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: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell November 14, 2007

DoD News Briefing with Press Secretary Morrell at the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. After yet another lengthy overseas trip, it's good to be home and it's good to be back with you all again here to answer some questions. But before we begin that, please allow me to say a few words about Secretary Gates' schedule.

Any minute now he'll be heading up to the Hill along with Secretary of State Rice and as well as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Hoss Cartwright, to provide the Senate and then the House with an update on operations and intelligence matters. This is a routine briefing conducted behind closed doors, but I can tell you that the secretary will also use this opportunity to bring members up to date on how we have been working closely and cooperatively with the State Department to improve the management of private security contractors in Iraq. In fact, our joint working group is on their way back from Baghdad as we speak after spending the past few days there working through a few remaining issues with personnel from the embassy as well as military commanders.

Secretary Gates will also once again urge members of Congress to pass President Bush's global war on terror supplemental budget request as soon as possible. Without this critical funding, as of yesterday when the president signed the 2008 Defense appropriations bill into law, the Department of Defense has had to move money from base budget accounts so that we can continue to support essential operations such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army is in a particularly precarious situation. Absent extraordinary measures, it would run out of money by mid-February, so quick congressional action is needed as quickly as possible.

And with that, I'll take your questions.


Q Geoff, on Blackwater, can you say what the secretary or his staff have been told about the status about the investigation on the September 16th shootings, and also, can you bring us up to date on the discussions between the State Department and Defense Department about increasing the coordination between the military and the private contractors?

MR. MORRELL: With regards to the first part of your question, Bob, I'm not so sure that there has been any communication with regards to the Blackwater situation to Secretary Gates or his staff. That, as you know, is a matter that does not involve the Department of Defense. Those contractors were working for the State Department, and that is an ongoing criminal investigation. And I know you're referring to a report in the paper today, which suggests that the FBI had come to some sort of judgment on this matter. I'm not aware of that judgment if they've come to it. I don't believe the secretary's aware of it if they've come to it, and I don't think it's necessarily for us to be speaking of.

Q And the second part, about the --

MR. MORRELL: Second part, I can give you an update at least from the process perspective. I've been away, as you know, so I have not been as intimately involved in this as I would normally have been. But as I mentioned, this working group has been in Baghdad. I think they got there last weekend. They are en route back now. I was corresponding with one of their members late last night.

They have continued to work closely throughout this process. As we discussed the last time I was at this podium, they have already agreed to several sort of over-arching reforms so as to better manage private security contractors in Iraq, but there are still differences with regard to tactical operations that need to be ironed out. And as I said, they've been in Iraq over the past few days working on just those kinds of issues. They've been meeting, as I said, with diplomats, with military commanders, and I'm told that they have made considerable progress but that there is not a final deal per se.

Whatever happens from here on out, it has to first, as I talked about before, go to General Petraeus. He has been out of the country. In fact, he's been stateside for the past few days. I think he's due back shortly. And as soon as he gets back, I think it's among his to- do's to look at the work product created by the working group when they were over there, and then he'll consult with the secretary and they'll go from there.

Q So that the working group while they were in Baghdad did not run it by – or discuss it directly with General Petraeus?

MR. MORRELL: They did not, because their schedules didn't work out. They went as he came here, and so they did not have a chance to meet directly. I believe that General Odierno is due to review some of the things that they've proposed this weekend, anticipating that General Petraeus will get to it early next week, and then, hopefully, shortly thereafter will have a conversation with the secretary and we'll have a better sense then how amenable the commanders on the ground are to what has been meted out within the working group.


Q Wasn't one of the main purposes of the trip to meet with Petraeus to discuss this?

MR. MORRELL: I think that was among the purposes of the trip. It just so happens that he had some issues that had to be dealt with here that prevented them from doing so on this particular trip. But if there is a need for General Petraeus to communicate with the working group, I'm sure that arrangements will be made to do that. But I think an ideal planning would have provided an opportunity for them to meet face to face. They have met face to face -- pardon me -- face to face before, as I understand it, on -- at least our DOD team has when they traveled over there earlier, I guess last month. But no, they did not get a chance to on this trip.

