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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita Tuesday, July 5, 2005 2:31 p.m. EDT

DoD News Briefing



            MR. DIRITA:  Good afternoon.  I hope everybody had the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day as appropriate.  It was a long holiday weekend both here and, obviously, for U.S. forces deployed around the world. 


            Just one quick mention that the secretary has had sort of a busy first day back and had the opportunity briefly to meet this morning with the Georgian speaker of the Parliament, Nino Burdjanadze, whom he had met when we were in Georgia, oh, I guess almost two years ago now, or a year and a half ago.  And she was visiting the deputy secretary of Defense and he had the opportunity to visit with her briefly himself. 


            A topic that has been much reported over the weekend involves ongoing operations in Afghanistan.  I must emphasize, and I will, that there's an ongoing operation in Afghanistan.  We have released what we can.  But there are lives at risk, as we speak, in this operation, and I certainly know that you all appreciate, most of you having covered this department for some time, but there are things that we're just not going to be able to discuss until it's appropriate to discuss them.  And as I said, Central Command and Combined Forces Command Afghanistan have put out such information as can be put out, and we're not going to be able to discuss much more beyond that. 


            So with that, I'd be happy to answer a few questions on other topics.  Charlie. 


            (Cross talk.) 


            Q     Larry, just very briefly, CENTCOM has confirmed that two bodies have been found.  And I'm not sure whether they confirmed -- that you-all have rescued one person who had injuries; is one person still missing, or is that part of the release? 


            MR. DIRITA:  It's all in the release, and I would refer you to the release.  And what's not in the release is nothing I'm going to be able to discuss.  And I do know that you understand that.  There is an operation going on.  There are lives at risk.  And I do not intend to do anything to upset that. 


            Q     All right.  And another subject, since I -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Sure. 


            Q     -- struck out on that.  Why the delay on the China military power report?  That keeps getting pushed down.  And in conjunction with that, is there anything new on the negotiations with Israel over its military relationship with China?  And has the moratorium been lifted on defense cooperation with Israel in that space? 


            MR. DIRITA:  I'm not sure that I'd characterize the China report as delayed.  We do owe that report.  It's a report that's been in progress for quite some time as we've tried to make sure that everybody -- it's a Department of Defense report, but it's a report that obviously is going to build on the knowledge of other agencies and departments, so we're trying very hard to make sure that everybody that has a view and that will have to understand that report as well as possible do understand it, and that just takes time.   


            There's no fixed date for release that we have in mind, and I doubt it will be released this week.  But we are trying to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to weigh in on it, to understand it, and that once we release it, we know it will undergo a great deal of scrutiny, so we -- and we think we'll be up to that. 


            Q     While the report just covers military issues, does the release of the report, not necessarily the formation of a -- does the released report include such economic and political issues as the floating of the yuan and stuff like that, or is this strictly -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  This is strictly a report regarding China's military activities.  The secretary discussed it to some degree when he was at the Shangri-La conference in Singapore, and it'll just discuss what's known and what can be discussed publicly about what we understand China's military activities are. 


            Q     And Israel? 


            MR. DIRITA:  As we've discussed before, we do have some long- standing concerns regarding technology transfers.  We are working closely with the Israeli government on this.  There's no -- there are some types of technology and information that we're not comfortable sharing at the moment, but we are working closely with the Israeli government.  There's been no recent developments in this that I'm aware of.  And when we've worked through these things in such -- to such degree that we're able to, we'll announce all that. 


            Q     Has Israel agreed to let the United States peruse -- slash -- go over any agreement with China in advance, any military agreements with China? 


            MR. DIRITA:  I wouldn't want to characterize what Israel's going to do to try and make sure that they're -- that we are comfortable with what -- with their activities.  But as I said, when we're able to conclude such work as needs to be done, we'll do our best to make sure that that's public --- 


            Q     I'm sorry, just one more.  Have they assured the United States that they want to come to an agreement on this, or is there still some kind of barrier on -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  I would say that they've assured the United States that they understand this is a serious concern of the United States, and we're working closely with them. 


            Q     I see.  Thank you. 


            Q     May I take it back to Afghanistan, on a different aspect of that same matter of the air strike?  Can you lay out what you know about the result of that air strike in terms of civilians being killed?  


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, I'm not sure that the Combined Forces Command or the CENTCOM have put out numbers yet.  They have acknowledged some number of civilians that were killed in that strike.  It's an -- obviously, a very unfortunate situation.  It was in the context of counterterrorist operations, and they're investigating it to understand exactly what happened, and to make sure that we can try and avoid these things in the future.  But I don't believe that they've been able to confirm specific numbers yet.  We have not been able to. 


            Q     There have been numbers put out by the -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  There have been numbers.  It's not numbers -- to the best of my knowledge, not numbers that have been put out by CF -- by the Combined Forces Command. 


