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

Presenter: Director for Operations Lt. Gen. Carter Ham and Director for Strategic Plans and Policy Lt. Gen. John Sattler December 07, 2007

DoD Press Briefing with Lt. Gen. Ham and Lt. Gen. Sattler from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Everybody's smiling. Well, welcome to our briefing this morning, and it's really my privilege to introduce two individuals. This is really special. I don't -- I can't recall the last time when we've had both the director for Operations and the director of Strategic Plans and Policy at the same podium. These two men collectively --

GEN. : Historic briefing.

MR. WHITMAN: It is a historic briefing, isn't it? Collectively, though, they really are quite the brain trust of the Joint Staff, and it's a real pleasure to be able to have both of them here today.

They do have things that they have to get off to, though, so I am not going to waste anymore time other than to say this is Lieutenant General Carter Ham, director for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff, and Lieutenant General John Sattler, director of Strategic Plans and Policy, J-5, Joint Staff.

Gentlemen, thank you for taking some time to be with us.

GEN. SATTLER: Thank you, Bryan. Appreciate it.

GEN. HAM: Thank you very much. Thank you.

GEN. SATTLER: He has notes.

GEN. HAM: Good morning. I will note that I was a little taken aback as Mr. Whitman introduced us as the brain trust of the Joint Staff. There are probably those who will question that and worry somewhat about the Joint Staff in that regard.

I'd like to first acknowledge the extraordinary accomplishments by sailors, soldiers, Marines and air men in providing much needed humanitarian assistance to the people of Bangladesh. Last week at Kansas State University, Secretary Gates talked about, quote, "soft" -- S-O- F-T -- unquote, power, and we've seen recently in Bangladesh what that can look like -- with military forces ably led by Rear Admiral Carol Pottenger and Marine Corps Brigadier General Ron Bailey; as U.S. forces complemented the efforts of the embassy, USAID and numerous nongovernmental organizations, as together this great team provided assistance in response to the government of Bangladesh's requirements.

U.S. military relief operations have concluded, and ships, aircraft and personnel are now moving to other missions.

You all are well aware of Secretary Gates' recent trip to Iraq, so I'd just add one comment about that. The first of the five brigade combat teams to return home without being replaced, as announced by the president in September, has now departed Iraq, and most of that brigade is now back home at Fort Hood, Texas. Commanders in Iraq have adjusted the force posture and will continue to do so, making continual assessments before the next redeployments.

And finally, while there's been some recent -- and indeed, most welcome -- reporting about the decline in casualties, all of us here in the Pentagon, in the Joint Staff are ever mindful of the great sacrifices of our service members and their families.

So with that, General Sattler.

GEN. SATTLER: Thanks, General Ham.

I would just like to -- I'm not going to make any brief comments or opening statements concerning policy and strategy, but I would like to make it clear on the front side that the two of us, we start every day together. We -- I mean, first thing, we arrive in the morning, we talk, and we close out every day cross-leveling at the end of the day.

So to have the two of us here is really the transparency that exists between the director for Ops and the director for the Strategy and Plans. So I'm really honored to be up today to stand next to who is truly one of my personal heroes, Lieutenant General Carter Ham. And we look forward to your questions.

And I believe, Mr. Burns, we start with you, sir.

Q Thank you. A question about Iraq. We're told that al Qaeda has to some degree reasserted itself in the north part of the country, having been squeezed out of central Iraq and western Iraq. Is this an indication that they're taking their last stand, making their last stand in Iraq? Or is this another case of them being squeezed out of one area, reappearing in another, only to be squeezed out and show up somewhere else? Is it a continuation of that pattern, or in fact are they making a last stand?

GEN. HAM: I don't think, Bob, that anybody would take the point yet to say this is a last stand, but very clearly there are places in Iraq, in Anbar and in Baghdad, which are increasingly inhospitable to al Qaeda in Iraq. And so it's clear to us that they are seeking other opportunities, and one of their places that over the past weeks it appears that they are trying to reestablish themselves is in the northern areas of Iraq, particularly along the Tigris River Valley, and specifically in and around Mosul.

