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DOD News Briefing with Gen. Dempsey from the Pentagon

Presenter: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey
June 07, 2012

            GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY:  I'm flying solo today.  (Laughter.) 

            Good to see you all.

            Well, most of you know that last night I returned from my first lengthy trip to Southeast Asia.  At least I think it was last night.  As you know, those of you that live in that part of world, you know what a challenge it is to transit back and forth.  But we did have a great series of visits, in particular with counterparts with Singapore, Philippines and Thailand. 

            I also participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue, where I met with key defense officials from ten Asia-Pacific nations.  I was there with Secretary Panetta and the commander of our U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Locklear.  And in speeches and discussions we laid out the context and rationale for what we've been describing as a rebalance to the region, a region that is of strategic consequence to the entire world.  Economic, demographic and military trends mean that prosperity and security will increasingly depend on how that expansive region evolves.

            Now I want to note that the rebalance obviously involves much more than just military matters -- but that happens to be my own particular area of expertise, so that's what I'll talk about -- and it involves more than just bringing additional hardware to the area.  We'll do some of that, of course, but repositioning our forces is not the essence of our rebalancing.  Rather, it's what I think of as three mores -- more attention, more engagement and more quality.

            More attention means a greater investment of our intellectual capital.  For more than a decade, our military's been focused on war.  We're still fighting a war, of course, and we won't allow ourselves to be distracted from that effort, but we're giving more of our attention to the Asia-Pacific. 

            Second, more engagement is made possible by our forces in the region being more available.  Engagement is how we build trust, and it's how we prevent misperceptions that can lead to conflict.  So we'll strengthen our traditional relationships and develop new partnerships by expanding both the scope and scale of our interactions throughout the region -- for example, with multilateral exercises, force posture and rotational deployments and continued personnel exchanges and dialogue with our counterparts.

            Third, more quality is an evolution in our priorities.  What we decide to bring to the region matters as much, perhaps more, than how much we bring.  This means that as the rebalance evolves, we'll make available our most advanced ships, our fifth-generation aircraft and the very best of our missile defense technology as we work with our partners.

            Even more important than hardware, though, we will bring to bear our human capital, as I mentioned. 

            In my discussions over the last week, I've had nothing but positive feedback on this approach.  The leaders I spoke with welcome our commitment to the region and look forward to working together toward a more secure and prosperous future.  I share their optimism.  I see far more opportunity than liability. 

            And I look forward to your questions.  We'll start there.  Yeah.

            Q:  Thanks.  Mr. General, this is Irene Chen with Hong Kong Phoenix TV.  I want to know that you had a meeting in the Philippines with President Aquino, and did you mention about anything like the dispute  issue in South China Sea?  And then we all know he -- going to meet President Obama tomorrow and they're going to discuss about it, if there are any information that you could offer us.

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, we actually had a more expansive conversation than just the South China Sea, but again, it was about -- first and foremost about the meaning of our rebalancing to the Pacific, which, by the way, your president -- or President Aquino, I should say, and my counterparts in the Philippines welcome.  And so we discussed that.

            Of course the South China Sea came up, and you know, we discussed the fact that it's in our interest to -- you know, that we ensure freedom of navigation, maritime security; that we did not become involved in territorial disputes but that we certainly called on all claimants to resolve these issues through existing international fora and without coercion.  And that was an important point.

            Bob.

            Q:  General Dempsey, I'm going to take you to Af-Pak for a minute. 

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.

            Q:  Do you have any update today on the event in Logar province in which President Karzai says 18 Afghan civilians were killed yesterday? 

            And more broadly, a question about al-Qaida in that region.  A year after Bin Laden's death and al-Qaida has suffered a number of other setbacks lately, what's your assessment of the remaining strength of al-Qaida not only inside Pakistan but also inside Afghanistan?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  The incident in Logar's under investigation.  It -- we became alert to it about 48 hours ago -- about 48 hours ago -- pursuant to a conflict and a troops in contact call.  There were some buildings in a particular village that were struck with aerial-delivered fires. 

            At the time, there two civilians who came forward declaring that they'd been wounded in the action.  We did a sweep of the area and did not at that time find any other civilian casualties in the rubble, but subsequent to that, someone, a particular leader of the province, came forward and did say that in further searching of the rubble, they found civilian casualties.  We don't know at this point the scope and scale of it. 

            As you know, we do our very best to avoid civilian casualties, so this investigation will try to determine if there were civilian casualties and then we will take the appropriate actions.

