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DOD Press Briefing with George Little from the Pentagon

Presenter: Press Secretary George Little
February 26, 2013

            GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. Before getting to your questions, let me address one of the narratives that I've seen in recent days regarding sequester, which is set to begin Friday, unless Congress acts. 

            There seems to be a belief in some quarters that when it comes to negative impact that sequester will have on our national defense and military readiness, the Department of Defense is crying wolf. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

            What you've heard from DOD leaders over the past few weeks is not hype. It's the blunt truth. It isn't exaggeration. It's a clear- eyed assessment of what would happen to the department if we were forced to put this mindless mechanism fully into place. 

            Under the guidance of Secretary Panetta, the department's leaders have been candid and forthright in describing how the military would operate in a post-sequester world. Still, I know there remains some confusion over how sequester would function and whether there are any steps that might mitigate the harm. Let me try to address this confusion. 

            First, as you know, if sequestration goes into effect for the remainder of the year, it will require the Department of Defense to cut roughly $46 billion from the level of funding provided on the FY2013 continuing resolution, all in the last seven months of the fiscal year. By law, sequester would apply to all of the DOD budget, including wartime spending. The only exception is that the president has indicated his intent to exempt all military personnel funding from sequestration. While DOD leaders support this decision, it does not mean that other budget accounts will be cut by larger amounts to offset the exemption, and our current estimate is that these cuts will amount to nine percent. 

            In addition to requiring these large and sudden cuts, the law mandates that they be applied in a rigid, across-the-board manner, account by account, item by item. Cuts to the operating portions of the DOD budget must be equal in percentage terms at the level of appropriations accounts, for example, Army active operation and maintenance, Navy reserve operation and maintenance, and Air Force Guard operation and maintenance. 

            For the investment portions of the budget, the dollars cuts must be allocated at a line-item level of detail. That means more than 2,500 programs or projects that are separately identified as line items would need to be reduced by the same percentage. Within each account line item, managers could decide how best to allocate the reductions, for the department's leaders would be deprived of the flexibility of protecting certain high-priority investment programs in favor of others. 

            The fact that we are operating under a continuing resolution is adding to the fiscal difficulties facing this department in the current fiscal year. While the CR [continuing resolution] provides the right level of overall funding for DOD, the dollars are in the wrong appropriations accounts. Compared to our needs for the current fiscal year, the CR provides too much funding in most investment accounts and not enough funding in operation and maintenance accounts to sustain day-to-day operations and military readiness. 

            If this imbalance in the CR is not corrected and sequester hits the department, the result will be a huge shortfall in operations and maintenance accounts for active forces. Across DOD, we will be short more than 20 percent of total requirements for operating funds, and the percentage will be closer to 40 percent for the United States Army. 

            This shortfall means that the Army will have to sharply cut training, leaving most of its non-deployed combat brigade teams below acceptable readiness standards. The same is true for Air Force combat units. The Navy and Marine Corps will also have to slash readiness. As you know, the Navy recently elected to reduce the number of carriers deployed to the gulf in order to avoid the risk of being so short of operating dollars that it could not deploy any carriers during a future period. 

            The prospect of these cuts led the chairman, the vice chairman, and all the Joint Chiefs to recently sign a 28-star letter stating, and I quote, "The readiness of our armed forces is at a tipping point. We are on the brink of creating a hollow force," unquote. 

            The department's leaders are working every day to avoid the worst effects of this regrettable situation, and we will continue to do so. But the solution to this self-made crisis can't be found in this building. The solution is Congress passing a balanced deficit reduction package and appropriations bills that the president can sign and detrigger sequestration. Our department's leaders have a responsibility to continue to make that case to congressional leadership and to the American people.

            And with that, I'll take your questions. 

            Q: I have a question for you about the ISAF numbers, that they said they're correcting their numbers on the number of Taliban attacks for last year. A couple questions. One is, since your 1230 report to Congress was based in part on those numbers, are you going to correct the report? And also, does this in any way lead to rethinking about your assessment of the strength of the Taliban, given that you had miscalculated the number of attacks they'd initiated? 

