The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


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

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell October 07, 2009

DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. Nice to see you all today.

As you know, later this afternoon, Secretary Gates will meet with President Obama and his national security team for the third in a series of major discussions about the way ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Even as he is focused on those deliberations and the difficult decisions they will soon require, the secretary did not want today to go by without pausing to mark the eighth anniversary of the beginning of combat operations in Afghanistan.

From special operations forces on horseback in the early stages of that war, to the recent arrival of armored vehicles specially designed for Afghanistan, we have seen our amazing military men and women adapt to and overcome daunting terrain, harsh conditions and an agile, ruthless enemy.

This tough and complex fight has been, and continues to be, fraught with danger and uncertainty. Almost 800 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice on the field of battle in and around Afghanistan, including eight soldiers who lost their lives repelling an enemy assault over the weekend.

Our thoughts are with their families and all families who have sacrificed so much in Operation Enduring Freedom.

With that, I'll take your questions.


Q (Off mike) -- give us a status report in advance of this meeting on where the troop recommendation stands? There's been some suggestion -- reporting today that perhaps the decision on troops is being considered simultaneously with the strategy instead of sequentially as the secretary and the president have described before. Has the secretary actually passed on a troop recommendation?

MR. MORRELL: The secretary late last week provided to the president at his request an informal copy of General McChrystal's resource request. He then also at the president's request on Monday provided the principals with copies -- informal copies of the request. The request is now a -- is now formally working its way through the chain of command -- the U.S. chain of command and the NATO command -- and so that's the latest on where the resource request stands.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, formally, this should and is working its way up through the respective chains of command in the United States military and NATO, and that is the process it is undergoing right now. The secretary requested early on that he be given a copy of this even before it goes through the formal chain of command.

And as I mentioned to you previously, he was going to hold on to that copy until such time as he felt it was appropriate to share, or, frankly, if the president requested it. This is a case where the president requested it. The secretary provided it to him, as well as to the principals. Now it is working its way up the formal chain of command here and in NATO.

Q Why is it that when the president requested the troop resource request, he didn't get the actual copy? Why doesn't he -- does he not get the actual formal copy of the resource --

MR. MORRELL: The only difference between what he was provided in the formal copy is it hasn't yet been vetted through the chain of command. Once it is formally vetted and the comments that are provided by the likes of CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs and the chairman and so forth, the president will receive those comments as well.

But he wanted to read this over the weekend, I understand it, and so the secretary provided it to him.


Q Does that mean that -- that Petraeus and others have not approved or signed-off on this resource request?

MR. MORRELL: As I said, it is still working its way through the chain of command, and it has not completed that process.


Q Just so we have it, could you just walk everyone through the chain of command that this request will now go through, so we have that on the record?

MR. MORRELL: Well, it was -- it was provided -- it left -- as I understand, it left General McChrystal and went simultaneously, or thereabouts, up through the NATO channels -- which I'm, frankly, not familiar enough with to offer you any clarity on precisely who it went to. I know it goes to Brunssum, I think is the first place it goes.

Q The U.S.

MR. MORRELL: And on the U.S. chain of command, it would go to CENTCOM, the regional commander, and General Petraeus and his team would vet it and comment on it, and then pass it up to the -- to the Joint Chiefs and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They would weigh in on it. And ultimately, it would formally arrive at the secretary's desk.

Obviously, this has been a slightly unconventional process, and it -- an informal copy, as I mentioned, bypassed the chain of command, at the secretary's request, so he could own it and could therefore make decisions about where it should go, when it should go. And the president, as I mentioned, asked for it late last week, and the secretary provided it.

Q General Petraeus publicly said yesterday in a speech in Washington that it was, quote, "about to be introduced into the discussion." Can you help us understand? Does that mean it is being discussed either at today's meeting or Friday's meeting at the White House?

MR. MORRELL: I don't believe so. I don't believe it is being discussed at this juncture in the process. I am not the best person, though, frankly, Barbara, to ask about the discussions -- the topics for these discussions. I know, generically, that today's three-hour discussion will focus primarily on Pakistan, and Friday's will focus primarily on Afghanistan.

I do not believe that resources will be a part of those discussions. But I would really urge you to talk to my colleagues at the White House for more clarity on that.

Q May I quickly follow up, though?

MR. MORRELL: I mean, I think it's -- obviously, now that it's in the hands of the president -- well, frankly, no matter of it was or if it weren't, he would obviously be the final determinant of when this should be injected into the conversation. This is progressing according to his -- his liking and his comfort level, and he's driving the discussion. So at some point, he'll make a determination about whether or not he thinks resources should be injected into the conversation.