            But you asked me about al-Qaida.  You know, al-Qaida -- what we call al-Qaida senior leadership has been significantly affected. Most of those who, you know, 10 years ago we began tracking are no longer part of al-Qaida.  They're no longer part of any organization.  And to that extent we've been very successful.  There have, of course, been others that have taken their place. 

            Al-Qaida remains a factor both inside of the Federally Administered Tribal Area in Pakistan, to a much lesser extent inside Afghanistan.  And all I can tell you is that we remain at war with al-Qaida and we will confront them wherever we find them.

            Q:  (Off mic.)

            GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, let me take another question.

            Q:  Hi, General.  My name is Nadia Tsao, Washington correspondent for Liberty Times, Taiwan.  We know that in Asia there's no security mechanism like in NATO.  From this dialogue and your trip to Asia, do you find out that a security mechanism is forming within the, you know, Asian country with the U.S.? 

            And the second question, that we know the U.S. is looking for another -- you know, another harbor, another country to cooperate so U.S., you know, ships can have cooperation in the future.  Do you think, from this trip, other potential countries will be able to facilitate?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.  To your point about a regional organization or mechanism, of course ASEAN exists today.  And during the Shangri-La Dialogue and then in the bilaterals that we conducted, both on the margins of Shangri-La but also in our travels, we're encouraging ASEAN to take a more active role, to be a unified voice for security issues in that region.  So we do support that.

            There -- they haven't actually taken a decision as a group to do that -- to be more vocal, but as you probably know, they're working on a code of conduct for maritime issues in the South China Sea, and we think it would be a very positive thing if they could do that.

            As far as ports for port calls, yeah, we have found that most of our maritime partners in the region are interested in having a dialogue about rotational presence, port calls and things, because I think there's a genuine -- we certainly believe that we are a -- that our presence in region is a presence for stability.  And I think we've found that most of our partners do as well.

            Q:  (Off mic.)

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Go ahead.

            Q:  Back to Pakistan for a moment.  Earlier today Secretary Panetta compared the U.S. relationship with Pakistan to the India relationship with Pakistan.  Obviously they've had years of fighting and wars.  Can you sort of give us an idea of where you see the relationship with Pakistan right now?  And then the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi this week -- how does that impact -- or does that further strain the relationship with the U.S. and Pakistan that these drones are continuing to strike in FATA?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I -- as you know, I've been working the U.S.-Pakistan relationship in earnest since about 2005.  So I'm seven years deep in it and I'd -- I would venture to stay that I'm -- it's always surprising to me.

            I mean, you know, we do some things very well.  We have some interests on which we cooperate almost without question, and then there's other issues where we just have not been able to find common ground.  The presence of Afghan Taliban in the FATA is one of those areas.  And it's our view that those -- Haqqani, notably, the Haqqani network, is as big a threat to Pakistan as it is to Afghanistan and to us, but we haven't been able to find common ground on that point.  So that's been very frustrating.

            As far as the death of Abu Yahya, it's a -- it was a -- that's a significant loss for al-Qaida because he had -- first of all, he had long-standing credibility and he had operational skills that are tough to grow overnight, and so that will be something that affects -- back to Bob's question -- that affects the al-Qaida network globally, not just in -- in South Asia.

            As far as has that strained our relationship with Pakistan, there are friction points in our relationship with Pakistan, and those activities are one of those friction points, but we continue to work on any number of things, whether it's GLOCs or the safe haven or activities -- kinetic activities in the FATA.  And we just have to keep at it, because Pakistan's an important partner.  But there are some things that we just have to keep after.

            Please, sir.

            Q:  Hi, General.  My name's Fengfeng Wang with China's Xinhua News Agency.  There are worries that when U.S. helps countries like Philippines to build up their capacity, they may become bolder and prone to more provocations in their handling of the disputes, such as in South China Sea.

            Actually Secretary Panetta was asked about this question in the Shangri-La Dialogue.  And during your meetings with the Filipino officials, have you conveyed -- have you discussed with them such worries or have you encouraged them to be more restrained in their future behaviors?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, when we -- when we enter into agreements with partners to build capacity, the -- there's always a strategy behind it.  And you know, there's plenty of things that all nations in the region should be interested in and in the Pacific in particular: certainly maritime security, maritime domain awareness, counterpiracy, transnational organized crime.  Those are issues that should -- and I think are of -- common and -- to everyone.  So when we build capacity for that, there doesn't seem to be any concerns. 