Conditions in that area have changed considerably since al Qaeda was last influential in that area, and I think what they are finding is -- are increasingly capable Iraqi security forces, both Iraqi army and Iraqi police.

And though al Qaeda is specifically targeting them this time, it appears, they are finding those forces much more resistant to the influences and to the attacks.

So yes, there is concern and there has been some indication that al Qaeda in Iraq is trying to increase their level of activity in the northern portion of Iraq. We're seeing so far that the Iraqi security forces are handling that pretty well, but certainly too soon to say that it's last stand.

Q But it wouldn't be a case where you might have to readjust, or change the plan for drawing down U.S. forces, to counteract this latest development then.

GEN. HAM: Well, I think, you know, commanders in Iraq are constantly making assessments as to force posture adjustments. It's a very mobile force, both the Iraqi and the coalition forces. And so the commanders -- if more force is needed in one place than another, they'll make that adjustment. We've seen that routinely, especially over the past several months, with additional forces coming into Baghdad, especially Iraqi security forces. So that capability exists, and I'm confident the commanders will make that assessment and make those adjustments.

GEN. SATTLER: And just one quick point to add on: The Iraqis -- three years ago, if you were looking inside the country of Iraq, to fight one of the major battles, we had to go countrywide to find seven Iraq battalions that were qualified and capable that could fight alongside coalition forces. And as General Ham just indicated, today, there's 108 Iraqi army battalions that are either in the lead or on independent operations. And that is a dramatic change over a three- year period. So the clear, hold and build strategy, where years ago, the clear and the hold part, the hold part, had a large coalition flavor to it, now the Iraqis have the capacity and the capability to be an integral part of that hold strategy and, in some cases, lead on the hold strategy.

Q Yeah, just two questions.

One, are we nearing the time when we can see a change in mission, from counterinsurgency strategy towards one that more emphasizes training, overwatch?

And my second question is, if we want to get off 15-month deployments, can we get off 15-month deployments if we get down to 15 brigades. In other words, when the final surge troops go home, is it at that moment that we can begin to get back down to 12-month deployments? Or do you have to see a drawdown go further before that can happen?

GEN. HAM: I'll give you an operational perspective first. The effort -- the emphasis on counterinsurgency will continue but the emphasis will change a little bit.

Rather than U.S. and other coalition forces being in the lead or providing security, it is increasingly the Iraqi security forces who are providing that security, and so we then are over time shifting our emphasis from being the security to being the force that is enabling the Iraqis to provide the security. So there is a shift, as John said, on getting more coalition forces involved in training and development of Iraqi security forces, and we're seeing that pay off with their increased capability.

With regard to deployment lengths and time back at home, the Joint Chiefs of Staff address these matters on a pretty routine matter -- on a pretty routine basis and have those discussions with the chairman, with the secretary and lastly, with the president. It is -- as we look towards the summer -- late summer of '08, we think that it might be possible at that point that the -- that Army forces will start to get back to 12-month deployment. That's what the Army is considering right now to see if that might be possible.

So no decisions yet. It is clear that chief of staff Army, the secretary of Defense, the secretary of the Army very clearly want to get back to 12-month deployments as soon as they can.

Q But what I'm asking is how the numbers add up on that. I mean, do you -- is that possible, getting your goal -- you know, 12- month dwell -- if you get down to 15 combat brigades in Iraq, or do you need to go -- does the drawdown need to go further than that to make it possible to get back down off 15-month --

GEN. HAM: There is both a science and an art to this. There is a science that says if all -- if all the various conditions apply, that, you know, first in, first out, all -- you know, not moving within the country and a number of other assumptions -- the science would lead you to believe that in late '08 it might be possible to get to that point.

But when you apply the military art and the adjustment that says, well, maybe it doesn't make sense to pull this unit out first, it might make sense to pull another unit out first, the art that's being applied by the commanders on the ground might yield a different result. And that's what the commanders on the ground are assessing because, of course, they have to accomplish the mission, and then the Joint Forces Command, and the force provider, takes that in from the theater commanders and says, okay, how can we best manage that force.

Over all, the goal, certainly. We want to get the Army back to 12-month deployments as quickly as possible, but first priority is to accomplish the mission.