            Q     Are they valid?  I mean, the 17 -- (inaudible) -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  No, those are the numbers I've seen.  And I just -- I'm not in a position to say whether they're accurate or not.  We are -- we have -- we expect that when they can provide a refined number of their own, they will put it out.  CFC will put it out. 


            Q     But you are acknowledging that there -- a certain number of civilians were killed. 


            MR. DIRITA:  Mmm-hmm.  We have acknowledged that.  CENTCOM has acknowledged it, and they've acknowledged the -- obviously, the great regret that we had that that occurred.  We take great strides to be precise in our military activities.  I think we've been very precise. But these things do occur, and we obviously regret when they do.  And we'll investigate to be able to determine what may have happened and how it can be avoided in the future. 


            Q     Larry? 


            Q     Larry, can I ask about the -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Go ahead, Jamie. 


            Q     -- can I ask about the Navy SEAL who was rescued?  Do you know if he's going to be brought back to the United States or will he stay in Afghanistan? 


            MR. DIRITA:  CENTCOM's release, first of all, does not identify who that individual is, but does acknowledge that there's one individual who's been recovered alive, and he's in Afghanistan.  And what his future disposition is, I just don't know. 


            Q     Will his name ever be made public? 


            MR. DIRITA:  When we are able to announce those things we will, but at the moment we've not made any announcement like that. 


            Q     Is there a policy against identifying members of Special Forces --  


            MR. DIRITA:  I don't have anything more for you, Jamie.   


            Q     Iraq.  Zarqawi's group, al Qaeda in Iraq, is now taking responsibility for the kidnapping of the Egyptian ambassador; several other envoys apparently attacked in Iraq.  What does this now really say to the United States about the security situation in Iraq; the ability of other countries to -- including the U.S. -- to conduct diplomatic relations inside that country; the ability of private business to exist there when this type of thing goes on? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, we've acknowledged that there are ongoing insurgent activities in Iraq.  I think what it says more -- if in fact it's true, which I've heard the reports just as you have, I can't validate them -- but if in fact it is true that al Qaeda has snatched this diplomat, I think it suggests that -- what we know to be the case:  that al Qaeda has targeted those countries that are trying to cooperate in the success of Iraq's emerging democracy.   


            And it's -- it makes it that much clearer, as if we need any further clarification, what kind of an insurgency we're dealing with here.  We're dealing with an insurgency that does not have Iraq's democratic future in mind, it has something much bleaker and much darker.  There are countries that are trying to establish diplomatic presences in Iraq.  That is a measure of some success of the democratic transition in Iraq; and to the extent that al Qaeda is targeting that demonstration of continued transition and success, it tells us that they do not have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart, obviously. 


            Q     Are you trying to encourage these countries to maintain their diplomatic relations inside Iraq or are you understanding of some of them having the desire to pull out, go back to Jordan, perhaps? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, we do not try and speak on behalf of other countries.  Countries will make decisions on their own.  There is a -- there's a lot of economic activity taking place in Iraq, including outside investment.  There's a lot of other countries that are establishing diplomatic presences inside of Iraq.  And each of those entities, whether it's private sector or government, make their own determinations.   


            Q     Have you noticed any increase or decrease in the amount of intelligence cooperation you've gotten from those countries who have had their diplomats kidnapped in the last few days? 


            MR. DIRITA:  I'm not aware of any linkage. 


            Q     Larry, on the two recovered SEALs, was there any evidence that they had been kidnapped or executed, as the Taliban initially claimed? 


            MR. DIRITA:  When we've got more to say, we'll say it.  I really don't have anything for you.  There are people who are right now conducting an operation, and their lives are at risk.  And there's just nothing -- and I think you guys all understand that -- there's nothing we can do to help the situation. 


            Thank you. 


            Q     Larry, today The New York Times reported that the department is coming to a decision to get away from the ability to fight two wars at one time.  Can you enlighten us on what's the process ongoing, and maybe your reaction to that article today? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, first of all -- and far be it from me to defend The New York Times, but I don't think they said we're coming to decision.  I think what the article described, for better or worse, is that we are in the middle of something called the Quadrennial Defense Review.  It's a requirement that the Congress imposed on the Department of Defense to, every four years, analyze the range of activities of the department and make sure that we're arranged in the way that makes the most sense for the current situation.  We did one of these in 2001.  We have learned a lot since then.  In 2001 we made some adjustments to the way we organize, the way that we -- our military strategy, the way that we size our forces, determine how much -- how large our forces need to be, based on the anticipation of the kinds of capabilities that we expect to face in the future and the capabilities that we expect to have.  For example, in the 2001 QDR, one of the things that we highlighted -- and this was pre-9/11 -- was the growing importance of the homeland defense mission.   