            The Philippines, as you know, in particular, has been inward-focused on its internal terrorism and insurgent issues for some time -- for decades, really -- and so have a very limited capability to project power or to influence activities around it and we think that they need some of that, particularly in maritime security.  So I -- you know, I think that that's the conversation -- I can assure you that that's the conversation we have with all of our partners as we enter into agreements on how to build their capacity.

            Tom.

            Q:  Sort of to follow on that, one of the stories from your time in the Philippines was about your visit to a discussion about the combined joint special operations --

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.

            Q:  -- task force there.  This building has highlighted the work of that and other task forces: HOA in Djibouti for the hostage rescue; Central Africa against the LRA; the Bravo task force in Honduras about drugs.  Can you speak broadly about how these small footprint missions fit into your new strategy?  And looking ahead, do you see places in the world where you want to set up other task forces?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, let me -- let me speak about the joint task force in Mindanao.  That's the one you're talking about.  And that was a great visit because, you know, it is a very small, roughly 400 or so -- it's a joint team, you know, servicemen and women from every service, active, Guard and Reserve, built around a core -- C-O-R-E -- of U.S. special operating forces who have been, over time, building the capability of the Philippine armed forces to counter the JI and ASG threats that exist in Mindanao -- enormously successful.

            And what I -- what I took away even more impressively was they're not only assisting our Philippine counterparts in how to conduct network offensive kinetic operations, if you will, a counterinsurgency, but also civil-military operations.  So they're out there, through the Philippine -- our counterparts in the Philippines, building schools, helping with small local economic projects.  And what's beginning to happen is that -- as you would expect over time is that the people are beginning -- that the Philippine military is beginning to rise in stature with people who heretofore wouldn't even allow them anywhere near their neighborhoods.

            I'll give you one example that's actually quite remarkable.  There were two special operating forces in that JTF killed in 2010 by an IED on the way to a school project.  The people of the -- of the village have now petitioned the government of the Philippines to allow them to name that school after those two American soldiers.  So, you know, that -- you can't buy that kind of good will.  You have to -- you have to sacrifice to earn it.  And I think those kind of JTFs -- as you put it, Tom, small-footprint, through partners, you know, committed over time -- certainly are the mark of what will make our strategy work.

            And to your point about are there other places, I'm sure there are, but we haven't -- that's why we're traveling around, to try to gauge the interest in partners to having us do those kind of missions.

            Yeah.

            Q:  On Syria.  I mean, as you know, Syria's still being the most pressing issue in the region.  I have quick three questions, please, could you answer.

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  I'll give you one.  (Laughter.)

            Q:  OK.  First, do you believe that diplomatic --

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  No, not first.  This is your question.  (Laughter.)  Come on, Joe, you're killing me.  One question. 

            Q:  OK. 

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  What is your question?

            Q:  Do you think that diplomatic and economic pressure have failed in stopping the Syrian regime from killing its own people?  And --

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  "And."  (Laughter.)  That's a conjunction.  That leads to a -- see, I'm an English major.  That's a conjunction.  So let me answer the question.

            It's too -- I think that certainly it is moving at a pace that is -- that is slower than we -- than anyone would want.  I mean, the continued massacres are just deplorable.  The pressures that are being brought to bear are simply not having the effect, I think, that we intend.  But I'm not prepared to advocate that we abandon that track at this point.

            Yes, sir.

            Q:  Sir, to follow on Bob and Gordon's question, you referred to kinetic activities in the FATA.  The secretary yesterday referred to the U.s. being at war in the FATA.  Is it time for the U.S. to acknowledge that it is at war in Pakistan?  And what should the message be to the Pakistanis, their takeaway from the secretary's embrace of India and desire to deepen U.S.-India military relations over -- (inaudible).

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, let me knit two things together here.  One is the question earlier about al-Qaida.  We are at war with al-Qaida, and as I've said, we will pursue them wherever we find them, because they are a network -- a global network which has the intent of threatening our homeland.

            So we are at war with al-Qaida, and al-Qaida's in the FATA.  So -- but let me knit that together with something else, which is the relationship that we have with Pakistan.  Pakistan with us is at war in the FATA with other groups.  I mean, the -- make no mistake about it.  Although we are extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect that Pakistan has had on the Haqqanis, we are also mindful that they are conducting military operations -- at great loss, by the way -- elsewhere in North Waziristan and up in Mohmand province -- Mohmand agency.