Q But when you were at 15 months -- I'm sorry. When you had 15 brigades, you always had a 12-month tour, so logically, wouldn't it follow that if you got to 15 brigades, you would go back to a 12-month tour?

GEN. HAM: If there are no other changes to requirements, that is -- again, that is -- the science would lead you to believe that.

GEN. SATTLER: And you mentioned the counterinsurgency strategy, it's a time to shift away from. The intimidation, brutality and the murder campaign used by al Qaeda -- intimidation and murder, but no product left thereafter. There are no essential services provided.

There is no alternate plan. There is no governance improvement -- that and the same tactics used by the extremist elements that are irreconcilable at this point. We will have to -- still, as General Petraeus said, we want to find those who are reconcilable and bring them onto the team, but those irreconcilable extremist elements are going to have to be dealt with, which means they're going to have to either be captured, or they're going have to be taken out of the gene pool. And so that part of the counterinsurgency strategy, although the Iraqis are playing a larger part in that, it's critical that we continue to stay on course and speed with the counterinsurgency strategy.


Q I wanted to follow up, but I really wanted to ask a question on Iran. So quick follow up. When you talk about going to 12 months, are you talking all or nothing for the Army? Because of course, it was piecemeal for some time, some 12, some 15. That was just my very quick follow-up.

What I really wanted to ask General Sattler about was Iran and now that you've seen the Iranian NIE, how that assessment is affecting your work on military strategy, planning, risk assessment. Does it have any impact on your thinking about Iran at this point?

GEN. HAM: Quick answer is we would like very much to get all Army units to a 12-month deployment as we possibly can. That might mean that it is phased. There might be some units that deploy for less than 15, but not 12 over time. That's the work that Joint Forces Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and specifically the Army, in this case, are wrestling with now.

GEN. SATTLER: And I was hoping that answer would drag out for 45 minutes. (Laughter.) But the NIE is out there. There's been multiple comments concerning the NIE, both in the press -- and I believe the secretary's going to address it over in Bahrain when he speaks tomorrow.

We obviously -- they're all data points. We take the National Intelligent Estimate on board as we look at the multiple engagements that we have with the country of Iran. There's still a lot of discussion going on, on the ground. The Iranians have said that they will officially not support nefarious activities of movement of weapons and materials into Iraq and the same with Afghanistan. So we are taking the NIE on board, but I really can't go any further than that right now about it.

Q Do you consider Iran -- after this NIE, for the United States military, is Iran less of a threat?

GEN. SATTLER: Once -- yeah, that said, that is a strategy question and policy question, and we are in the process of discussing it. So I could you give you personal opinion, but no, I'm not going to go on the personal opinion side, because I'm up here speaking for the chairman.

So again, we're looking at that, and I'd rather wait and let us sort our way through it than give you a knee-jerk response.

Q (Off mike) -- suggest that public perception about this -- and this is a widely perception -- that the Pentagon was actively planning for military options against Iran, if it came to that, and that this new intelligence estimate has dialed that back a little bit. That's how people are seeing this. From your perspective, inside where you have some knowledge, can you sort of put that in perspective for us? Is that an accurate perception?

GEN. SATTLER: You know, I'm not going to confirm or deny any plan that's going on anywhere around the world on multiple potential contingencies, but I can state that there has been no course correction, slowdown, speed up, given to us inside the Joint Staff based on the NIE. That's invalid, and I'd just leave it right there, James.

Q A quick follow-up, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Just a quick follow-up on Iran. You mentioned the fact that Iran pledged to not send as many weapons in. We're sort of getting a mixed report from Iraq about whether that's actually the case. Do you have a feeling for whether or not they've actually followed through on this?

GEN. HAM: The incidents of frequency of spectacular or signature attacks is down, but it's certainly not zero. So that is -- I mean, that's a positive indicator and we like that, but there certainly are other indicators that weapons, munitions and training are still being provided by Iran. So there is an effort to try to interdict that as best we can and concentrate with the Iraqi security forces, but there is still an ongoing diplomatic effort, which is probably more important than the interdiction effort. So I would say, I think the jury is still out, Jamie, as to whether -- what the flow actually looks like.