            MR. LITTLE: This is a regrettable error in our database systems that was discovered during a routine quality check. We are making the appropriate adjustments. In spite of the stated adjustment, our assessment of the fundamentals of progress in Afghanistan remains positive. 

            The fact that 80 percent of the violence has been taking place in areas where less than 20 percent of the Afghan population lives remains unchanged. As we have said repeatedly, we have pushed the Taliban out of the population centers, and they have failed to retake any of the areas they lost during the surge, and this remains true.

            Additionally, the ANSF currently are in the lead for the vast majority of partnered operations and have taken the leading role in providing security for 87 percent of the country's population. There's a tendency sometimes to fixate on one metric, whether it's this particular database number or insider attacks or casualties. The complete picture of progress in Afghanistan is much more nuanced, and I would encourage you to look at that overall picture. We're looking to fix this database error, and we will report out further information as we have it, probably from Kabul. 

            Q: Doesn't the 1230 report need to be fixed, too, then? 

            MR. LITTLE: We'll take a look at any adjustments that need to be made to the 1230 report.

            Q: Does it also call into question other statistics? Because as you say, the Afghan forces are now in the lead increasingly, and they're the ones entering the numbers. And you've been -- many people at this podium have acknowledged the problem of literacy and so on that you're facing with the Afghan forces. 

            So doesn't -- won't you have to do a closer review of a lot of the statistics that have been cited repeatedly from that podium? 

            MR. LITTLE: I don't think know if we have to undertake a broader review right now, but you make a good point. As we transition in partner war with the Afghans, we're going to have to collect information with them, so we need to make sure that our numbers and their numbers are accurate, that they're reported effectively, that our systems are capable of processing those numbers, and then we drive out the correct analytics at the end. 

            We have a strong interest in conveying -- and a duty to convey as accurate information as possible, and to you and to the American people, and the Afghans, the Afghan people. So I view this as a limited instance at this stage. If there is a broader problem, of course, we'll be forthright about it. 

            Q: George, do you know whether the problem was only for, like, a finite period, like a last month of the year? Or was it something that happened over the course of the entire year? 

            MR. LITTLE: I think ISAF is probably... 

            Q: They haven't answered that. 

            MR. LITTLE: They haven't answered that question yet? Okay, well, we will certainly touch base with them and try to drive out more information for you and others in the room. 

            Q: So what do you attribute the relatively -- or comparatively good numbers so far this year? I believe only four hostile U.S. deaths compared to around 60 or so this time last year. 

            MR. LITTLE: It really is a story of tremendous progress. And that's a longer story than I have to tell from this podium today. But it's in part what steps American and ISAF partners have done to orient this very effective campaign in the right direction. 

            It's also about what the Afghans are doing themselves to orient their own campaign, and it's about what we're doing together in Afghanistan. And we're seeing major muscle movements on all three tracks. And I think if you add the progress up along those three tracks, bearing in mind that there are still challenges out there, and we're not at all discounting the challenges that still remain in the midst of a war, then the overall trend lines are very positive. 

            Q: Is it not at all about moving... 

            MR. LITTLE: I'll allow you one follow-up. 

            Q: Sorry. Thank you. Is it not all about pulling out of certain areas, like, you know, pulling back from the east and bringing less of the U.S. face on a lot of the fight? Is it not about that trend at all? 

            MR. LITTLE: Well, I don't -- I think it's -- what we've worked to try to achieve all along, and that is to make this war effort over time more and more Afghan, not just the face of Afghans providing security for their own country, but also their capabilities. And we are, I think, doing a very effective job enabling them. 

            And in many cases, they have surpassed our own expectations. That's not to say we don't have work to be done -- there's still not work to be done in certain areas. There is work to be done. But they have really taken on this fight, willingly, and have made great sacrifices, and we're trying to help them every step of the way. 

            Q: One question on Syria, may I ask you? 