            So the -- Pakistan is at war in the FATA, and with us, in some cases, not with any U.S. military personnel, with us in the sense that they are trying to diminish the effect of those insurgencies on that side of the border.

            On your question about India, we have for some time said that we aspired to a closer relationship and greater engagement with India.  I mean, they're the -- they are currently the second and soon, you know, with -- depending on who you believe, soon to be the largest country in the world.  They sit at an enormously important geostrategic location on the sea lines of communication from the Mideast into Pacific.  And they're the world's largest democracy.  So sure, we have, for as long as I can remember, been seeking greater engagement with them.

            Q:  General Dempsey --

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Let me go over this side and I'll come right back to you. 

            Now I want to get one -- did you -- you already had one, right?

            Q:  Yeah.

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  OK.  Then you can have one.

            Q:  Hi.  Betty Lin of the World Journal.  Thank you.  When you discussed the A2AD threat with the region and what are their concerns and what do you expect them to do with the U.S. addressing the threat?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  What do I expect to have who do?  I didn't -- I missed the first part.

            Q:  The region -- the countries in the region, what are their concerns?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, the countries that I've visited -- I haven't visited all of them, but the countries that I've visited, they have two questions.  One question is, you know, are you trying to come back here to establish bases and, you know, a permanent presence?  And the second one is, are you coming back here with the intent of containing China?

            So to the first of those two questions:  I don't carry around a backpack with American flags and run around the world planting them.  In fact, quite to the contrary, what we want to do is -- and consistent with our new strategy -- we want to be out there partnered with nations and have a rotational presence that would allow us to build up common capabilities for common interests in the region because we think that'll be stabilizing.  We think, in fact, the opposite.  Our absence will be the destabilizing influence.

            Now to China.  We are -- this -- and I assured anyone that chose to ask me the question -- our new strategy and our rebalancing to the Pacific is not intended to contain China.  It's a -- it's -- it is -- it seems to me to be somewhat evident that the strategic challenges of the future -- whether those are economic challenges, whether they're demographic challenges, whether they're military challenges -- are migrating to the Pacific. 

            You know, it's -- just by virtue of the size, the scope, the scale of populations and economies, that is the region of the world where we all ought to be engaged.  And we all ought to be engaged with the intent of avoiding confrontation.  And the way you avoid confrontation is by being transparent and, in my view, present, so you don't create miscalculation.  And that's the message that we carried into the -- into the Pacific.

            Yeah.

            Q:  Can I stitch together a couple of Pakistan issues that are -- Panetta also said yesterday the U.S. is losing patience with Pakistan's inability to blunt the cross-border encounters.  What's the implication of that remark in terms of loss of patience, direct U.S. over-the-border operations, or what?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I think next time you have a chance to ask Secretary Panetta, you ought to ask him that question.  I won't speak for him.

            But let me -- let me say this about why it's -- why it seems more important now than maybe it was a year ago.  Remember now, we're at a point where we've got capability beginning to come online with our Afghan security forces.  We've also, as you know -- last year we were focused on the southern part of Afghanistan, RC South and Southwest.  This year we're focused on RC East because RC East will -- we've always known will be the hardest transition.  That's where Haqqani is, in RC East.

            And so the urgency, I suppose, is increasing for two reasons.  One is we've got to get RC East and the Haqqani influence reduced in order to meet our timelines for the transition that we're moving toward and -- at the end of '14.  So that's number one.

            Number two, Haqqani has become more active.  You know, he -- the Haqqani network is directly attributed to the -- to the attack last month in Kabul, and Haqqani is attributed to the recent attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno.  So with that kind of hard intelligence to suggest that the Haqqani network is responsible, they are rising in importance, in our view.  And if -- and that's, I think, the best way to think about why is this becoming more prominent now.

            Now -- let me go right here.

            Q:  What do you believe would be a good first step that China could take to improve transparency?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I think that -- I don't want to make it sound like there's not already some steps being taken.  You know, the -- our mil-to-mil engagement is moving along.  It -- you know, we would like to see it move a little faster, but the mil-to-mil, especially service to service, is actually moving along quite well.

            You know, the -- transparency is one of those words that's potentially in the eye of the beholder.  I mean, we would like to have ongoing conversations with them about our rebalancing and about their growth -- their growth of military capability, but I think being there will be the condition under which those conversations have meaning.  And so I -- you know, I don't want to suggest we don't have a -- we do have a relationship with China, and we certainly aspire to increasing that relationship over time.

