U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
December 19, 2007
DoD News Briefing with Press Secretary Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon
MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to see so many of you here today. I know some of your colleagues have already begun their Christmas breaks. Bob Burns, Andrew Gray.
Q Yeah. (Laughter.)
MR. MORRELL: I really appreciate you all showing up today. It shows your dedication to this important beat, and you'll be happy to know I think it pays off. Not only will you have a chance to question me shortly, but you'll also have the opportunity to meet with Secretary Gates tomorrow afternoon before he takes off for a little vacation time himself. So mark your calendars for midafternoon tomorrow for the final press conference of the year with Secretary Gates, which I think at this point is a solo endeavor.
STAFF: It is.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
But first I'd like to announce that the Department of Defense is spending nearly $2.7 billion to purchase an additional 3,100 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles or, as we call them, MRAPs. These armored trucks, as you know, have been the military's top acquisition priority for months now, and with good reason. They have proven to be true lifesavers for our warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we are now increasing the total number of vehicles we have under contract to just shy of 12,000. Our objective is to build at least 15,374. That is the current joint requirement. But that number could still rise as the Army continues to evaluate its needs.
And with that, we'll take some questions. Lita?
Q I'm sorry. Just on that, the MRAP thing, Geoff, as you know, the Marines had decided to decrease the number that they wanted.
Are you saying with this that there isn't going to be any similar decrease or similar adjustment by the Army?
MR. MORRELL: I think you'd want to the Army about that. But as I understand it right now, the Army is evaluating their needs. And I think what has prompted some of the stories about whether or not the Army will be decreasing their original request was, I think -- emanated out of Baghdad and some comments from General Odierno. Of course, General Odierno has certain needs as MNC-I commander, but there are other aspects of the Army which have additional needs as well. So the Army as a whole is in the process right now of evaluating just how many MRAPs it needs.
That said, at this point we do not believe that the joint requirement, even if those needs are adjusted, would have to be adjusted downward. If anything, at this point the thinking is that the joint requirement may increase. But at this point the requirement is, as it has been for quite some time, at just over 15,000.
Q Geoff, to follow up on that. You had said, if I -- well, it was -- the Department of Defense had said that they expected a December contract of about 6,000 more MRAPs, if I remember Mr. Garamone's story from October timeframe. Is this -- was this a change? Did you decrease the contract buy here as a result of the Marines?
MR. MORRELL: No. Everything has proceeded on schedule. I mean, this is -- as I said, the overall requirement hasn't changed. We continue to grow them at the pace we anticipated growing them. This is just the next buy in our attempt to get the numbers we ultimately want, which right now stand at over 15,000.
Q Can you give us the delivery schedule that you usually have, the update -- (off mike)?
MR. MORRELL: I usually do that at month's end. I do think in light of the fact that I'm not going to see you again before the end of the year, I can sort of tell you where we are right now. And I know of particular interest was our desire to have 1,500 MRAPs, at least, to theater by the end of the year, and in talking to our people, it looks as though we are going to get to that number. Our hope is that on or about December 20th, we will exceed that number. As of the 17th, we had 1,330 in theater. There are en route right now by sea an additional 180, and in the air as we speak are an additional 15, which would bring us up to this 1,525 number which we hope to have in theater by the end of the year. In fact it will be there, at this rate, by December the 20th.
Q Can I follow up on a couple of points here? You said the -- number one, you said --
MR. MORRELL: (Inaudible.)
Q -- it actually may increase. You having said that, what factors would make it increase rather than decrease? And is there a JROC meeting still scheduled to consider a decrease, or are you saying the notion of a decrease in the requirement is now off the books?
MR. MORRELL: No, I'm not saying anything of the sort. I don't know whether there's a JROC meeting pending or scheduled or forthcoming on this subject. What I can tell you is -- well, to the first part of your question, is there a scenario in which the number would increase, I can tell you just this week, for example, that the commanders in Afghanistan are of the mind that perhaps they would like more in Afghanistan than they have originally requested. But that's something that still needs to be evaluated a little further, but I can tell you that their inclination at this point is that we may want to up the number in Afghanistan.
So that's a scenario in which the needs would increase.