            But we have -- obviously, a lot has happened since the last Quadrennial Defense Review.  The senior leadership of this department has established terms of reference for the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review to look at a lot of activities, try and learn from what has happened since the last Quadrennial Defense Review, try and analyze various options, and come to some conclusions about how we're organized.  You're going to be hearing a lot of this because people are going to have sporadic reports coming out of the process; this process involves probably thousands, but certainly hundreds of people at various levels in the department trying to do the analysis that's needed for these kinds of recommendations.   


            It's months away.  The thing is not due till February of next year.  So it would be premature to jump on one aspect of proposals that are being analyzed.  And I wouldn't even say that there have been -- in fact, I think it is accurate to say there haven't been sort of recommendations made and then go off and test the recommendations. What the process is designed to do is set sort of a left and right limit of analysis and then determine somewhere between those boundaries, how do we come out.   


            And I think what the article in today's paper was doing was describing one aspect of one set of discussions in a range of  possibilities.  So it would really be premature to conclude from any work going on right now that we've made any decisions, because these decisions aren't due for -- what is it now, July? -- so February -- six, eight months. 


            Q     Is it fair to say that the two-war strategy -- 


            Q     If no decisions have been made -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Hold on, Charlie.  Let him follow up. 


            Q     If no decisions have been made, is senior leadership heading that direction?  Is that the -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  I wouldn't say so.  I've been in on these meetings. These meetings are -- they're structured, but they are not -- they have no desired outcome.  They raise a number of assumptions and then, on the basis of those assumptions, the assumptions are shared and understood, and then the analysis goes forward. 


            So I think it's -- I certainly would not -- I have not seen anything in those meetings that would suggest that we're pointing to an outcome yet.  It's just too early. 


            Q     But is it fair to say that the two-war strategy is one of the issues being discussed as part of the QDR and that -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, no, because we don't -- the two-war strategy is not how we define it any longer.  We have this 1-4-2-1 idea, which is laid out in the article.  It's -- to that extent, it's -- it captures it well.  


            And what we are doing is saying that's how we felt in basically August/September of '01.  We came up with that construct back then.   


            It's now been four years.  We've had the benefit of all the experience of a global war on terror, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The homeland defense mission has become more refined and better understood.  So let's go back and test how we felt against that.  And that's -- and that is what's going on. 




            Q     On the bombing in Afghanistan, is it your understanding that the civilian deaths occurred inside a building that you all meant to bomb, that they were the families of the fighters that you were going after, or was it a missed target? 


            MR. DIRITA:  I think the early assumption is the first -- in other words, that it was a specified target, and the target may have had friendlies in it.  But that -- that's -- and that -- 


            Q     Friendlies? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Civilians, I should say, not -- thank you for the clarification.  Non-hostiles.  But that needs to be better understood, and as it is better understood, we'll be able to put some more information out, if possible. 


            Q     Larry, in recent weeks there's been some reports in Iraq and Afghanistan about number -- specific numbers of insurgents killed in various operations.  Is this a change in policy, or is it just slipping out from local commanders?  Why the move to some body counts?   


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, we don't have a policy on that, except to try and make sure that people understand that those are very -- over time, not very effective measurements, but now and then, to -- and sometimes because it gives a sense of the scale of the operation, the commanders will acknowledge how many people were rolled up, how many people were captured, how many people were killed.  But it is not a policy to be doing that, and we've talked about this before.  Sometimes we do it to give you just a sense of some way to understand it.  But I think the vice chairman and others have spoken from this podium that it's not -- over time, not a very effective metric.  So – Alan, and then I'll come back to you, Tony. 


            Q     Larry, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups Russia, China and the Central Asian states, today called for the United States to set a timeline for withdrawing its military forces from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.  What's your response to that?  And does the Pentagon see those facilities as long-term facilities it wants to have, or are they directly tied to Iraq and Afghanistan and therefore potentially to be removed after Iraq and Afghanistan? 


            MR. DIRITA:  I hadn't seen the declaration or whatever it was that the group put out.  It's a facility that is -- that the United States government and in fact the coalition have found to be an important -- providing an important capability in the global war on terror.  It's one that we have operated from with the consent and the cooperation of the Uzbek government.  It's a decision the Uzbek government has to make as to whether or not we would continue to operate from that.  It's a -- it has provided for -- in particular in Afghanistan -- some very important support capabilities.  But it's a determination ultimately that the Uzbek government will have to make. 


            Q     But what is the Pentagon's desire?  Would it be to stay for the long haul, or directly related to Iraq and Afghanistan? 