            MR. LITTLE: Please. 

            Q: Okay. Do you have any comment... 

            MR. LITTLE: No. 

            Q: Do you have any comment on the Times story that Saudi Arabia is providing weapons to the Syrian rebels through Croatia? Do you think this is the right way to deal with the Syrian crisis? And do you have -- does the Pentagon have any concerns that these weapons will end up in the -- in the hands of terrorist groups, for example? 

            MR. LITTLE: I can't speak to the reported policies of other countries. I would refer you to the government of Saudi Arabia. Our policy remains of providing non-lethal assistance to the opposition, and that's a policy that we continue to support here at the Pentagon. 

            The overall narrative remains the same. And this is a narrative of the Syrian people. This is not our narrative. Bashar Assad needs to go. He is recklessly violent. He has brought great brutality to his own people. He needs to step down. 

            And the future of the Syrian people needs to be defined by the Syrian people. And that's what we're working toward. You know all of the steps that the United States government writ large is taking with respect to Syria, engaging with the opposition, providing humanitarian assistance, and other steps that we're trying to take to help the Syrian people. But at this time, we remain committed to a policy of non-lethal assistance. 

            Q: Now that the floor debate on Senator Hagel has been ended and the schedule calls for a vote later this afternoon, what are the plans here at the Pentagon for his first days in office? And what is your goal in terms of making it -- him fully in charge and able to deal with Congress after this bruising confirmation fight? 

            MR. LITTLE: The steps post-confirmation, which the secretary hopes happens soon, as early as this afternoon, are still to be announced. We certainly don't want to say anything in advance of prospective confirmation. But if confirmed, let me say that Senator Hagel has signaled his very strong commitment right away to get down to business, to get deeply invested in the work of the Pentagon and its military and civilian workers. 

            He has spent a great deal of time, over several weeks, getting briefed up on the work ahead, and I think I can probably prematurely speak for him to some extent in saying that he's looking forward to leading the men and women of this department, if confirmed. 

            His goal is to look to the future. And Secretary Panetta believes that he will be an outstanding successor. 

            Q: Do you feel that he is bruised by the confirmation fight? Can he still be effective with Congress? 

            MR. LITTLE: Absolutely. I think Senator Hagel is someone who has spent much of his life in the halls of the United States Congress. He understands the importance of healthy debate, including during confirmation process. And I think he is going to come in with the philosophy that he's going to be a team player inside this building, and that will extend to the United States Congress. 

            He needs to build a team -- and he recognizes it -- to support the men and women of the U.S. military and our civilian employees. There is too much work to be done, too many priorities on the table, too many issues to be addressed, too many threats looming for our national security to get bogged down in the recent past. He is going to look to the future, and I think that is absolutely the right orientation. 

            Q: Can I just add one very quick one on sequestration? You have talked about the concerns about this will lead to problems in readiness for the U.S. military. So if -- if you know that, clearly you have some sense of what the threat analysis is out there. Have you any indication, worries, concerns? Do you have any sense that countries -- well, countries like Iran and North Korea, we know NATO's concerned. What do countries like Iran and North Korea and other countries perhaps not so friendly to the United States -- what message should they take from sequestration from the impact on the U.S. military? Do you worry about mischief-making during this period by some of those countries? 

            MR. LITTLE: Well, it probably won't surprise you that I'm not on speed-dial for anyone in the government of Iran or North Korea, so I don't know precisely what they're thinking. I do know what our allies and partners are saying about sequestration, and they're worried about it. And I don't blame them. We're worried about it, too. 

            I'm not going to get into an analysis right now of the threat scenarios across the globe, but I think we've been very clear that if sequestration takes effect, it will impact our readiness, and we will have to absorb more risk in our security. And we believe that at a certain point -- I can't define precisely when -- at a certain point, that becomes intolerable risk for us. I think that's fairly obvious, and we've been clear about the devastating consequences of sequestration. 

