UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


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

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace June 29, 2007

DoD Media Roundtable With Secretary Gates and Gen. Pace in the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

SEC. GATES: Just a brief comment at the outset. Americans are going to begin celebrating the 4th of July this weekend and probably a good part of next week, and I would just ask that they remember that it's our men and women in uniform that have made the freedom that the 4th of July symbolizes possible, both those serving now and the generations that have served before them. And so as people have their celebrations, I hope they'll keep in mind both the active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and our veterans, for the sacrifices they've made.

You're familiar with the adage "Freedom isn't free." And it's these men and women in uniform, for the most part, that pay the price.


Q Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about the IED problem in Iraq. I mean, as you know that yesterday an IED attack killed five soldiers and wounded six or seven others in southern Baghdad, I'm wondering what -- have you just accepted this threat as one that cannot be defeated, or are you -- are either of you pressing for some new, better way to address the problem?

SEC. GATES: We absolutely are not accepting it as a challenge that can't be defeated. I met with General Meigs just this week for a regular update on our efforts. One of the things that we have found that is very helpful in locating these IEDs is establishing personal relationships in the neighborhoods and in the areas, and where the local inhabitants have looked to the coalition for support and for protection.

The result of that is that in Anbar province, I was told that, thanks to help from the locals, they are finding something around 70 percent or so of the IEDs they believe are implanted.

This is significantly higher than in areas that are still being contested or where we don't have a presence and the kind of local support.

I also had this week another update, a regular update on the MRAP vehicles and how fast we can push those into the field, and particularly those with the capability to withstand the EFPs. But clearly they're effective against the regular IEDs. So we're -- in the technologies and in these areas, we're doing everything we possibly can. We're going after the networks. One of the results of the surge of operations that we're seeing is significant discoveries of caches of armaments, of the materials to make IEDs and so on. So I think all of these different things, including continuing to work with technology, are part of a larger effort to deal with these IEDs.

We're beginning to see IEDs in Afghanistan. This is not a problem, I think, that's going to be confined to Iraq, and so we need to keep working on it and find ways to protect our soldiers and Marines.

GEN. PACE: No, I was going to say, it's clearly the weapon of choice for the enemy. It is an asymmetric weapon for sure. We are very precise in our application of combat power. They are random, and they don't care who gets killed. But it is a problem for us, and as the secretary said, we're going after the entire network, from where the enemy usually comes from through the leadership in the network, delivery systems to warehouses where they're made, how they're being implanted, all those kinds of things. And there's been an enormous effort over the last couple years, and that will continue to be a focus of effort for us.


Q So how fast can you get the MRAPs out to the field you saw in your briefing?

SEC. GATES: The companies that have been awarded the contracts are ramping up their production capabilities. It will take a period of time to be able to do that, several months, probably. I am pressing them very hard to see where they can cut the time scale as well as increase their production.

I was initially told that once the vehicles were manufactured, it would take about 30 days to fit them out with all of the communications and other gear that the government puts into them, and then another 30 days to ship them by sea. I basically said that I didn't think that was acceptable.

They are looking at ways to cut that 30 days to fit out. They have already cut it by probably a week, and they're working hard to figure out how they can cut it further. They're under a great deal of pressure from me to do that, and also in terms of how we can help them accelerate the production rate, whether we can help them in terms of the acquisition of specialty steels or axles or whatever might be an obstacle to getting these things produced as quickly as possible.

And the way I have put it to everyone is that you have to look outside the normal bureaucratic way of doing things. And so does industry, because lives are at stake. For every month we delay, scores of young Americans are going to die.

And so I think that's the biggest incentive of all. These manufacturers are patriotic. They're working hard to figure out a way to cut the timelines on this, but I think that a significant flow is probably a few months off. But right now, I want them there fast enough that we're actually flying some of these vehicles to Iraq.

Q And what do you mean by significant flow? Can you put a number on that?

SEC. GATES: In the many hundreds a month.

Q Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about Guantanamo? You have said publicly that you would like to see it closed. There have been reports that there are efforts underway to look at that a bit more seriously.