Yeah, Kristin?

Q Geoff, can you bring us up to date on the Army aid review with Pakistan and what the emergency rule there has -- how that's affected some of the border operations and the joint operations?

MR. MORRELL: Sure. I don't know that I can tell you much more than I told you yesterday about the status of the aid review. I think the best way to characterize it is that there is an interagency cataloging and discussing of all $9.6 billion in aid that we provide to Pakistan. And that is an ongoing process.

But as I said yesterday and I feel compelled to reiterate, the focus of the administration, focus of this department, certainly, at this point, is not on punishing Pakistan. The focus is on trying to help them get back to law-based democratic constitutional rule as quickly as possible. And we of course, in going about whatever we're doing, do not want to make our citizens any less safe.

General Musharraf -- President Musharraf has been a steadfast ally in the war on terror since 9/11, and we at this point are not stemming the flow of any of our military aid to Pakistan that goes to war on terror operations. That's not to say it's not under review, but the flow of that aid has not stopped, due to the fact that we do not want to do anything to imperil our own citizens or the citizens of Pakistan, for that matter. This is every bit as much a threat to them as it is to us.

And you've heard the secretary on our travels last week express his concern that the more time General Musharraf -- President Musharraf spends trying to enforce the emergency rule, the more resources he devotes to that process, the less are available to go after terrorists in his midst and ours.

So we are very much encouraging of him to get on with taking off his military uniform, holding free and fair elections, and getting back to law-based constitutional rule as quickly as possible.

Q And can you talk about the impact that you've seen along the border? I mean, there have been commanders who have told us in the -- you know, perhaps when you were gone, that there's been an increasing flow of fighters crossing that border. Is that related at all to the focus of that government right now on internal affairs and not with border operations?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I know you asked yesterday -- and I've had a chance to check for you -- on the issue of supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan. That is a very real area of concern for our commanders in Afghanistan because 75 percent of all of our supplies for our troops in Afghanistan flow either through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of all fuel, which comes from Pakistani refineries.

That said, we have seen nothing to date which suggests that those supply routes are being impacted by any of the unrest in Pakistan. Supplies to our troops in Afghanistan continues to flow freely through Pakistan, and for that, we are grateful. But we are not taking it for granted. There are efforts underway right now to figure out contingency supply lines to our troops in Afghanistan if it becomes necessary to alter the way we now support our troops in Afghanistan.

But as I said, right now, even though as we monitor the situation very closely, supply lines remain open. And our aid, whether it comes into the Port of Karachi and then goes by land into Pakistan or whether it comes over Pakistani airspace, continues to flow.

I just do want to point out one thing. Ammunition to our forces in Afghanistan does not go through Pakistan, as I understand it, in any way. So no matter what is happening on the ground in Pakistan, it will not impact us being able to provide ammunition to the troops in Afghanistan.

Q Do you know why that is?

MR. MORRELL: I don't. Sorry, Bob.

Yeah, Tom and then Barbara.

Q Thanks. To follow up on that, you cited the secretary's concern that resources being diverted to the state of emergency are drawn away from the war on terror. Is there concern that any American military assistance is, in this sense, fungible and being drawn to the state of emergency? And if so, has a statement been given to the Pakistani government that that is not allowed?

MR. MORRELL: It's a good question, Tom, and I frankly don't know the answer to it. I would say that the priority of the Pakistani government, and particularly when it comes with regards to the funds that we provide them, should of course be on fighting terrorists in their midst, to better protect their citizens and better protect ours. And we would very much urge them -- require of them that they dedicate our resources to that end. But I don't have a specific answer for you on whether or not we've seen any evidence of that happening.

As you know, in terms of communication with the Pakistani government, there had been a planned trip by the undersecretary of Defense, Eric Edelman, to Pakistan, to Islamabad last week, which was canceled, or postponed, I should say, and I think you've all read in the paper today that the deputy secretary of State, John Negroponte, is headed to Islamabad to have his own talks with President Musharraf. Presumably, if this is an issue, it will be communicated by Ambassador Negroponte on that trip.