            As I told you yesterday, the allies that we met with last week in Brussels did raise this issue, and this should not have to be an issue that we're discussing with our allies and partners. This is something that we should be able to fix on our own. We are the world's leading military power. And people look to this country for leadership. And we are not exercising leadership right now in this city. And that is deeply problematic. 

            The secretary on Friday called this political dysfunction, and that's precisely how we view it. We need to get beyond it. We need to move past sequestration and avoid the consequences that we know will take effect starting March 1. 

            Q: Can you offer any update with regards to negotiations that have been going on since Sunday's announcement by President Karzai? 

            MR. LITTLE: Thank you. The joint commission is being stood up. There will be a joint commission of ISAF and Afghan officials who will look into the Afghan government's concerns about Wardak province. And there are consultations underway in Kabul right now. 

            I don't have at this stage the precise make-up of the commission or what it will find, of course. They need to meet. But we look forward to consulting with our Afghan partners, as we do on a daily basis on other matters. 

            Q: Is secretary -- has Secretary Panetta reached out to the minister in Afghanistan or to President Karzai or anyone about this issue? 

            MR. LITTLE: Secretary Panetta has not. This is being worked by General Dunford and others in Kabul. 

            Q: And so the -- and the commission, I know you said you don't know the composition of it, but are they -- they're specifically looking at the allegations by some in Wardak about torture and murder. Or are they looking at a larger issue of special -- U.S. special operations in Afghanistan? 

            MR. LITTLE: I would expect them to look at least to that narrow set of issues, and we take those concerns seriously, and we will obviously work with the Afghans. I don't know if the commission will broaden their parameters of the review or not. That's something that I think we need to wait and see. 

            Q: And what is Secretary Panetta up to while he awaits retirement? 

            MR. LITTLE: Secretary Panetta continues to work from California. And as I said yesterday, he's watching action in the United States Senate closely. 

            Q: Is he doing like VTCs? Or is he calling any of his -- anything... 

            MR. LITTLE: He's getting regular updates from his staff on everything from intelligence to military operations. He still very firmly remains in the seat and will do so until Senator Hagel, if confirmed, is sworn in.

            Q: Can I just go back to the joint commission? 

            MR. LITTLE: Okay. 

            Q: You said it's being set up now, so they have not met officially, but this is -- the two weeks, and the government moves at the speed it does everywhere, so what -- I mean, is there any sense of timing you can give us? 

            MR. LITTLE: I think that ISAF is in the best position to talk to the specifics of timing and the composition of the joint commission, so I would refer you to them, respectively, but we'll obviously monitor here what the joint commission discusses. 

            Q: To stay with Joan's question for a second, is it a U.S. goal to keep special operations forces in Wardak? 

            MR. LITTLE: I don't have the precise answer there. I would really wait until the joint commission concludes its work. 

            Q: But... 

            MR. LITTLE: Special operations in Afghanistan have been very important over the years, and we'll let the joint commission do its work to address these particular concerns. 

            Q: When the -- Karzai's directive was to cease operations and then to move out in two weeks, so does ISAF intend to comply with at least the first part of ceasing operations? And then what -- I mean, how... 

            MR. LITTLE: I think we have to let the process work in Kabul, and that process hasn't begun in earnest yet, so we are working with the Afghans and consulting with them to understand the specific concerns and then to arrive at a way ahead. 

            Q: I mean, have operations ceased? 

            MR. LITTLE: I think ISAF is in the best position to address that specific question. 

            MR. LITTLE: Okay. All right. Yes, sir? 

            Q: Could you give an update on the grounding of the F- 35s, if there's any investigation, any progress expected this week? 

            MR. LITTLE: I don't have a precise timeline. On Friday, we announced that the F-35 fleet has been grounded because a defect in one plane was found in one of the engine blades. What we're doing right now is the prudent and logical thing, and that is to see if this is a limited defect in one plane on one engine or if this is a design error or flaw that may affect other aircraft in the fleet. That's what we're examining right now, and we remain fully committed to fixing this problem and to the F-35 program. It's important to our own capabilities in the United States, and it's important, you know, to our allies and partners who are part of the F-35 program. But we're committed to addressing this problem as quickly as possible, and once we have something to report, I will. 