I don't know how if that particular -- if the demand in that theater would necessitate increasing the overall numbers that we purchase, but that sort of plays into the issue.
But -- yeah --
Q Have the commanders in Afghanistan made a request, and for how many?
MR. MORRELL: I'm not privy to the actual number. I don't think it's a dramatic increase, but it --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Don't hold me to precise numbers, but we're talking about only something -- I think the original request is in the neighborhood -- about 500. And I think the desire is to go up to over 600 or so. So it's not a dramatic increase, but it is -- there is desire for more.
And is that a formal request? It has been articulated to CENTCOM. It has been articulated to this building. So in that sense, I suppose it's formal. I don't know if there's actual documentation that's associated with it, but it's been articulated to the powers that be.
Q Can I just ask you -- I thought in Afghanistan they did -- they were not really wanting more because of the terrain. And then just my very last point -- when you said you're getting up to the 1,500 in theater, are those 1,500 fully mission-ready; they have all their electronics, they have every -- all their guts inside?
MR. MORRELL: Let me keep track of all of Barbara's questions. The first one was Afghanistan --
MR. MORRELL: -- terrain. Well, I mean, there are limitations, clearly, with regard to MRAPs, these -- and very heavy vehicles in terms of their usage in hilly terrain, such as you have in Afghanistan.
That said, commanders there clearly believe that there is use for these vehicles in numbers even above and beyond what they originally thought were necessary. So despite whatever limitations there might be on the vehicles, they are proving to be extraordinarily valuable, lifesaving, and the commanders in Afghanistan seem to want more of them.
With regards to --
Q The ones -- you said you're going to meet the --
MR. MORRELL: Oh. Are they operational? We will have -- the pledge was to have 1,500. The goal was to have 1,500-plus there by the end of the year. There will be 1,500-plus there by the end of the year.
As for how many are fielded -- i.e., are men and women behind the wheels of these vehicles, and they are on the roads, involved in operations -- that number will probably be short of 1,500, but not much short of it. It takes a little while to put some of the electronics back on the vehicles, because to load all of these on -- some, for example, you may take off -- and I'm speaking off the top of my head here, but the rhino equipment that would deal with perhaps trying to trigger an IED in advance of the vehicle getting to it -- you may want to take that off when you get on the boat, on the ship, so that you could fit more in, and you'd have to reinstall it once you got on the ground. So it takes a couple of days to get everything outfitted to get them into the field.
Are we still on MRAP? Are we going on to somewhere else?
Q Follow-up --
MR. MORRELL: We're moving. Let's go.
Q (Off mike) -- can you shed any light, give us any clarity on the U.S. military support for the Turkish strikes over the weekend? Specifically, when did Turkey notify the U.S. military of the strikes? And secondly, did United States intelligence that's been provided to Turkey provide also the specific targets that were used?
MR. MORRELL: Let me put it this way. We had ample notification of the airstrikes by the Turkish air force over the weekend on PKK positions in northern Iraq. I know there's been some question in some of the reporting as to whether or not we had notification. I can sit here today and tell you emphatically there was indeed notification provided to us prior to the bombing -- bombings; that it was communicated to us through an apparatus that we have set up in Ankara, the Ankara Coordination Center.
This has been open for some months now -- I think it dates back to this summer -- in which you have Turkish military personnel along with U.S. military personnel working to share intelligence. And with that system in place, I believe the actual communication went from the Turkish General Staff to the Ankara Coordination Center. Within the coordination center it was relayed to our folks, and from there it goes to a wider audience within our operation.
So we feel as though we had advance notification of their mission -- missions over the weekend, and I think that stands contrary to some of the reporting that's been out there.
Q So on this target information, did the United States provide the specific targets for the strikes -- (off mike)?
MR. MORRELL: I can't tell you with any certainty whether or not intel, that we have already acknowledged that we share -- as the secretary has spoken about on a number of occasions we are efforting to share with the Turks intelligence with regards to the PKK, a group that we, as they -- as the Iraqis, I should point out, view as terrorists, so it has, we said before, been our stated goal to share intelligence with the Turks about PKK holdouts and operations. But beyond sort of our general desire to share that information with them, I'm not going to get into the specifics as to whether or not intel we shared led to these particular strikes.