Q What I don't understand is, everyone, from the president on down, had previously publicly said strategy before resources.

MR. MORRELL: Mm-hmm.

Q Given that, what made whoever did it, or however it happened -- what made the resource request start going through the chain of command, if you do not have a strategy yet? That seems to completely turn on its head everything that you've --

MR. MORRELL: No, I -- I think things can work in parallel, in the sense that it can operate through the chain of command for formal vetting and comment and so forth. But ultimately, it means, frankly, nothing, until there is a decision made about the way ahead. So all this work can happen perhaps for naught, depending on what the direction is that's provided by the president and his team.

So rather than -- rather than lose valuable time, I think the belief is, let's work it through the chain of command, as it should be, and we can use that time towards that end while this discussion, at a more macro level, takes place.

Q Is this the only resource request working its way through the chain?

MR. MORRELL: I know of no other.

Q On Afghanistan, obviously.

MR. MORRELL: I -- I know of no other.

Q And so you're doing it even though, as you say, it may not -- it may mean nothing?

MR. MORRELL: I -- we're doing it because this is the process by which resources are vetted before there is a decision made about whether or not to -- to request them and deploy them. The president, however, has asked for a copy of this. The secretary's provided it. The principals have been provided it. That does not mean it is a part of the discussions that are taking place within the Situation Room this afternoon, or Friday for that matter. But at some point, it will become a part of those discussions. And that point will be determined by the commander in chief. And I don't think we're there yet.


Q Geoff, is it perhaps that McChrystal's request offers a range of options, depending on what strategy they may choose? Are you able to say whether he's offered -- it's just one final number, or there are --

MR. MORRELL: I think I've characterized -- I -- listen, I have not seen this, but it's been characterized to me and I think I've characterized to you often on this podium before, that this is not a traditional RFF, request for forces. This is a more analytical document, as it's been described to me, which would indeed offer a range of options, but ultimately provide one recommendation from the field general.

So -- but you -- you slid in another question in there that I want to disabuse you of the notion of. This doesn't offer a range of options depending upon what the strategic decision is that the president and his team makes, because this was devised and written before the discussion began, and this was devised and written based upon the assumption -- just as the assessment was, for that matter -- that we were pursuing a -- pursuing a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. So if the decisions that are made in the coming weeks are different from that, there can be adjustments made to the request.

Q Will this request be made public after it's gone through the formal chain of command?

MR. MORRELL: You want to be provided with a copy?

Q Yes.

MR. MORRELL: Okay. I'll take that under advisement. No, it will not be made public, until such time as the president decides on a way ahead in Afghanistan and actually announces what he wishes to do there. But this is not -- again, I would remind everybody who's involved in the chain of command vetting that the secretary was very clear in his admonition Friday -- Monday, rather, at AUSA, that all those even tangentially involved in the deliberations that are taking place at the White House should be very mindful that this is a private conversation and should not be shared at this point with anybody outside this circle of trust. Okay?


Q Geoff, at whose instruction did the secretary refer the request through the chain of command? Was this the president's directive to send it through so that CENTCOM could process it? And if not, if it was the secretary's own decision, then what was the rationale for doing this?

MR. MORRELL: I think I've addressed this. I mean, this --

Q I mean, was it the president who directed him to put it --

MR. MORRELL: Oh, I don't know if the president said, "Hey, give me a copy, and also send it through the chain." I don't know if that was -- I've been told by the secretary that the president requested it and he provided it.

As for what prompted the secretary to green-light it passing through the chain of command, I can't tell you with any precision.

Q Was that green-lighted before it was given to the president --


Q -- or following?

MR. MORRELL: Yes, yes, I can safely say that. I mean, it was -- this is all predicated on when the president was ready to consider the request. And once -- once it had been shared with him, once it had been shared with the principals, the secretary thought it was appropriate to then work it through the chain of command, both the U.S. side and the NATO side.

Yeah, Courtney.

Q Who were the principals it was shared with?

MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to get into the -- to this --

Q The White House, I guess, is what you mean by principals?

MR. MORRELL: Yes, it is.

Q Okay. And then just to --

MR. MORRELL: Primary National Security Council principals.

Q The only -- the only thing that makes this an informal request that was shared with the president last week is the fact that the secretary, based on your answer to Barbara of the chain of command, overstepped the chain of command to get that request and then provided it.