            Q: Appearing in the House Appropriations Committee (off mic) there was equal concern about the CR -- in fact, Chairman Young said he's working with leadership both to try to get the defense appropriations and the MILCON appropriations bill added to the CR so that before they -- rather than just extend existing CR, they'll put in those two appropriations. That would solve part of the problem. I mean, what would be the department's view on stopping the CR, if not the sequestration? 

            MR. LITTLE: We want to solve both. We want to get past sequester, and we want to remove the uncertainty that accrues from continuing resolutions. This is a ridiculous way to run a budget show in Washington. And we've been shouting that from the rooftops for a very long time. 

            I have to say that there are some professional observers out there who think that we're crying wolf, as I said in my opening statement. And we've done the detailed analysis. We've done the line-item analysis. We know what our budget is. It's tied to a strategy. And I hear people making abstract comments out there about, well, the Pentagon surely can cut more, because it's got a huge budget. 

            Well, I don't hear a comprehensive proposal from many people out there. So a CR plus sequester equals devastating, equals uncertainty, equals effects on military readiness, and we need to get beyond it. If you sense a little bit of frustration from me and from others in the Pentagon, you're sensing correctly. This is stupid. 

            Q: George, as you mentioned, you've been shouting this from the rooftops (off-mic) this building's solution to the crisis is on the Hill, I mean, with the White House. Why do you think the department's message hasn't been getting through or at least not being acted upon? 

            MR. LITTLE: I think we've been very clear. I think that we have been extremely specific about what the consequences of sequestration will be for the Department of Defense. Look, I think that we have a lot of dysfunction in this town. And I think the secretary's been clear in his comments that it used to be that governing was good politics. For whatever reason, that doesn't seem to be the case in some quarters these days. But I think everyone understands what we're looking at here, not just with the defense side of the budget, but with the discretionary side of the budget. It's not a DOD-only problem. So I don't really have a good answer for you. I think others are probably more appropriately placed to address the specifics. But we're in a tough spot right now, and we just need to move beyond it. 

            Q: Thanks, George. Lieutenant General Barbero, the head of JIEDDO, said in a statement recently that the Pakistani-based fertilizer group, the Fatima group, has suspended some of its calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer sales to some of the border regions in Afghanistan. You may be aware that their fertilizer is responsible for about 80 percent of the IEDs that kill and wound U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 

            So this is a positive development, but, you know, this is like 10 years in, 11 years in. Why has it taken so long for the U.S. government to pressure them to make just the slightest change? I mean, they haven't changed the formula, which they could do, to make it less deadly. Now they're finally doing this little piece of stopping sales in some -- is this a failure of diplomacy? And why hasn't the Pentagon and the State Department together done more to stop this fertilizer group? 

            MR. LITTLE: Well, I don't have any comment on the specifics here. I would need to learn more about this particular story that you're describing. We are very concerned about the movement of bad materials across the border into Afghanistan from Pakistan. As we all know, it's a rather porous border. Steps have been taken on both sides of the border over time to try to clamp down on the facilitation of this kind of materiel across the border in Afghanistan, where it could be used for IEDs and other things. 

            This is something we've communicated on a regular basis to the government of -- of Pakistan. We have certainly signaled our concern to the government of Afghanistan. They're taking steps, as well. So don't have any comment on the specifics, but on a broader set of questions, this is something we need to continue to monitor. 

            Q: Can the sequester affect the American help to Mali? And also, do you have any comment about the hostage situation in Cameroon involving those French kids and the video posted on YouTube about this hostage situation? 

            MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to speculate on the impact of our support to Mali. There is no impact -- except that there's no impact at this stage to our support. We remain committed to entertaining French requests for additional support if they come through. We believe the French have done an effective job of conducting operations. The secretary had a very good discussion with Minister Le Drian last Friday in Brussels, and we expressed our continuing support for the French mission and the mission of African countries who've also contributed to the effort in Mali. 

