SEC. GATES: It's a pleasure to be here in Hawaii again. I have visited the Arizona memorial before and so I wanted to visit the Missouri today. I particularly wanted to visit because my wife is the sponsor of the newest U.S. warship named Missouri, a nuclear attack submarine which was commissioned last year and one of the mementos she was given was one of the original planks from this ship.
This ship defended our country for nearly half a century. I feel a little bit like a historic relic myself since she was last in service during the first gulf war, before she was decommissioned, and obviously secured her place in history with the Japanese surrender on her decks. It seems to me that visiting this ship and looking at the Arizona memorial fitting the day after Memorial Day to serve as a reminder of all those who have served and made the supreme sacrifice for our country.
People here in Hawaii continue to make a contribution to the defense of our country. In Iraq I met with troops with the 25th Infantry Division based here in Hawaii. I can tell you they are doing a terrific job. And I just want to thank all of the people of Hawaii for the support that you provide to the United States military, all the services. I would particularly single out Senators Inouye and Akaka. We are sorry to see Senator Akaka retiring. He makes me a little ashamed that I am retiring, I'm a little bit younger than he is. But he's given a lot of service to our country and Senator Inouye continues to do so. With that, it's a pleasure to be here and I'll take a question or two.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what message are you taking to Asian defense ministers in Singapore?
SEC. GATES: Well I think that the critical message is that even as we look at potential budget reductions there is no slackening of the U.S. commitment to our presence in Asia. We are a pacific nation and we will remain a pacific nation. We will remain engaged and we will continue to build relationships with friends, partners and allies in Asia and there will be no slackening of our efforts in that respect.
Q: I would like to ask a question about President Karzai's statements earlier today, it was much earlier today but it was today, in which he criticized ISAF and NATO for civilian casualties. He said this was his last warning and that he was going to further restrict use of air strikes. I'm wondering whether you feel he is tying ISAF's hands or are there things that can actually be done to eliminate the problem.
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't know the circumstances of the specific incident but this is a continuing challenge that we face in the kind of war that we fight in Afghanistan. I think joint investigations of these incidents when they happen are important so that we can mutually figure out what exactly happened, what if anything went wrong. I think General Petraeus has a good dialogue with President Karzai about these incidents. I think we need to go back to the reality that about 80 percent of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by the Taliban who are clearly now even more than before targeting civilians, not even using them to shelter among but to just go after them with IED's and so on. The Afghan people have put up with 30 years of war and I think President Karzai is reflecting the pain and suffering that the Afghan people have had to endure. But at the same time I think he also recognizes, and the Afghan people do, that we are their ally and we are their friend and we are trying to help them develop the capability to protect themselves so that the Afghan people can see and end to this kind of conflict.
Q: Secretary Gates, how long do you plan to stay in Hawaii and what do you plan to do while you are here?
SEC. GATES: Not long enough, in fact I'll be off for Singapore tomorrow morning.
Q: Did President Obama give you any suggestions for while you were here?
SEC. GATES: No, you know I saw him yesterday for the Memorial Day ceremonies. I should have asked him.
Thank you all.