I promised Barbara, and I'll come back to you.

Q Well, I want to ask a Pakistan follow up, and then I wanted just ask a question briefly on a completely different topic.

But on Pakistan, when you say that you're now looking at contingencies to replace supply lines, clearly that's something you had not felt the need to do in the past and now, you do feel the need to do it. So I'm curious how this can be perceived as other than a potential vote of no-confidence in Musharraf maintaining control in the country.

But after you answer that, the real question I wanted to ask you about is a different subject: oil prices. As we now see oil prices hovering in the $100-a-barrel mark, I'm wondering what you guys are hearing about how this is impacting the price of operations basically in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It must be raising the cost of doing business for you.

MR. MORRELL: With regard to the first question, the fact that we're looking at contingency supply lines, you believe, is a vote of no-confidence in President Musharraf. I wouldn't characterize it as anything more than it is. In light of the fact that there is unrest, civil unrest, in Pakistan, in light of the fact that there is a state of emergency in Pakistan, we feel it is responsible, given the importance of the Pakistani supply lines to our operations in Afghanistan, to have a contingency plan. And if it becomes necessary to alter our supply lines, we want to make sure we have a backup plan.

But I'm not going to get into whether that reflects ill on President Musharraf. Clearly we do not like the situation that we find ourselves in right now. We wish that elections were being held today, General Musharraf were to take off his military uniform, and we were to get back to democratic rule in Pakistan. But in light of the fact we're not in that situation, we're taking appropriate measures.

Q How soon, and please don't forget the oil question. But how soon could you have a contingency plan in place if you had to -- six weeks, six months?

MR. MORRELL: I don't think it would take six months. I don't know if it would take six weeks. I'm sure it would take as long as we needed to have it take. If we needed to have it done tomorrow, we'd find a way to get it done tomorrow. But I do not know precisely, Barbara, how long it will take to do this. But we are a can-do operation, and they'll figure out a way to get it done if it needs to get done.

With regards to oil prices, the question was, how do rising oil prices impact our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Q Well, I mean, certainly you continue the operations. I'm just wondering, you know, it must make it tough for you to budget. And you know certainly --

MR. MORRELL: Well, we are in budgeting season.

Listen, clearly rising oil prices place an added stress on the system and at a time where we, because of the fact, do not have a global war on terror budget supplemental request funded yet, approved yet by Congress.

We are under even more stress right now from a budgetary perspective, and the secretary will talk in real detail about this today up on the Hill. I'm sorry that it's behind closed doors today, but he will lay out for the Congress some of the draconian measures that will be necessary to take if they do not act very quickly to fund the global war on terror. I'm not going to steal his thunder on this. I think it's best that he first communicate to the Hill. You'll have an opportunity to talk to him about it tomorrow afternoon, but I think you will be left with the impression that we are coming up to a very difficult and perhaps dangerous point if we do not get the Congress to act quickly to fund the global war on terror.

So rising oil prices will only make our efforts more expensive and increase the pressures in trying to make do with what little money we have at this point. I hope that helps the question. I don't have anything beyond that. Sorry, Barbara.


Q I wonder if you could give a clearer sense of what the options -- the alternatives might be to Pakistan in terms of --

MR. MORRELL: I don’t. In terms of alternate contingency plans, supply route?

Q Do you know --

MR. MORRELL: I do not.

Q I mean, do whether you've received any assurances from Kyrgyzstan that you could step up operations there?

MR. MORRELL: You know, I have not probed that with our folks, but that's something I can certainly look into. I would think that neighboring countries would be one possibility, but I don't have specifics for you, Jim.

Q The other thing is on this --

MR. MORRELL: Of course, we hope it doesn't come to this. I mean, right now -- I mentioned contingency plans, but right now we've seen no indication that any of our supply lines are adversely impacted by the unrest in Pakistan.