GEN. SATTLER: And just one quick verse to follow up on that, we can't tell what may have moved in and was stock-piled, what may have been done before the declaration was made. So as General Ham said, the jury's still out.

Q Just to clarify, can you say what these indicators are that the flow is continuing, because I had heard that -- what General Sattler said, it wasn't really clear, but you say there are indications the flow is continuing. Can you tell say what those are?

GEN. HAM: Well, it -- you know, as caches are discovered increasingly by the Iraqi security forces and munitions, for example, or other materials are found, I mean that's an indication that materials have flown in. The question is: When did that occur?

Did that occur prior to the government of Iran saying they would stop this? That's still -- the intelligence staffs in Iraq are still assessing whether that -- what that means.

Q (Off mike) -- particular concern, with 240-millimeter rockets. Are you seeing more of those coming in? What's your sense of those?

GEN. HAM: That's a valid concern, but I'm not sure -- I wouldn't say we have seen more come in.

Q (Off mike) -- was here this week. (Off mike) -- NIE made missile defense in Europe a harder sell, particularly with the Russians? Or is the fact that the U.S. intelligence assessment now seems to be closer to the Russians -- has that opened up any possibilities for, you know, greater understanding with the Russians on --

GEN. HAM: (Off mike) -- General Sattler.

GEN. SATTLER: Thank you, sir.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a large part of the discussions with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, talked to his counterpart from the Russian Federation -- very candid, very open discussions. Obviously missile defense came up, the need for, how will it be employed, how the transparency would be conveyed on both sides. So the NIE did not come up during those discussions, the parts I was present for.

But as you can imagine, it's two great powers discussing a very sensitive issue and trying to make sure that, where we can, we can be as transparent to one another. And where we can find middle ground, we take that middle ground and we build from it. So without getting into, and I am not the negotiator obviously for strategic missile defense. But the chairman and his counterpart has some, just some superb, very candid discussions over that two-day period.

Q General Ham, can I ask you about Turkey, Southeast Turkey, the situation there. A month ago, that was the hottest subject in that region, whether Turkey would do a massive incursion into Northern Iraq against the PKK. That seems to have dropped off the map. What's the current situation right now? Are we in a lull period because of the weather?

(Cross talk, laughter.)

GEN. HAM: I think that what we've seen transpire is what we've said here, and other leaders have said. The best solution to the issues, the border issues between Turkey and Iraq, are diplomatic rather than military, and those are certainly at work.

We have from a military standpoint continued to offer assistance to our counterparts in Turkey and to the Iraqis as needed to try to stabilize that situation. Those efforts are ongoing. But again, the primary emphasis is diplomatic, and we think that's appropriate.

Q General Sattler, from your professional military experience and the advice you're getting, is there a military solution at all to the PKK problem?

GEN. SATTLER: I -- as General Ham indicated, you need a holistic approach to the PKK problem. This isn't something that just popped up. We've been engaged heavily with both Turkey and Iraq for a long period of time concerning the PKK. I would -- I feel comfortable to state that we have seen some very positive movement forward in that diplomatic arena. Now all diplomacy -- not all diplomacy, but most diplomacy has a military aspect to it, but there are a lot of negotiations, a lot of diplomacy that can be done that'll meet the requirements of all the parties involved.

So I will tell you that there's needs to be that. It needs to be on the -- (word inaudible) -- somewhere, but not pegged on the left- hand side before you get to the -- any military actions that might be considered, might be considered.

Q General Craddock the other day said -- among the briefings to the Turks was U.S. strategy on counterinsurgency in Iraq, how we're doing it over there. Are you seeing any indications that the Turkish military are using some of the counterinsurgency tactics we're using in Iraq to try to win over the population in southeast Turkey?

GEN. SATTLER: We will share best practices -- our best practices and to sift through and (mind ?) those of our allies on counterinsurgency, on combatting terrorism around the world, force protection. So those discussions are in fact taking place. We are not that close to what is actually happening in the country of Turkey to comment whether or not they're utilizing or what they are utilizing inside their own country.