So the only thing that's informal about it -- there's nothing in that -- contained in this request that's different than the so-called --

MR. MORRELL: What's different about it, Courtney, is that it -- normally it would come with comments from the chain of command. There would be a -- it would have been vetted and commented on by Central Command, by the chiefs, by the secretary. In this case, the copy that's provided -- that has been provided to the president has not -- does not have any of that vetting, any of those comments.

Q (Off mike) --

MR. MORRELL: As I said before, he will be provided, I am sure, at a future date with the comments from the chain of command, should he wish to hear them.

Q Well, why were -- why wasn't the chain of command given that chance before it went to the president? And also, when the chairman and Petraeus were in Ramstein meeting with McChrystal --

MR. MORRELL: I don't want you to think, though -- I mean, you guys -- I think I'm getting from your line of questioning that there's some concern that the chain of command is being cut out of this process.

Well, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Let me disabuse you of that notion. Okay? Every conversation that has taken place about this issue -- you know, we're about to embark on our third three-hour major deliberation about the way ahead in Afghanistan. In every one of those conversations, this -- the secretary has taken part, the chairman has taken part, General Petraeus has taken part, and last week General McChrystal took part. He will again take part in today's session as well.

So the chain of command has been represented in every one of the discussions that has taken place --

Q And then -- (off mike).

MR. MORRELL: -- and it will be represented throughout the rest of this process, as it is with regards to all major decisions on military matters. So there's nothing different about this, other than the fact that the secretary made a decision some weeks ago -- or I'd kind of -- the days drag on so long I don't think -- can't remember how long ago it was -- that he wanted to take this out of Kabul and own it, take possession of it, and he be that -- he be the one who determines where it goes and when it goes.

And it's been provided to the president. It's now working its way through the chain. The comments, the recommendations, the vetting that the chain normally provides will of course be shared with the president when he requests it.

Q But I think --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: I'll come to you in one moment. Nancy.

Q When the secretary provided it, at the president's request, did he provide his own comments and recommendations, apart from the chain of command?

MR. MORRELL: No, no.

Q So is he still officially undecided?

MR. MORRELL: He provided the document, and that's it, okay?

Q Just like, here you go, here's McChrystal unvarnished, have at it.


Q Okay.

MR. MORRELL: He may have said other things as well. But he has not provided his recommendations on the troop request at this point.

Yeah, Nancy.

Q My question was, if Admiral Mullen and Petraeus have had an opportunity to see this request --

MR. MORRELL: Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus have seen the request.

Q Then why --

MR. MORRELL: There is nobody who is involved in the chain of command who has not seen --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: -- who has not seen or studied or is intimately familiar with the request.

The only thing that has not taken place thus far is them formally weighing in, in terms of officially vetting and commenting on it.

Q Why wouldn't they have waited, if they've already seen the request? Why would it have to go to the president, without their assessment in it, if they've already seen it?

I think that was the question that Philip was getting at.

MR. MORRELL: Listen, we are involved, as I'd said before, in what is a somewhat unconventional process. And normally -- listen, we saw what happened frankly with the assessment and the leaks that took place. And I think we want -- we wanted to avoid any opportunity for leaking of this, before the president had an opportunity to see it himself.

And so I think that is why the secretary wanted to own it and make -- be the one who determined where it went and when it went there.

Q Geoff --

Q (Off mike) -- reason to believe it was about to leak to the media?

MR. MORRELL: No, no, no.

Q You just said that.

MR. MORRELL: Listen, we've seen other things leak. And I think this is a rather sensitive issue. And we wanted to avoid a repeat of what we saw with the assessment frankly.

Q What do the comments have to do with leaks?

MR. MORRELL: The comments don't have anything to do with leaks.

Guys, when it's vetted, it involves far more than just the commanders, okay?

Anyway, next subject, if we can.

(Cross talk.)


Q Barbara said earlier about a second request. If there's no second formal request, is there -- to match the alternate strategy the White House is considering, has there been any sort of a contingency of resources required, to match those strategies, that's been given or considered?

MR. MORRELL: We're in the midst of a conversation. No one has any idea where this is going at this point. I don't know how anybody would devise contingencies based upon a conversation which is private and closely held and which is still, you know, very much in the middle of this process.

There would be no way anybody could devise contingencies based upon where we are in these discussions, I don't believe.

Yeah. Jeff?

Q Geoff, the Pentagon has requested the Congress for $88 million for funding the MOP program, which is the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which is about 30,000-pound bomb designed to hit the targets 200 feet below --

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'm familiar with it. Yes?

Q What I want from you is if you could give us more details about this program and why you are raising this program now.