Q I also wanted to ask you about this question of whether -- how the Iraqi military may be diverted from the counterinsurgency mission by the internal problems. Are you seeing any sign of that in terms of greater activity, cross-border activity in Afghanistan, movement of people?

MR. MORRELL: You're talking about the Iraqi military or the Afghan military?

Q The Afghan military.

MR. MORRELL: Sorry. I was confused.

Are the Afghan military diverted to RC-East, for example, because of --

Q No, no, no. I meant the -- I'm sorry -- the Pakistani military being distracted by the internal problems in Pakistan.

MR. MORRELL: And thus, unable to focus on the war on terror?

Q Whether you're seeing any concrete signs of that, such as more cross-border attacks in the border areas?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, no, I have not. I have not heard of anything of that nature or more activity in the FATA, in the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas, as a result of the unrest. I do think, though, that the secretary's concerns that the more the military spends on enforcing -- spends in time and resources on enforcing the state of emergency it is logical that they have to, therefore, spend less time going after terrorists, who we feel are the real threat both to Pakistan and to us for that matter.

With regards to that, I think some people have mentioned or have asked the question -- it's certainly been raised over there -- are we concerned at all about the state of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal as a result of all this? And I can tell you at this point we have no concerns. We believe that they are under the appropriate control.

Q No, I have more.

MR. MORRELL: Okay. Kristen again.

Q (Laughs.) Amnesty International came out with a report within the last few days saying that detainees handed over to the Afghan government were being tortured, handed over by the U.S. and coalition forces. Is DOD looking into these allegations at all?

MR. MORRELL: First I've heard of it, but we clearly would not condone such behavior. I don't know it to be true, but we would clearly not condone the torture of anybody anywhere. But I do not know that it's something that we are looking into per se.

Q I wonder if you could provide a little more specificity about what military supplies are shipped via Pakistan? You mentioned 40 percent fuel and --

MR. MORRELL: Fuel --

Q -- fuel and not ammo --

MR. MORRELL: I think all of these -- I said 75 percent, I think, really of all dry goods essentially go through Pakistan. Seventy-five percent of our supplies go through Pakistan. As I said, you know, that could be in through the Port of Karachi and then on road up to -- into Afghanistan or it could be to Pakistani air space. The only two things I mentioned in particular were the fact that 40 percent of our fuel comes from refineries in Pakistan, and that ammo does not in any way transport through Pakistan.

Q Is that -- is the ammo the 25 percent that doesn't go through Pakistan?

MR. MORRELL: That would be a lot of ammo. That 25 percent of all our supplies to our troops in Afghanistan would be ammo -- I don't think that's right. Yeah.

Q The alert that went out reminding military personnel about the military ban on waterboarding -- was that in response to any specific event or specific comments by military personnel that made you think you needed it? I mean, most notably, General Honore's comments about waterboarding from last week -- was this a response to those comments?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I think that went through -- I think that was an Army mandate, if I'm not mistaken. But I do not know what precipitated them or prompted them to choose to remind their personnel of the fact that waterboarding is a practice that is forbidden under the Army Field Manual. But I think it is -- I wouldn't read anything into it, but I think it's always worthwhile to remind our men and women in uniform -- and all those who work for us, for that matter -- what the rules are and what they aren't. And the rules forbid such practices throughout the U.S. military.


Q What can you tell us about the recent Turkish strikes into the northern regions of Iraq? Was that --

MR. MORRELL: I'm not so sure there have been recent Turkish strikes into the northern regions of Iraq. I don't think that our --

Q There were reports of airstrikes --

MR. MORRELL: I don't think that our internal reporting, our intelligence, bears that out.

Q So there was no actionable intelligence given?

MR. MORRELL: As far as we know, there were no cross-border operations, as you describe them -- no cross-border operations, no airstrikes, as had been reported.

Q Or any cross-border actions?

MR. MORRELL: Not that I'm aware of. But I -- in particular -- I know what's prompting your question, this notion of helicopter airstrikes into the Kurdish region, and we just do not believe that to be the case.


Q Has the secretary discussed with General Conway yet his ideas about shifting Marine forces from Afghanistan -- from -- out of Iraq to Afghanistan?