            We -- again, intelligence and information-sharing, refueling -- I'm not aware of any recent airlift movements, but we continue to certainly support the French and will entertain future requests. 

            Q: Can I go back to Spence's question about -- about Wardak and special ops? He specifically asked you if the U.S. goal is to maintain a special operations force in Wardak. Is that the goal? Do you -- I mean, this building, does the U.S. military in Afghanistan hope to be able to keep U.S. special operations forces in Wardak? 

            MR. LITTLE: Well, the mix of where our forces are and aren't is really made at the -- I mean, that's a decision that's made at the Kabul level at ISAF. I'm not going to speculate from here as to where our forces should and shouldn't be. That's really a question for ISAF to address. 

            Q: I guess it's just amazing to me that... 

            MR. LITTLE: Special operations forces have obviously played a very important role over the years. I'm not going to comment on their footprint in a particular province in... 

            Q: But it's a very strategic province. 

            MR. LITTLE: ... Afghanistan... 

            MR. LITTLE: There are a lot of strategic provinces in Afghanistan. 

            MR. LITTLE: And they've played a very effective role in Wardak and other places. What they do in the future I'm not going to comment on. 

            Q: But it's just amazing to me that the building wouldn't want to support maintaining special operations forces in Wardak, why that's not something that would be an easy "yes," you want to keep them there. 

            MR. LITTLE: Well, I'm not saying that we don't want to maintain a special operations presence in Wardak. I'm simply saying that I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of this process. 

            Over time, as we draw down, remember, in Afghanistan, at the end of 2014 and then beyond 2014, there will be areas, I'm sure, where we have special operations forces today where we don't in the future. And what will you say then Courtney, at that stage, that we're not committed to special operations? 

            Q: ... part of the drawdown that the president already announced in his State of the Union. 

            MR. LITTLE: So... 

            Q: But this is specific to -- to... 

            MR. LITTLE: To Wardak. 

            Q: To Wardak and to add to these allegations. And the allegations and the investigation and everything aside, I guess it's just surprising to me that the Pentagon wouldn't say, "Of course we want to maintain our forces there as long as we can." 

            MR. LITTLE: Well, again, I mean, our special operations forces are not necessarily tied to any particular region at a given point in time. Our special operations forces, working with the Afghans, connect operations throughout the country where they're needed, and that's a command-level decision. I'm simply not going to get out ahead of the process of consultation with the Afghan government and to the precise footprint where we are with our special operations forces. We typically don't comment on where our forces are or aren't, specifically. 

            Q: So it's possible they could just be based someplace else and still conduct operations in Wardak? 

            MR. LITTLE: There are a lot of possibilities, yeah. 

            Q: You were talking earlier that you were frustrated with the -- some of the critics who say, you know, that you're crying wolf, that you guys could absorb these sequestration cuts, and that they would take us just back to, like, 2006, 2007 levels. Can you just sort of address that and explain, you know, why you don't see it that way? You know, some of the critics that just say, hey, these -- these -- the Defense Department can absorb these cuts. It, you know, after 10 years of war is taking us back to levels that we've operated before. So why doesn't that argument... 

            MR. LITTLE: It's easy to say that we should go back to 2006 levels or to 2002 levels or to 1992 levels. That's a math exercise. What we've done is a strategic exercise. We have put the strategy in front of how we tailor savings over the next 10 years. And that's the difference. 

            So this is not just about trying to aim toward a particular number. It's about trying to define what the priorities are going to be going forward for this department in light of the threats and challenges that we face and in light of the investments that we need to make in the future, as well. 

            So that, I think, is the difference. And we are the ones who have done the hard work in looking across the entire Department of Defense budget. I see a lot of people out there saying, oh, you can cut this program, you can get savings from -- by combining medical task forces, okay, that's an interesting idea, but I don't think anyone has looked comprehensively, as we have, at the entire budget and put forward a real proposal, based on a strategy. We have done the rational thing. 