And Carter, I don't know if you want to --

Q General Sattler, I was wondering if you think the provincial level progress in Iraq will lead to more of a defacto federalist state, and in your opinion, if you think it's realistic to see any progress at the national level in 2008 or if the focus needs to be at that more local level?

GEN. SATTLER: I believe what's happening at the provincial level it's a grass-roots movement that is moving up towards the central government, such things as de-Ba'athification and amnesty. We're seeing a lot of, I guess, it's not really called amnesty, but when there were folks that used to -- you know, at least -- maybe not fighting you, but possibly not helping or assisting with you that come over to your side. And right now there's about 70,000 concerned local citizens, where we had none in existence, you know, six, seven, eight, nine months ago. So all that positive movement to get away from al Qaeda, away from the insurgency and become part of -- at least at the provincial level -- that's a very positive step.

But you're absolutely correct -- what we need to do now is match that effort from the top-down; the Council of Representatives passing some of the major legislation that would codify things that are happening out on the ground. So -- but if you're a soldier, sailor, air men or Marine on the ground and you're able to make those kind of inroads down here at the provincial level, that's helping your quality of life, it's stamping down the violence, and it's opening up that opportunity, which you must fill in a counterinsurgency. Those other instruments of national power, the economics, essential services have to come in, and all that is taking place out here in the provincial level. And I believe -- I feel very strongly that the top-down piece will come early part of next year.

Q Yeah, but what if it doesn't, though?

GEN. SATTLER: Well, if it doesn't, I'll get back to you. (Laughs.) I don't have an answer to that.

But the bottom line is, we will be persistent, and the Iraqi government is persistent. The provincial governments are persistent. The provincial reconstruction team -- all that persistence is -- it's working. It's moving in the right direction.

Q I wanted to ask you about the training teams in Iraq, the roughly 6,000 Marines and soldiers now in the training teams. As you draw down the surge forces, do you foresee an increase in the number of those training teams?

GEN. HAM: There may be. We have not received any request for such from the theater yet. The theater commanders are assessing that. But there has been a shift, a little bit of a shift. Early, early on, the majority of the teams were provided -- we call them externally provided, from outside the units that are deployed. Increasingly the commanders deployed are providing their own teams to assist the development of the Iraqi security forces, and that's been a very, very powerful partnership.

The Iraqi army are growing. They're building some new formations, for which we had not envisioned providing transition teams, because we didn't know about that growth, particularly in the Iraqi army. So again the theater commanders are assessing that, and Joint Forces Command is obviously intimately involved in that, should that requirement for transition teams increase.

Q I'm sorry, how -- the actual units, U.S. units in place, are taking these soldiers out of or Marines out of hide and placing them into Iraqi army.

GEN. HAM: It is a shift in focus that, as the Iraqi security forces are increasingly able to perform the security functions, then you can have U.S. and other coalition forces, who had been performing those functions, transition more to a train-and-assist for the Iraqis.

GEN. SATTLER: And just to add on to that, and we've done that in the past, where a battalion would go in; the battalion would build from its internal battalion. They would build and embed a training team, you know, the coaches, the teachers and the mentors. And then you pass that over to the battalion you're going to be working with.

Did I lose 11 tough warriors? Yes, but did I gain the capacity to go ahead and be closely united with? My command philosophy's now over here, working inside the Iraqi battalion I'm partnered with.

So give up 11 and gain 500 is the way we viewed it, and that was a year-and-a-half, two years ago. And as General Ham said, as the shifting of the role to take the fight on is coming somewhat off the back of the coalition forces, now I can afford to put more of those teams, you know, out of my own hide, because I'm not involved in full- fledged combat, not that we were before. But the risk is less now than it even was two years ago obviously.

Q General, I wanted to ask you about China.

You were in the Defense Consultative Talks earlier this week, and there have been reports from the Chinese military that they did give indications in this meeting about why the Kitty Hawk port refusal happened. What did they tell you on that level? Did they indicate that it was due to relations with Taiwan and these military weapons sales to Taiwan?