MR. MORRELL: You know, I'm pretty good about his schedule, and I've spent an awful lot of time with him over the last week or so.

But I don't know that there would have been an opportunity frankly, Bob, since the last time this came up. We've been on the road so much.

You know, he was with General Conway of course at the Marine Corps Ball on Saturday night, but that was a social function. I doubt they discussed it there. So I do not believe they have had a chance to do so, so I don't know where that stands right now. I know it was an idea that the general, the commandant had expressed to the secretary. In fact, I was in the room as it was expressed. But I don't know that it's gone a whole lot further than that.

Q Has the secretary essentially told General Conway, forget it?

MR. MORRELL: No, I don't think he weighed in in that setting, and I don't know that he has weighed in in another setting on that matter. I don't really know where that stands, beyond the fact that he's raised it as an issue that I think, and I don't want to speak for the Marines. They're perfectly capable of doing it themselves.

But he thinks, given their sort of expeditionary nature and so forth, they would be well suited for the mission in Afghanistan. And they are game to take it on, but I think it involves many moving parts and lots more talks. And I don't know that it's advanced any further than an idea.

Wow, I mean, is this the Kristin and Bob show? (Cross talk.)

All right, Kristin.


MR. MORRELL: Oh, where is Jeff?

Q That's why I'm asking.

MR. MORRELL: Did he actually ask you to ask in his stead?

Q No he didn't, but I turned around and saw that he wasn't here.

MR. MORRELL: Well, that's funny.

Well, you know, this is my first opportunity to talk to you since the end of the month, since the end of October. And we do have updated figures and they're -- and it's good news. It is good news. The last couple of months have been good news, and this is still more good news.

So for the month of October, we had hoped to produce 431 vehicles. We have produced 452. That's 21 more than we had anticipated, which puts us overall, year-to-date, program-to-date, 34 ahead of schedule. So that said, we are also showing some progress with regards to the outfitting of these vehicles down at SPAWAR in Charleston.

The time it takes to equip these vehicles with all the government-furnished equipment -- the radios, the jammers, all that jazz -- has been cut down to 21 days. I think when we started this, it was about 30 days. It's been reduced to 21 days and it is the hope, the belief, the anticipation of the folks down there in South Carolina that this can be cut still more.

In fact, the goal is to cut this down to seven days by mid-December. It's ambitious, but they feel as though they are on course to do that.

We now have a total of 760 MRAPs in theater -- 760. And we believe we are still on target to get to a total of 1,500 by the end of the year. But as you know, the last two months of production are tough ones. I think we are shooting for just over a thousand in November and I think about 1,200 in December. So that is really ramping up production. It's more than doubling what we did this past month. So we've got a lot of work to do, but we feel as though we are on the right track.

Q Have you switched from air to sea?

MR. MORRELL: Haven't switched from air to sea formally, but I will note that we have started to ship some by sea. And this is a test run. We have taken, I think, 40-odd vehicles and shipped them over or are in the process of shipping them over, so that they can test how they tie down these loads. Whatever the things they need to check, they are checking, so that when they do these in large quantities, they don't have any problems.

So -- but the formal turn-on of sealift has not begun yet. Airlift is still the predominant mode of transportation. But I think that -- Kristin, that should happen very shortly, in terms of adding sealift to airlift.

Q Seven-sixty in both Iraq and Afghanistan, or just Iraq? Do you know?

MR. MORRELL: Iraq. Iraq.

Yeah, Joe?

Q Yes. Geoff, after releasing the nine Iranian detainees over the weekend, how could you describe the tensions between Washington and Tehran, first? And do you know if the U.S. military in Iraq still have any Iranians in custody?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I think we made it clear that the Irbil five -- once numbered five, and I think we've released -- (to staff) -- three?

STAFF: (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: -- three of them. Two of them?

STAFF: (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Three of them. We've released --

STAFF: Three.

MR. MORRELL: -- three, three of the Irbil five, I believe, so we're down to the Irbil two.