            MR. DIRITA:  We will -- as is always the case, we'll have a range of options, and we'll make do however things develop.  But it happens to be a facility where important operations have been -- there's been a great deal of assistance to important operations.  But you know, we always have a range of options.  And there's no one facility that is, you know, that is so critical that we couldn't manage without it. 


            But it's an operation -- it's an area where we are operating, and NATO itself is gaining a great deal of the benefit from that, because of the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan. 


            Q     I have one QDR question and one North Korea question.  On the QDR:  earlier this year, when the process started, it was described as a potentially -- a rolling QDR, which meant decisions would play into the '07 budget before next February.  Based on all you've gleaned in your attendance at these meetings, is that accurate? Will there be decisions on, like, the F-22 or other platforms fed into the '07 process starting in September or -- August or September? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, I wouldn't want to make it platform specific. But it is, I think, likely that as various conclusions are drawn through the process, that the senior level review group, which the group that kind of is the executive steering committee for the process -- which is the service secretaries and the chiefs and the secretary of Defense, the undersecretaries -- that level of senior leadership may start to develop some sense of conviction about decisions that are starting to come out of some of the analysis.  And if it makes sense to include that as we develop the '07 budget -- and again, I wouldn't stick to platforms per se, but I suppose that's possible. 


            But yeah, I mean, the principle remains, and that is if -- to the extent we can learn and apply that learning to the existing '07 budget development process, we certainly would want to be able to do that.   


            Q     At what point will some of this amorphous paper-pushing in the building actually kind of come together in conclusions and recommendations?  That -- you know, when stories come out, there's something to them, by something hard? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, it's due -- I believe it's February 5th.  I may not be right about that.  But it's -- we haven't set a deadline for ourselves other than to meet the statutory deadline.  But it's -- I wouldn't want to handicap when we'd start to develop, you know, pieces of paper that people could start to react to. 


            Q     All right.  North Korea question.  About two months ago, General -- Admiral Lowell Jacoby, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, alluded to new developments in North Korea's missile capability.  At the time, he said a new assessment was in the works; and that assessment has been provided to Senator Clinton as of a couple weeks ago.  She told me it was classified; she read it, but she couldn't talk about it.  Can you push DIA or this building to declassify that assessment, given that billions of dollars is being spent for a missile defense system to protect against those -- that very program? 


            MR. DIRITA:  You're just asking me to take that aboard and go back and push the DIA? 


            Q     Do you know -- do you have any insight into it, into -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Oh.  It's not our standard procedure to declassify intelligence assessments.  But I'm not aware of the status of this particular assessment, and I'd be happy to take that and try and get back to you. 


            Q     The CIA, about three, four years ago, had a ballistic missile defense assessment going out to 2015.  That's the latest public-record one.  Now you've got -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Was that declassified? 


            Q     Yeah, it was declassified -- it was on their website, Larry.  Can you push this a little bit, declassify whatever it is, so that -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  You know, the situation in North Korea is -- we're in a very sort of obvious diplomatic situation with North Korea.  How we understand the North Korean situation is going to determine in part, you know, how the diplomacy proceeds.  And it seems to me -- I just want to kind of give you a sense of it -- unlikely that we're going to declassify intelligence assessments at this particular time. But I'll take that aboard and I'll be happy to -- 


            Q     On the missile program, though, the issue being can they mate a nuclear warhead with a long-range ballistic missile -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  Right.  I get the question. 


            Q     The public has a right to know that, I think.  


            Q     If you get it declassified, can we all have copies? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Well, apparently people put it up on their websites when they're declassified.  So. 


            Q      Anyway, we'd appreciate it if you can. 


            MR. DIRITA:  Any other thoughts?  Any other questions, concerns? No?  Well, this was a short one.   


            Q     There's nothing you can provide about Afghanistan later today, anytime? 


            MR. DIRITA:  No, you know, there's just not.  And we've been trying to keep people updated as information becomes available that we're comfortable releasing.  But the priority will be to ensure that the lives of those people involved in this mission are not placed at risk.  And that's our priority. 


            Q     Larry, when the disposition of the 4th SEAL is determined one way or the other, will you be able to give us a full accounting of the original operation that the reconnaissance team was involved in, as well as the time line -- 


            MR. DIRITA:  You know, we're always doing operational updates and briefings.  We haven't done one from Afghanistan in a while.  I suppose at some point it would be nice to do that.  But at the moment, we have nothing more to add. 


            Q     Will you be able to tell us if American servicemen in Afghanistan were ever held in captivity in enemy hands in this operation? 


            MR. DIRITA:  Here's what I can tell you know, Barbara:  There's an ongoing operation.  People's lives are at risk.  I don't want to speculate on what I might say in the future; I'm telling you what we're saying now, and I just don't have anything more for you.  And you guys all understand that, I know you do. 


            Thanks a lot, folks. 


            Q     Thank you.


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