            Q: Can you see how, like, sort of the average person would say, well, we're -- we're ending two large-scale ground wars. You know, we've been at war for 10 years, and we're -- that's over. Can you see how some people would say that we don't need to be operating at that same level that we were? 

            MR. LITTLE: Well... 

            Q: Or is it too simplified? 

            MR. LITTLE: It's a very reasonable question. I would say that we don't have the benefit of standing down in light of the threats that we face in the future. We've made the mistakes that we're potentially going to make in the past. And you've heard the secretary and the chairman and others talk about those mistakes after past wars where we thought we had a so-called peace dividend. 

            Right now, we still have threats from North Korea and from Iran, terrorists and from cyber actors around the world. So it's not like we're going from a large-threat environment to a no-threat environment. We have new and sustained and evolving threats that we need to address. And I think that's an important distinction. 

            You have to remember that when you're looking at this department, we're talking about 3 million people. One out of 100 Americans works for this department. Let's just make it local for a second. Another 4 or so million people work in the defense industrial base. We have roughly 300 million people in this country. So if I'm doing my math correctly, that means that over two percent of the American population -- American population works for this department. 

            If two percent of the population's affected by a disproportionate level of irrational cuts, that is going to have an impact. That's going to have an impact on jobs. It already has. Temp and term employees have been laid off. We're about to furlough 800,000 civilian employees, starting in April, in all likelihood, if sequester takes effect. 

            Eighty-six percent of those civilian jobs are outside of this metropolitan area. These are jobs that go across the country. So we're going to start to see an impact to our workforce, our mission. We're going to see an impact to the economy. And I don't think I need to go on much longer than that. It's a huge problem. 

            Q: So to follow on that, if, you know, Friday passes and there's no sequestration fix, at what point will the department start revising its defense strategy or looking to revise it so that the numbers that you do have to face this year and the impacts on operations and readiness you've heard about, not just the carrier being taken out of the gulf, but, you know, U.S. Navy operations in South America being canceled -- at what point will you recraft strategy so that those impending impacts can fall under some new strategy? 

            MR. LITTLE: I don't know there's an intent at this time to undue our strategy. We hope that sequestration is averted as quickly as possible. Our focus, frankly, if Friday hits, will be on gripping this $46 billion that we have to slash between March 1and September 30. That's a big dollar figure. 

            So we're, frankly, going to do the wrong thing, not because we want to do it, but because we're forced to do it, because we can't have a strategic approach to cutting that $46 billion in this amount of time. The time window has been crunched. Nearly $50 billion is a tough dollar figure. That's 10 percent -- or slightly shy of 10 percent of our base budget. 

            Q: But since what you're talking about is, you know, the difference between picking a number and implementing a strategy, if you don't have the resources necessary for that strategy, when you expect that over the course of the coming months there will be a review in the Defense Department, in the White House of what U.S. defense strategy can now be? 

            MR. LITTLE: Look, we're not deviating from our defense strategy at the moment. We believe it's the right thing for this country, not just for the Defense Department, but to meet the mission needs and the national security needs of this country. And we're not stepping away from that strategy. 

            And if it comes to a point in time where we have to re-look at and absorb some more risk, well, maybe we'll have to, but I'm not ready to sign up to it. 

            Final question or two or none? Yes, sir. 

            Q: (off-mic) one of my colleagues asked this question. If... 

            MR. LITTLE: I'll let you know. 

            Q: If the sequester takes effect, do you think you do not have a serious impact on the operations of the U.S. (inaudible) South Korea and Japan, especially? 

            MR. LITTLE: I don't know specifically what the impacts are in South Korea or Japan. I would refer you to USFJ and USFK for specifics. But we do expect certain impacts overall across the force globally. And that's something that we think is untenable. We don't like it. But we may have to live with it in the coming days. 

            Thanks, everyone.

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