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Media Availability With Secretary Hagel at U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, Germany



Q: Mr. Secretary, considering the recent violence in Afghanistan, including two insider attacks today, General Dunford has talked about the need for more flexibility in how he withdraws troops in 20 -- as you head into 2016. What do you think about that? Do you think the commanders need additional flexibility in how many troops they keep and how many they pull out, particularly as it relates to counterterrorism and the ability to fight counterterrorism there?

SEC. HAGEL: Mm-hmm. Well, first, I had a long conversation with General Dunford yesterday morning, and got brought up to date on -- on, obviously, the -- the first thing -- what happened with General Greene and our soldiers in our ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] partners being wounded. And I want to express my condolences to General Greene's family. I wrote a note to his wife and family yesterday.

And just to acknowledge -- when you lose anybody, it's tough.

So, second, the episode that happened yesterday in Afghanistan is not going to affect our decision or resolve to continue moving forward on enduring presence post-2014. The president has made decisions on numbers and force structure. We're working through the specifics of -- of the priorities of where that force structure will be focused.

We're working through, as you know, our force generation conferences with our ISAF-specific NATO partners on how many troops they will produce. We always listen to our commanders. We have to listen to our commanders.

I was with the president yesterday afternoon, and we talked about Afghanistan. And he wants -- and always has listened to commanders.

So, we'll continue on the same course that we are on for post-2014 enduring presence.

Q: So, you don't think they need more flexibility?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, you -- commanders always need flexibility. And that's -- that's a tactical question that you listen to your commanders. But as far as the overall decisions on how many forces, and what the objectives will be, and what the partnership responsibilities will be with ISAF partners -- I mean, generally, those -- those decisions have been made, and we're proceeding on that basis.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Next question, Melanie?

Q: The situation in Ukraine is growing more acute. When do the NATO come into action, and how?

SEC. HAGEL: When does the NATO come into action, and how?

Q: Yes. And how, yes.

SEC. HAGEL: Well...

Q: (inaudible)?

SEC. HAGEL: ... NATO and NATO countries have very much been involved in securing the -- the country's Eastern border countries of NATO. As you know, the United States has put rotational forces in the -- the Baltic countries and in Poland. We bolstered a number of our activities, as well as other NATO countries.

We're working with, as I said here today, with the Ukrainians. I spoke to the Ukrainian minister of defense last week. General Breedlove and his -- his team have -- have been in consultation with the military of Ukraine, as other NATO countries have been.

So, NATO countries are engaged and have been engaged, and will continue to be engaged.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Last question, Gopal?

Q: Mr. Secretary, one more question on Ukraine. So, today, the Polish prime minister said he fears a Russian incursion and invasion because of the buildup. Do you share that assessment? Then I have one quick follow-up on that.

SEC. HAGEL: Mm-hmm. Well, there's no question that the Russians continue to build up on the border. They're putting more troops on that border. We're seeing more heavy military equipment be put on that border. There's more training going on by the Russian troops along that border. Those are not good signs. And the longer that Russia perpetuates and instigates this tension, and the possibility of -- of escalating their activity, it's going to get worse. And we have to be prepared for that.

But also, I would say that Russia continues to isolate itself in the world community by their actions. They are dangerous, they're provocative, they're irresponsible. And this -- this needs to stop. And the issues need to be resolved through a peaceful process. We have a new government in Ukraine.

The new president of Ukraine has said that he's willing to listen to the people of Eastern Ukraine. That's the way civilized nations resolve their differences.

Q: But quickly, sir. So, do you -- do you agree with the sense of fear that the Polish prime minister saying, "We're afraid of this potential invasion"?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think it's -- that it's a reality. Of course it is. When you see the buildup of Russian troops and the sophistication of those troops, the training of those troops, the heavy military equipment that's being put along that border, of course it's a reality and it's a threat, and it's a possibility. Absolutely.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay, everybody, thanks very much. I appreciate your time.

SEC. HAGEL: Okay, thank you.

Q: Thank you.