            Q:  (Off mic)?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.

            Q:  Here's part two of Joe's question.  How --

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  You guys -- you mean, you tag-teaming me?  (Laughter.)

            Q:  Give us some idea of how big a military operation would be required to stop the killing of civilians in Syria.

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  No, I can't do that.  I can't do that because I'd really have to be -- you know, the military typically takes the information presented and an outcome.  I have to know what the outcome is.  So you tell me what the outcome is, I can build you a plan to achieve that outcome.

            Certain outcomes, you might expect -- and let's go back historically.  Tell me you want regime change in Iraq; I can build you a plan.  And I know how many divisions, I know how many air wings, and I know how much -- you know, I know what it takes.  Tell me that following that regime change you want me to restore order, do nation building-stability operations, and I -- and I know what looks like.  So I -- you know, anything at this point vis-a-vis Syria would be hypothetical in the extreme.  And I can't build that plan unless I understand the outcome. 

            Q:  General?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Please. 

            Q:  Thank you, General.  Dong Hui Yu, with China -- The Real News Agency.  A follow-up question on China.  The 2012 RIMPAC will be held in Hawaii from June 29th.

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Right.

            Q:  Twenty-two countries will join, but no China.  I'm wondering if it's because China was not invited or China refused the invitation.  And how could China be included in kinds of regional military tracks -- military mechanisms like RIMPAC so that the two countries could avoid the Thucydides trap that you mentioned that time in Carnegie Endowment?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, first of all, I don't know if they were invited to RIMPAC.  I'd have to get back to you on that.  But for example, they were invited to Shangri-La.  And they did send a delegate.  But they didn't come at the level of most of the rest of us.  [China was not invited to participate in RIMPAC 2012]

            But they're in transition, you know.  They're getting ready for their transitions, just as we will later in this -- in this calendar year have a political transition of our own.  And I think that's probably the reason.  I don't think it was in any way intended to make a statement about the Shangri-La Dialogue.  And I can find out if they were invited to RIMPAC.  I just don't know.

            Way in the back.

            Q:  To follow up on your trip to Manila, does the United States military want to enhance or increase its rotational presence in the Philippines, particularly at Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base?

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I wouldn't say specific Subic and Clark, although they are obvious locations were we to increase our exercise and rotational presence.  And we did talk about that with my counterpart, not on the political side, but with my Filipino chief of defense counterpart.

            I -- you know, I think the way to think about this though is to -- is to be -- let me answer the rest of the question, why would we want to do that?  You know, for the last 10 years -- well, let me put it this way:  We have the finest military in the world today, maybe of all times, partly because of the equipment we have the organizational design an the level of training that we're able to achieve, but also because of our people. 

            And what we've done over the past really decades, but it's manifested itself in the last 10 years, is we've seen that investment in people pay off.  So we have the most adaptable leaders in uniform on the planet. 

            The reason we're so interested in engaging after Iraq and Afghanistan is I don't want to take these incredible young men and women who have had responsibilities that are -- that are beyond belief at a very young age and bring them back to places like Camp Lejeune or Fort Polk, Louisiana, and have them sit there, you know, for two or three years at a time.  I want them out and about into environments that are new and different and unpredictable and uncertain so that they learn how to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances, because it's the investment in our people that ultimately make us who we are.  And this strategy is built on that.  That's why we're doing it.

            STAFF:  One more, guys.

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  One more.

            Sir.

            Q:  Follow-up on that.  My name is Ichiro Kabasa (ph) with NHK Japanese -- (off mic) -- TV.  To my understanding, it's against the constitution in the Philippines for them to have a foreign military presence in the country.  So -- but you just mentioned a rotational presence in the Philippines.  How --

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, I think -- well, I think that -- I don't -- I'm not a constitutional scholar even of my own Constitution, to tell you the truth.  But it wouldn't surprise me that your constitution says that.  But I would also tell you that we would never do anything that would violate -- we wouldn't even recommend anything that would violate your law.

            I suspect, though, that what your constitution probably says is permanent basing of foreign troops in the country.  And that's never our intent.  Our intent is rotational; it's exercise; it's exchanges.  And those are -- those are episodic, and they're temporal.  They last for a period of time, and then they -- we move on to another exercise.

            OK, thanks very --

            Q:  (Off mic.)

            GEN. DEMPSEY:  I got to go.  Thanks very much.

            Q:  Thank you.

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