Can you tell us how seriously you're looking at closing Guantanamo, and whether you've reached any conclusion about whether that's feasible or if you're close to reaching a conclusion?

SEC. GATES: I think that, as I said when the chairman and I appeared before the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I think that the biggest challenge is finding a statutory basis for holding prisoners who should never be released and who may or may not be able to be put on trial. And I think that this is the challenged that faces both the administration and the Congress. The president said he wants to close Guantanamo. Obviously a lot of people on the Hill want to close it. We want to close it as a detainee facility.

But getting past this obstacle, this legal obstacle and finding some way in statute to permit this, whether it's a variety of administrative and appeals processes or whatever that are ultimately satisfactory to the members of the Congress, I would hope that we can work together to try and find that kind of a solution.

Q Do you feel you've made any progress since you came into office and expressed an interest in moving forward in that regard?

SEC. GATES: I think people are working harder on the problem.

Q Follow-up? Okay, same subject, if I may. You said it may not be possible to try some of these people. Why wouldn't it be, if they've done these things that you say they have?

SEC. GATES; It may depend on the nature of the information that is against them, if it involves sensitive intelligence sources or something like that.

Q I wanted to ask you about the relationship with Congress right now. You have said, in terms of confirmation hearings, that you wanted to limit the discussion about -- I think what you referred to as past mistakes. But since you have said that now, we have seen significant Republican defections on Capitol Hill, most notably Senator Lugar, from the president's Iraq war strategy.

So I'm wondering a couple of things. How -- with respect -- how successful is your stated strategy of trying to limit the discussion about past mistakes in terms of Iraq? Are you talking to Senator Lugar? Are you talking to Republicans? How are you engaging with them? And just to be clear, when you talk about past mistakes, what's the point on the calendar that the discussion is not about the past? What's the point on the calendar when it's your war and your policy and your strategy as secretary of Defense?

SEC. GATES: Well, to answer the first question, I have not had any discussions on the Hill about this subject recently. I think that in fact Senator -- I read Senator Lugar's -- the full text of his remarks, and it seemed to me that what Senator Lugar was talking about was, in fact, the future. He was not dwelling on things -- decisions that had been made in the past, but rather where he thinks we are now and where he thinks we need to go. I would say that I'm responsible for whatever happens as of the day I was sworn in.

Q I just need to follow up. Two things. Why are you not having conversations on the Hill? And if I could just very briefly follow up on what you said about MRAP, when you said scores of Americans might die every month that MRAP is delayed, have you now seen evidence that convinces you MRAP is an absolutely fail-safe against the largest IEDs, against EFPs? Are you really convinced that the insurgents cannot defeat MRAP?

SEC. GATES: There is no fail-safe. These IEDs, these large IEDs can destroy an Abrams tank. So there is no sure-fire guarantee that anything will provide absolute protection against these. But I think the experience of the Marines in Anbar suggests that the MRAP, and particularly with the V-shaped hull, does provide significantly enhanced protection for the soldiers and Marines inside.

But as I say, there is no magic solution to this, and I think that, you know, this has been an evolving threat and it's been an evolving response.

And we're dealing with, as you've heard us say before, a smart, agile enemy who adjusts his tactics.

It's not clear, for example, that the attack in Iraq yesterday was particularly more -- involved a significantly different kind of IED. It was a more sophisticated attack in terms of the way they planned it. And we're seeing some more of that. And General Petraeus obviously will respond to that.

But I think that we will get -- because the MRAPs provide significantly enhanced or seem to provide a significantly enhanced protection, that's why I want to get as many of them out into the field as possible.

Q Why are you not talking to the Republicans? You said that you had not spoken to anyone on the Hill for some time.

SEC. GATES: Well, I have spoken to people on the Hill, but not about this subject.

Q Not about Iraq?

Q This question is for the chairman, but --

SEC. GATES: (To the general.) Did you want to say anything on the IED --

Q -- but --

SEC. GATES: Sorry.

Q -- but if the secretary could also comment, I appreciate it. As you know, Mr. Chairman, I'm sure, in May a young lieutenant colonel, Paul Yingling, wrote an article in the Armed Forces Journal. It was called "A Failure of Generalship." And he writes, "America's generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq."