GEN. SATTLER: And I apologize. I missed the first half of the DCT talks, and I was not there when that portion was discussed. But I do know when I came into the meeting in the afternoon, that there was -- we -- everybody had basically said: Look, whether it was confusion, whether or not it had to do with multiple theories that are floating out there, the point was, it's time to move on. We have bigger things to discuss here.

We were not happy that it happened. The families that came into Hong Kong to link up for Thanksgiving -- their disappointment -- you can't take that away from those families. There's no way you can remunerate them for what they lost there. But -- comma -- whatever discussions were had either there at the NSC or at a higher level, we moved on and actually got to some of the weightier issues that the two countries need to talk our way through.

(Cross talk.)

Q (Off mike) -- move on, but what explanation was given? I mean, we understand the policy is to move on, but there was an explanation given during the meetings, was there not?

GEN. SATTLER: And I -- and as I stated, I was not -- I can honestly state I was not there.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. SATTLER: I -- we moved on when I got into the room, and I never asked anybody in the room. And that's -- I'd be --

Q Well -- (off mike) --

GEN. SATTLER: I'd shoot straight with you. I don't know.

Q Is the U.S. military going to put in another request for a U.S. military visit to Hong Kong? And when are you doing it? Have you done it?

And General Ham, are you aware of what the Chinese might have said? Are either of you aware of what the Chinese might have said?

GEN. HAM: I am not. Pacific Command is continually assessing, you know, where the right places are. Obviously Pacific Command wants to maintain a mil-to-mil relationship with the Chinese, and that's a helpful thing.

And we probably have time for one more. (Cross talk.)

Q Did China provide any kind of assurance that they're going to allow U.S. ships to take harbor, they're going to allow just any planes to land there? And did the Chinese officials specifically say that they're ready to move on, or was it the U.S. that's ready?

GEN. SATTLER: It was ours -- our stance -- first of all, the first part of the question, as General Ham indicated, if Admiral Keating and Pacific Command -- if they want to apply for port visits anywhere throughout his theater of operations, that's his call. We don't drive that from back here. And that'll be on a case-by-case -- the sovereign country of China will either accommodate and accept or whatever -- whatever happens on that is still in the future. So can't predict that.

And what was the second part of the question? Was --

Q Well, so they didn't provide any assurances, then, right, for the --

GEN. SATTLER: No, I -- again, I wasn't there for the discussion. I have not heard that we asked them for assurances or that they provided them. I don't know.

Q Could we just move on briefly on the weighty issues that you talked about, on China, wanting to move on to those issues? One of the ones we heard about was a strategic dialogue, perhaps involving nuclear issues. Can you flesh that out a bit? What's the idea -- what kind of discussions would those be? What would be the topics for discussion? And how receptive were the Chinese?

GEN. SATTLER: Well, when I was there, what we did is, we teed up the discussions to have open dialogue, more transparency in communications on a number of issues, one of which was -- one of the myriad issues was in fact dialogue on nuclear weapons and policy, to make sure that there was no ambiguity between the two countries.

Didn't go much deeper than that, but it was tabled as we look at the next agenda to make sure that that is a more concrete topic that would be discussed, and that's where it was left in these particular defense consultative talks.

Q (Off mike) -- were they open to that idea?

GEN. SATTLER: Oh, they were very open. As a matter of fact, they briefed that portion; they teed it up and they brought it forward, and then we commented. So there was good dialogue about the issue, but we did not get down into any specifics. But I think one of the key points is we all agreed the more transparent, the more we can educate and illuminate each other and the less ambiguity that exists, the better off that both countries will be, and then we tabled it for a future topic.

And I think we out of -- to use an aviation term, air speed and altitude here.

Q When's your next briefing?

GEN. SATTLER: We don't talk that often, so -- (laughter).

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. SATTLER: Well, we -- if --

Q We would like you back.

GEN. SATTLER: -- if this was productive -- we're both -- and both of us have always believed that we need to come up as often as possible when -- especially if you have issues and we have issues we want to discuss. So --

Q (Off mike.) (Laughter.)

GEN. HAM: That's up to Mr. Whitman. Thank you very much.

GEN. SATTLER: (Laughs.) Yeah, we defer. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks a lot.


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