Q So you don't have any complaints about Turkish coordination, Turkish-U.S. coordination, or -- (off mike) -- Baghdad aware of the airstrikes?
MR. MORRELL: I don't have any complaints from this podium as to Turkish coordination in --
Q Well, has Baghdad had any complaints?
MR. MORRELL: You'd have to talk to Baghdad.
Q Let me just try it one more time. Have you been told or have you heard that the command in Baghdad has expressed frustration over lack of knowledge? And granted that the coordination cell heard it, might it be that it did not disseminate across the American military at a speed satisfactory to some of the commands?
MR. MORRELL: That's a question, Tom, I think is best asked to Baghdad. I personally have not heard any complaints emanating from Baghdad about notification prior to these missions over the weekend.
I just haven't. I'm sorry.
I think it's worth also noting that, you know, Turkey is a sovereign nation. And it -- we believe, when it comes to the PKK, operating, you know, in self-defense. And so they don't have to seek our permission. We have a cooperative relationship with this old and close ally. We have an even more cooperative relationship post -- I guess it was November the 5th when Prime Minister Erdogan visited with President Bush at the White House in which there was a public pledge to try to increase the amount of intelligence we share, to help them combat this enemy, the PKK. So there is coordination. There is notification, but there's not permission sought and as far as this building is concerned, the coordination that took place was adequate.
Q Geoff, can you give us the --
Q (Off mike) -- today that the -- or AP was running -- saying that the coordination -- they're trying to improve coordination between the Turks and the U.S. in light of this lack of, sort of notification. Is there an improvement process taking place right now?
MR. MORRELL: I think we're at least trying to improve coordination with our allies, but in particular, this is clearly -- this is clearly a relationship that is key right now with regards to the immediate threat the Turks face, and so I think ever since -- not just -- in the wake of the Erdogan visit with the president, you then saw the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Hoss Cartwright, go over to Turkey with General Petraeus, I think it was on November the 20th, meeting with their counterparts within the Turkish military to try to figure out a way in which to sort of implement -- try to design the procedures by which we would coordinate even more effectively than we have in the past. So there is ongoing -- there are ongoing efforts to figure out the best ways to coordinate with the Turks, with the Iraqis, with our military as we all collectively deal with the PKK threat.
Q One follow-up. Don't they -- doesn't Turkey have a higher obligation to coordinate and notify us because they're using U.S.-made F-16s on these strikes? It's our equipment, we sold it to them, there's always strings attached to the arm sales in terms of notification.
MR. MORRELL: Tony, I'm not -- you probably are more aware of the strings attached if there are such strings than I am. But I would tell you this, that I am not aware of any higher obligation that the Turks may have than anybody else who buys our military equipment. All I can tell you is, in this case, we believe as though the coordination, the advance notice was adequate. We are not -- this building is not complaining and it's -- what's done is done.
Q (Off mike) -- Baghdad -- Iraq --
MR. MORRELL: I've answered this questions three times now, Tony. If you want to talk to Baghdad about how they feel about it, talk to Baghdad.
Q Geoff, can you give us an update on what's happening on the ground there today?
MR. MORRELL: Where?
Q At the border.
MR. MORRELL: I have no operational updates for you as to what's happening. I have not heard of anything significant, but I'd refer you to the Turks, I'd refer you to MNF-I. I'm not here to provide you with operational updates.
Q Can I ask on another subject?
Q Just one more thing on Turkey.
MR. MORRELL: Yes?
Q There was a limited land incursion by Turkish forces at some point yesterday for some hours. Any comments on that?
MR. MORRELL: No, I don't. I mean, I think I've stated in general terms the fact that we, as the Turks, as the Iraqis, view the PKK as a terrorist organization, and that the Turks, in light of the threat posed by the PKK, have certain rights in terms of self-defense, and they are choosing to exercise those.
I would, I think, want to also make the point that Secretary Rice made yesterday in Baghdad when she said, you know, that we continue to be concerned, of course, at the potential for the loss of innocent life during these military operations, and about the potential impact it could have on Iraq as a whole in terms of being a destabilizing influence. But like a lot of things in that part of the world, you are weighing and balancing competing or perhaps even conflicting concerns. So while we all have concerns of the terrorist threat posed by the PKK, we also have concerns for the stability of the nation of Iraq. And that is the balancing act that we as a military, we as a government are undertaking right now.
