pakistani government knew about bin Laden's presence.  I guess my question is, shouldn't Pakistan pay some price for that fact, if it is a fact?  In other words, I mean -- or won't they be encouraged just to continue doing what they've been already doing?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I would invite the chairman to comment, but I would say that if I -- if I were in Pakistani shoes, I would say I've already paid a price.  I've been humiliated.  I've been shown that the Americans can come in here and do this with impunity.  And I think we have to be -- I think we have to recognize that they see a cost in that and a price that has been paid. 

                 But if the leadership doesn't know -- I mean, look, I -- you know, I've done as much about accountability here as perhaps anybody, but I never fired anybody because they didn't about a problem.  I fired them because once they found out about a problem, they didn't take it seriously.  So if the senior leadership in Pakistan didn't know, it's hard to hold them accountable for it. 

                 Q:  But --

                 SEC. GATES:  [To the admiral.]  I don't know if you want to add any --

                 Q:  But I guess I'm sort of -- if they're willing to tolerate even midlevel people knowing --

                 SEC. GATES:  But we don't -- I mean, the supposition is somebody.  We don't know whether it was, you know, a retired -- retired people, whether it was low-level.  We -- you have pure supposition on our part.  It's hard to go to them with an accusation when we have no proof that anybody knew.

                 So I just want to underscore, it's my supposition -- I think it's a supposition shared by a number in this government -- that somebody had to know, but we have no idea who, and we have no proof or no evidence.

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary --

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary --

                 SEC. GATES:  Yeah.

                 Q:  How important do you think this -- in your words, this humiliation was in sort of changing the Pakistani mindset in going after high-value targets that for the past they've been hesitant to do for us in their region?

                 SEC. GATES:  Let me defer to the chairman.

                 ADM. MULLEN:  I don't think we should underestimate the humbling experience that this and in fact the internal soul searching that's going on inside the Pak mil right now and the impact of that.  Before you even start to talk about external effects, it's the -- internally, and I just know for a fact that is going on.  And they're not through that, because they've been through a lot tied to this, and their image has been tarnished.  And they care, as we all do -- and they care a lot about that.  They're a very proud military.

                 Can I relate that to any actions that have occurred since?  I wouldn't make that direct correlation.  We talked earlier about Senator Kerry's visit and other things that we think are out there, that actions need to be taken.  And so we'll see specifically. 

                 But I think most of the focus right now is that internal focus to address the challenge, how did this happen and what should we do about it and then sort of next steps for them internally.  They're not ignoring the external requirements, but most of it is internal (inaudible).

                 Q:  Admiral Mullen, are you worried that the recent events in Pakistan have undermined the position of our best friends there, General Kayani, General Pasha, the president?  Because they are -- they're under pressure.  They're -- "humiliated" has been used.  They are less able to help us.

                 And Mr. Secretary, going back to the budget, last time you raised the nuclear triad modernization.  Would you look at eliminating one leg of the triad as a big cost savings and -- or is that kind of thing off the table?

                 ADM. MULLEN:  From a standpoint of the relationship, and in my discussions since the raid, with General Kayani and actually other, another senior leader reaffirms the desire to have a relationship.  But I think we both recognize it's going through a very difficult time right now.  So the specific steps that we need to take are yet to be determined.

                 I think we need to give them some time and space to work on some of the internal challenges that came out of this, while at the same time the things that -- there are some near-term things that we think actions need to be taken.  So certainly, I mean, he's not just a peer of mine, but he's a friend and, you know, he's been through a lot.  And as the leader, I can tell you, you know, at the top of these organizations, it's a pretty lonely place.  So from that standpoint, he's out with his military.  He's working his way through that.  And I'm certainly sympathetic to his need to do that and at the same time move ahead.

                 SEC. GATES:  I would just repeat, in essence, what I said before on the budget issues.  If the political leadership of this country decides that it must reduce the investment in defense by hundreds of billions of dollars, then I don't think we can afford to have anything that's off the table.

                 Q:  Mr. Secretary --

                 SEC. GATES:  Thank you.