Did you read his article? And what do you think about it?

GEN. PACE: Well, first of all, that's exactly what our professional journals are all about. We've got several across our services that allow our folks to express their opinions. It's a professional dialogue. Folks put new ideas out there. Folks take on old ideas. And for lieutenant colonels and colonels and captains and majors to be writing in the professional journals and speaking their opinions and being allowed to do so is very healthy for all of our ability to understand the problem and to fix it.

Second, there have been at least an equal number of articles that have then gone back against him from other lieutenant colonels, saying, you know, "I don't agree with that."

Quite honestly, I don't want to make a comment about either those who are saying he's right or those who are saying, "Wrong," because the dialogue is very important, and we would not want the chairman or anybody in a senior position to somehow be perceived as thwarting or interfering with that kind of a dialogue. It's very, very healthy to have that.

Having said that, I don't agree with him. That won't surprise you. But I'm glad he wrote the opinions he wrote, because from his perception, I'm sure he believes he's right.

So it's up to folks like me to absorb that information, understand that there are some folks out there who think that way, read all the articles that are out there, both for and against, and, through the leadership opportunities we have, dialogue in the field -- brigade commanders get their guys together, battalion commanders get their guys and gals together to sit and have a dialogue about what's going on. It's a very healthy part of our lessons learned process, and we should encourage it, not try to keep it tamped down.

Q Mr. Secretary, could you give us now the latest figures on what's happening with the Iraqi civilian casualties?

And, General Pace, last week you said that violence was not the right metric to chase to measure success or failure, that it was the attitude of the Iraqi people, whether they believe in their country, believe in their future. But why isn't violence what determines the attitude of the Iraqi people? You can't be very positive about the future if you get blown up when you go outside your house.

GEN. PACE: Yeah, fair question. And I've said it more than -- last week, I've said it in my congressional testimony: It is certainly a measure. But if you tell the enemy that what's important to you is the number of bombs that go off, guess what the enemy's going to go do? He's going to set off more bombs. So it's a self- defeating approach to tracking results of what you're doing.

What the -- and I'll say it again, what I said last week -- what's most important is, do the Iraqi people feel better about today than they did about yesterday? And do they think tomorrow's going to better than today? If the answer to those two questions is yes, then we're on the right path. If the answer to those two questions is no, then we're not doing it right, and we need to adjust our processes.

There are many, many metrics out there. We submit a 90-page report to the Congress every 90 days. So there's plenty of metrics out there. I was just trying to make it very specific with regard to if you could only pick one, then I would pick the one that talks about how the Iraqi people believe they are today and how they believe they're going to be tomorrow.

Q And do you have the figures -- the latest figures on what's happening with the Iraqi civilians?

GEN. PACE: I do not have that in my hand.

Q Mr. Secretary?

Q Mr. Secretary, increasingly we're hearing how the enemy in Iraq is described as al Qaeda extremists, with less of an emphasis on militias and sectarian-driven violence. Is this an effort to redefine the mission or redefine what it's going to take for victory?

SEC. GATES: I don't think so.

I think it's a -- to a considerable extent, an outgrowth of the enemy that the forces, for example, fighting in Diyala are actually encountering. Most of what -- most of the combat, and you correct me if I get this wrong, that we're seeing in this surge in operations is against al Qaeda. And they have found -- I think it was in Baqubah -- where al Qaeda had actually become entrenched. And they found operating rooms and courtrooms and jails and so on, so it was pretty well-established. And that's what was going on in Anbar before our successes out there.

So I think that it really is more a reflection of the enemy that we're facing and where we're having -- most of the combat operations are in fact right now against al Qaeda. It is also true, I believe, that it is al Qaeda that has done the most in terms of trying to stoke sectarian violence, from the bombing of the Samarra mosque a year ago February to the second bombing of the mosque just a couple of weeks ago, and to try and provoke exactly the kind of reaction that happened after February of last year. So I think that at least in terms of the combat operations that we're conducting now, the principal enemy that they are facing is in fact al Qaeda.