Q On Turkey, Geoff, one more on Turkey?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q You described the advance notification as adequate. Did it come sufficiently in advance of the actual strikes to allow the airspace to be cleared to avoid --
MR. MORRELL: If it came insufficiently in advance of the strikes, it wouldn't be adequate.
Q So there was not a problem in terms of --
MR. MORRELL: I am not here voicing any complaints about the notification we had with regards to the Turkish airstrikes over the weekend.
Q Can I just ask, does that mean you had notification before they crossed into Iraqi airspace?
MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to get into specifics as to when we were told.
Q You stated it's adequate, so we're asking you what that means.
MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to get into specifics about when we were told and what we deem to be sufficient. All I can tell you is that we feel as though we had adequate prior warning about the impending airstrikes.
Anybody else on Turkey?
Q How concerned are you that such airstrikes and incursions could destabilize the region?
MR. MORRELL: I think I just answered that question. We balance and we weigh our competing needs and desires. We understand the need of the Turks to combat this terrorist threat, and we also understand the Iraqis' desire to stabilize their country. And so that is the balancing act. That is the difficult position we and they find themselves in. But we are working our way through it and have no reason to believe at this time that we won't be able to.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q New topic.
MR. MORRELL: Okay, new topic. Let's go.
Q The --
MR. MORRELL: Last one. Okay, come on. You've already asked one. You.
Q Is it true that the EUCOM informed the Kurdish authorities in Northern Iraq about the airstrikes?
MR. MORRELL: Who informed the Kurdish authorities?
Q The U.S. military.
MR. MORRELL: I couldn't tell you. I just don't know from here. I'm sorry.
Q The department has apparently deleted a provision and a directive that would have allowed the DOD general counsel to review the promotion packets of military lawyers. What was the rationale for including this provision in the promotion directive in the first place? And why was it pulled?
MR. MORRELL: I think, and I had a brief conversation with Jim Haynes, our general counsel, about this. He's traveling abroad, and you probably have read a couple of articles in which I'm quoted on it.
I think Jim's desire when he included this new provision in a draft set of instructions, in terms of the promotion of JAGs, was a desire to have greater quality control over who is promoted. I think there have been a couple of examples in the past. One comes to mind in which someone had sort of been promoted, I think, up to the rank of a second star. And it turns out that person had not even passed the bar, or was no longer a member in good standing of the bar.
So I think there was an attempt by Jim to figure out a way in which there could be greater quality control over who is promoted. I think he got some feedback internally, from the military departments in the respective services, that led him to believe that perhaps the tack he was taking was not the best one. And so he has decided to omit that language from the draft instructions that are now being circulated.
I think it falls into the category of, it's an idea. It was an idea. There are good ideas, and there are bad ideas. And he thinks that is an idea that's not worth pushing anymore.
Q Some would say that quality control is simply a euphemism for having political control over that process.
MR. MORRELL: I think it's a moot point though. I think the attempt to put this into the draft instructions is over. He's not going to pursue it, so I don't know what more it warrants being commented on.
Q Could you tell us which service that example came from?
MR. MORRELL: You can Google or Nexis this. I think it was an Air Force general. But you know, I think even the articles today refer to it.
Q Different subject. There was a sense over the last several months, through briefings --
MR. MORRELL: Let me just -- let me go back to one thing on that just -- pardon me for interrupting -- just be very clear about one thing. This was sort of internal legal department issue. At no point did it rise above the -- was this idea floated above the general counsel's office. At no point did it ever come before the secretary or anybody else, as far as I know, within the department, certainly not to the secretary.
Q So the secretary or the administration officials weren't aware of this?
MR. MORRELL: No, were not aware of it.