So we at least have a couple of -- and then we had the gentleman we picked up in Northern Iraq -- not a gentleman, the terrorist, the Qods Force member we picked up in Northern Iraq is still in our custody -- Farhadi, I think. Anyway, so we still have a number of Iranians who have been meddling in Iraq in our custody.

As for how the release has impacted our relationship with Tehran, I don't know that it has. You know, there's been a lot of interest in the fact that we believe that Iranian-related attacks in Iraq have diminished, have been going down. Some would describe it as a substantial reduction in Iranian-related attacks.

I think you heard from the secretary on this issue on our way back from Asia. And he is of the belief that it is too soon to tell if this is as a result of the pledge that the Ahmadinejad government has given to the Maliki government, or the supposed pledge, that they would indeed adhere to his wishes, Maliki's wishes, and stem the flow of Iranian weapons and trainers and forces into Iraq. But while we welcome the fact that there has been a reduction in Iranian-related attacks, and that's everything from EFPs to rocket attacks, we still believe it's too soon to tell if it's a direct result of that.

Q Yeah, just to follow up, yesterday, Admiral William Fallon had an interview with the Financial Times about thinking of any military strike against Iran. Fallon said that talking about any military strikes against Iran is unhelpful, and it could be a strategic mistake. The question is, do you think that Secretary Gates shares the same point of view with William Fallon?

MR. MORRELL: That by talking about potential strikes on Iran it's unhelpful of the situation?

Well, I would just say that you've been around the secretary enough, and clearly it's been a subject of -- really every one of his conversations in Asia last week involved Iran. Certainly they did in China. And the message has been consistent from the secretary throughout, that he believes that diplomacy is the way to solve this process. But diplomacy, he believes, alone will not work. It must be buttressed by economic sanctions.

And so he has made it a point, particularly with the Chinese when he met with them, that they need to step up to the plate and think about imposing economic sanctions on Iran. And he has done this when we were in Europe as well. So he has only spoken of military strikes as a last resort.

I mean, we do not wish to take anything off the table -- that's the president's decision -- but it is -- military strikes are not something that the secretary talks of first and foremost. That is a contingency. That's if Iran were to do something that were not smart. At this point, we are focused on diplomatic and economic sanctions.

Yes, Jim?

Q Would you say that you are looking for opportunities to reduce tension with Iran, particularly in Iraq, in the region, and that perhaps the release of the nine Iranians is part of that effort?

MR. MORRELL: I don't want to -- Jim, I frankly do not want to characterize the reason for the release of the nine, other than the fact -- other than what, I think, General Petraeus has spoken to about it. I think he addressed this. I think it was him; it could have been Admiral Smith. But anyway, it was basically that they were of little value to us anymore. They were no longer a security threat, in our estimation, and they were no longer of intelligence value to us. So we thought there was no longer a point to hold them, so we released them. But I think I'm going to leave it at that in terms of the motivation for doing so.

Let me just take this opportunity, if I can, just to weigh in on one subject which didn't come in -- come up, and that was this story out there with -- regarding the cost of the war. As you all know, the cost of freedom and security is expensive. Our operations in the global war on terror to date have totaled $470 billion. If the Congress, as we wish them to, passes our GWOT request for '08, we will reach up $659 billion. But as steep a number as that is, it is -- as a percentage of our overall economy, Defense spending is -- overall Defense spending is lower than at any other war in the past century.

Of course, the true cost of the war on terror is measured not in dollars but in lives lost and to date, 3,860 men and women in uniform have paid the ultimate price, made the supreme sacrifice to preserve our freedom and our security. And no partisan congressional study is needed to tell their families, friends and fellow troopers the true cost of this war; they know it all too well. And no hyperbolic congressional report can upstage the fact that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are making tremendous progress.

We are in the midst of our longest continuous decline in attacks and security incidents in Iraq since the war began. Of course, there is still much more work to be done, and -- but there is no denying that extraordinary progress has and is being made in both theaters.

With that, I'll say goodbye. Thank you.

Q Thank you.


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list