GEN. PACE: Yes, sir.

Q Mr. Secretary can I follow that up please?


Q Do you have evidence that al Qaeda was directly involved in the second Samarra bombing? All the comments that we've heard so far is that indications marking --

SEC. GATES: I think that it's -- I guess the way I would characterize it is that it seems to me that that's probably an analytical conclusion. I'm not sure whether they have a lot of hard evidence about it.

Q And if I could just follow up, could you help me understand, you and General Pace, what's your definition of success in Iraq, as you see it?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that it certainly hasn't changed since we testified in the spring. It is an Iraq that can govern itself, that can sustain itself and that can defend itself and an Iraq that is an ally in the war on terror.

GEN. PACE: And from a security standpoint, it's a level of security that allows the government to function, to be able to provide services to the people. So does a major city anywhere in the world have crime? Yes. But their police force keeps the crime level below a level at which the people can operate on a daily basis and go about their lives the way they want to. You're not going to eliminate all terrorist acts in Iraq. But security-wise, we can provide enough security so that the government can provide the good governance that's needed so we can move forward with the Iraqi people.

Q Sir, you talked about the production of MRAPs and the changes the industry needs to make, and you talked to a Marine colonel recently who said Detroit is still making Cadillac Escalades when they should be making MRAPs. Can you talk a little bit more about what it is the industry needs to change, perhaps to kind of reposition themselves to produce more to your satisfaction?

SEC. GATES: Well, this is really not so much about industry having to change fundamentally the way they do business, it is simply finding ways to produce more of these vehicles faster. And somebody made a comment in my update last week, one MRAP today is worth 10 times as much of an MRAP two years from now; in other words, the need for them is greatest right now. And so my incentive, my effort is to try and incentivize people, both in this building and outside of this building, to see how fast they can ramp up the production, and I am confident that people are working hard on that and realize what the stakes are.

GEN. PACE: If I could just add, you know, one of the main reasons that we have the world's best military is because we have the world's best industry to back it up. And part of the reasons why you see the up-armored humvee going from one generation to another generation to another generation very quickly is because our industry is busy working on tomorrow's problems today. So as the MRAP comes on-line, there's no doubt in my mind that as that's being produced, that other people in our industry are out looking for the thing that's going to replace the MRAP because it's an evolutionary process.

We have got incredible patriots in our defense industries who are working very hard side by side with us to figure out the solution to these problems.

Q Mr. Secretary, Democratic congressional leaders on the Hill today said they're going to push very hard again starting next month for a troop withdrawal deadline, with the withdrawal beginning later this year, the majority of troops out April 2008. What's your response?

SEC. GATES: The Congress in passing the FY`07 supplemental laid out a path for reporting and when they felt that decisions needed to be made.

That called for a report on July 15th of progress against the benchmarks, and it called for another report, this time by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, in mid-September. It seems to me that the Congress has laid out a sensible timetable and we ought to adhere to it.

Q Mr. Secretary, can you talk about why a company with the 1st Armored Division, 2nd Combat Team in Baumholder, Germany, is deployed to Iraq in November after only nine months of dwell time?

SEC. GATES: I am not aware of any unit at this point -- I have not been asked to approve a unit going over with less than a year dwell time. So if that unit -- I think we looked into this once before.

GEN. PACE: We have. And the system is very precise about this. Any unit that might go over with less than 12 months dwell time will specifically be brought to the secretary's attention, will explain to him why and will explain to him why there's nobody else possible to fill that spot. We have not yet done that. And Alpha One Six has not been brought into this building as a request from anybody outside of it.

Q Well, thank you very much, but U.S. Army Europe is telling us for the record that they are deploying, and I'm hearing that that hasn't been approved yet. We really owe these people an answer whether they're deploying in November or not. How can we resolve this?

SEC. GATES: Maybe somebody will bring it to us for decision.

Q Thank you very much.

Q Mr. Secretary, can you talk a little bit about the F-22 multi-year buy? I understand you certified that?

SEC. GATES: I'm sorry?

Q The F-22 multi-year buy? I understand you certified that?

SEC. GATES: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Okay.


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list