Q In the last several months there had been a sense that the Iranian influence and shipments of weapons and support to militias in Iraq had been tamped down and slowed, maybe stopped altogether, and then the report yesterday indicated otherwise. Can you square what's going on there?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don't think the report indicated otherwise. I think that we have said -- the secretary has said, I think the chairman has said that we have seen a reduction in what we would call Iranian-related attacks -- i.e., attacks that involve weapons that we believe emanated from Iran, involve techniques that we believe were probably instructed by trainers from Iran. So we believe we've seen a reduction in those kind of attacks, like we've seen a reduction in overall attacks, in all kinds of attacks in Iraq. In particular, EFPs, which are a hallmark of the Iranians and their meddling in Iraq, during the reporting period that just ended, with the 9010, were down to two-thirds of the level seen during the previous six months.
What we have stopped short of saying -- and I think this report makes that clear -- is that we -- that there is any connection in our minds yet between a drop in Iranian-related attacks, attacks using weaponry perhaps provided by them, and any decision by the Iranian government to deliberately stem the flow or honor their pledge to Prime Minister Maliki to be more helpful and less meddlesome in Iraq.
So we have not connected these two things yet. We don't think the intelligence is sufficient to point to a causal effect between a drop in Iranian-related attacks and any change of policy or change of heart by the Iranian government.
Q (Off mike) -- been a drop in attacks but there's been a drop in attacks generally, you're not making a connection between any pledge that they may or may not have --
MR. MORRELL: Correct. Sorry, you said that much more succinctly than I did. Thank you.
Q A follow-up to that. Is there any evidence that there's been a drop in weapons caches that would be used in these kind of Iranian-related attacks?
MR. MORRELL: Has there been -- I'm sorry?
Q Have you found fewer weapons caches that would be used in these kind of Iranian-related attacks? Fewer EFP caches, for example. In Baghdad that was being used as a metric to determine --
MR. MORRELL: I think -- one of the difficult things with caches -- and we continue to find lots of caches -- one of the difficult things about caches is trying to figure out how old they are --
MR. MORRELL: -- whether or not these caches have been stockpiled after Ahmadinejad made his pledge to Prime Minister Maliki or whether or not they've been sitting there in hiding for quite some time and this predates whatever pledge was made. So it's -- those -- we do a lot of intelligence work on those caches to try to date them, to try have a better sense of what's going on. And I don't think, as I said, any of the intelligence thus far has led us to believe definitively that there has been a change in policy by the Iranians.
Q And there's nothing to suggest that there has been a drop in new weapons caches.
MR. MORRELL: I think we continue to find weapons caches. I don't know of any drop in the numbers of weapons caches we are finding. In fact, I think -- and this is a question better addressed to MNF-I, but I think in light of the fact that we are seeing greater -- increased security and greater cooperation among the Iraqi people, we are getting increased numbers of tips and finding more and more caches. So I don't know that there has been a drop in caches, but again, that's a good one for MNF-I.
Q Getting back to my colleague's question, I'm still -- can you say what exactly was proposed regarding the Judge Advocate -- the JAG Corps?
MR. MORRELL: I think what was proposed was -- and I don't want to belabor this -- what was proposed was the general counsel was hoping to have another check and balance in the system such that he -- he or his office would also weigh in on the promotions of JAGs. So that's what he was attempting to do. Now listen, there is civilian control throughout the military. There's civilian control, there's civilian influence in that process as well. I think the P&R office, you know, ultimately does check -- sign off on such promotions. Their role is really, I think, to make sure that people are -- that there are no sort of ethics or moral issues, that there are no outstanding -- no outstanding IG investigations that were not, perhaps, readily apparent to those who are promoting them and so forth.
But I think his desire was to have, in addition to whatever the P&R Department does, have a another check, perhaps in terms of a quality control measure.
Q (Off mike) -- quality control, but what exactly --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think, I've talked, I've given you one example. We'd certainly like our JAGs to be in good standing with the bar.
Q Follow-up question: As you know, the Senate yesterday passed an omnibus spending bill that included $70 billion of no- strings-attached Iraq money. If the House goes along with it, and there are some signals that it might, would that undercut the need to start sending out furlough notices?
MR. MORRELL: Tony, I'm going to -- I think this is still a little bit in flux. Clearly we're encouraged by some of the signs we're seeing on the Hill, a recognition that our needs are serious, are great. And our troops need to be funded as they are in war. So we very much appreciate the efforts that are being made, and we're encouraged by the progress that's been made.
However as I understand it, this still needs to be voted on by the House. It still needs to go to the president, so nothing is done yet. And as a result, we continue to plan for life with no money. And it luckily looks like it's not going to come to that, that we're going to get some sort of bridge funding of some sort, which will allow us to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than we would have. But this is still short of total and complete funding for the GWOT.
So while the bridge fund is welcome, we need ultimately full funding for the war on terror. And we will gladly take whatever bridge funding comes our way, I think. But we will also continue to pursue full funding for our war efforts.
Q But the furlough issue, Geoff, that's somewhat disruptive in the Christmas season. Is this not a good enough signal to pull, if the House goes along with it, to pull back?
MR. MORRELL: You, I think, phrased it the right way: if the House goes along with it. I think signs are that the House is inclined to, but it's an if at this point. It's a hypothetical. Until such time as this is a done deal, I think everybody in this building's proceeding with the very real business of preparing for the eventuality of running out of money.
But it looks like things are moving rapidly up on the Hill, as everyone desires to go home for the holidays. And so hopefully this will all come to some sort of resolution rather soon. If it does, that would, at least for the time being, eliminate the need to go down the road of furloughing anybody. But that's an if at this point and as I said, that would merely be a temporary solution to our larger problem of gaining full funding for the global war on terror.
Q But you got $70 billion last, earlier this year, that sustained you during the political back-and-forth. What you're saying here is that if you get the money, it might stop the need to furlough.
MR. MORRELL: I think the best person to ask this -- I think I've said enough on this. And I think the best -- I think we should see what happens today, and I think we should ask the secretary when he comes up tomorrow. I mean, he's the one who's going to be making these calls and, I think, is best equipped to sort of address these specific questions. I think right now, it's still an if. It's still a hypothetical.
It's moving in the right direction. We appreciate that. Hopefully by the time you see the secretary tomorrow, we'll have better resolution to this, and he can fill you in more definitively.
Q Hypothetically, how long would -- (off mike) -- last year -- how far that would be --
MR. MORRELL: No, not even going to touch it. Not even going to touch it.
Anybody have anything other than hypotheticals?
Q Hypothetically, isn't the Army briefing in half an hour?
MR. MORRELL: Yes.
Q So if they hypothetically do that, do you have a solid statement of the secretary's views of what the Army is going to brief?
MR. MORRELL: I think the secretary -- well, it depends on what you're speaking of. I think if the Army's briefing on this -- no -- well, there's a couple issues. But if the Army's briefing on this, I -- they are doing so, I assure you, with the blessing of the secretary.
With regard to -- two issues: one is the overall growth of the Army, which I think the secretary's on the record in being supportive of -- having in fact signed off on. So he is completely supportive of the Army's desire to grow.
He has had some concerns that he's raised publicly, I think, from this stage, with regards to making sure they do so in a way that doesn't in any way detract from the quality of soldiers that we have enjoyed over the years. And there may have been a couple other provisos that he had. But this is a plan that's going forward, that he wholeheartedly supports.
And with regard to the second issue, I think, Thom, you're referring to, which is this notion -- and it's been reported on, I know, by you and others -- of keeping two of the brigade combat teams, the heavy BCTs that are in Europe -- two of the four -- two of those four, as you know, under the -- under Secretary Rumsfeld's Global Force Posture initiative, are due to come back to the States. What the decision that has been made there is that two of those four will stay in Europe in General Craddock's AOR, within EUCOM, for a couple of more years. Their return stateside has been delayed -- delayed by a couple more years. But that is temporary delay. There is nothing permanent about the fact that those two brigades will be staying in Europe a little longer. So that delay -- and the Army can speak to you about it more in depth. I think General Craddock has his own reasons for wishing it to be so, in terms of operations. I think the Army has additional reasons, including housing shortages. And I think they can talk to you about how it would have cost millions of additional dollars to build temporary housing to get those two brigades back as originally scheduled, and it's perhaps better to let them stay in Europe for a couple more years, so that they can build permanent housing.
So rather than have two moves for these returning forces, there would only be one required and they'd go right into what will, hopefully, be brand-new, spanking housing for them. But the secretary supports both of those wholeheartedly.
Thanks. Have a great and safe holiday. Appreciate it.
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