MR. MORRELL: I think there's been a lot of details about the -- the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the MOP, out there already. But for those who aren't familiar with it, yes, it is a -- a conventional 30,000-pound penetrator bomb designed to defeat hardened facilities used by hostile states to protect weapons of mass destruction, production stores, delivery systems and command-and-control systems.

So, listen, the reality is that the world we live in is one in which there are people who seek to build weapons of mass destruction, and they seek to do so in a clandestine fashion. And this has been a capability that we have long believed was missing from our -- our quiver, our arsenal, and we wanted to make sure we filled in that gap.

And so it is under development right now and should be deployable in the coming months. And I don't think anybody should read anything into it beyond what it is. And I don't think anybody can divine potential targets or anything of that nature. This is just a capability that we think is necessary given the world we live in these days.

Q So any -- there is no link between this program and the Iranian nuclear program?

MR. MORRELL: I think any attempt to speculate about possible targets is -- is not very helpful.

Okay? Yeah.

Q My question is about the $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan. There was a lot of criticism today from the military and the opposition that the U.S. is meddling in Pakistani affairs and undermining the military. What do you respond to that? And where -- how are you going -- where is this money going?

MR. MORRELL: That we are -- there's complaints among the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military that we're meddling in their affairs?

Q Yes, by placing a lot of restrictions on them with that aid that's going in --

MR. MORRELL: I must tell you, I mean -- listen, I have not heard those kind of complaints from our personnel who work with the Pakistani government or the Pakistani military. In fact, I think our relationship with both entities is as strong as its been in years, and has -- we are cooperating more closely together than we have probably since I've been on this job, you know, roughly past two-and-a-half years.

And I think the proof is in the pudding, frankly. The results that the Pakistani military are having on the ground, particularly in the Swat Valley and in their operations in Waziristan, are proof of the fact that they have a renewed commitment and focus and capability in dealing with the threats within their midsts.

And we have -- make no bones about it -- have been trying to be as helpful as we can to them as they go after this very destabilizing influence in Pakistan. And we'll try to do whatever they believe to be helpful to help them defeat these terrorists and these militants and these insurgents in their midst.

Q Can you just explain how -- like how is the U.S. planning on helping? Do you have a plan, a project --

MR. MORRELL: Well, we're helping. I mean, as I understand, I think this week the Senate, I think, passed the Kerry-Lugar amendment, which -- provide long-term consistent funding to the Pakistani government, nonmilitary aid, I think to the tune of $7 billion over the next five years. So we're trying to show them that we are committed to them.

And frankly, even despite the conversation that's taking place at the White House, as the secretary said on Monday night at GW, that we are not walking away from Afghanistan or Pakistan. Our commitment to those -- to those countries is as strong as ever. And that's manifest not just in financial aid to the government, but in military-to- military cooperation, in intelligence sharing, in training that goes on, those kinds of things.

Yeah. Yes, go ahead.

Q If could follow on that.

MR. MORRELL: Okay. Yes.

Q The complaints coming from the Pakistani military, specifically from General Kayani, are related to the Kerry-Lugar bill, which passed both houses.

So how can we reconcile their comments today with the intent --

MR. MORRELL: Well, listen. The Kerry -- if you were to speak to Kerry-Lugar, then I urge you to talk to the State Department, because I think that's something that they would obviously provide, that funding. Frankly, they would provide the coalition support funds, as well.

But I don't know what the complaints would be about the Kerry- Lugar amendment, because, again, that's direct aid to the government of Pakistan. I don't know the strings, if any, that are attached to it, but obviously there's been billions of additional dollars that have been provided to the Pakistani military to reimburse them for counterterrorism operations that they have undertaken over the past few years. And I think we've obviously gotten much better at our rate of imbursement on their operations, and we're doing it much faster than we ever have before. So I frankly have not heard complaints, so I don't quite know how to address them.

Okay? Yeah, go ahead.

Q Does the secretary have any plans to travel to Japan to meet with his counterparts in the coming weeks?

MR. MORRELL: I have no travel to announce at this point. But stay tuned.

Yeah. Yes.

Q On the F-35 program?


Q There were some reports that the U.S. asked Japan to pay $10 million on information. Can you comment about the nature --

MR. MORRELL: To pay -- I'm sorry?

Q Ten million dollars on the information about the Joint Strike Fighter.

MR. MORRELL: That we asked them to pay $10 million for information about Joint Strike Fighter? Sounds -- I don't know anything about it; doesn't sound right to me, but I -- we could look into it for you. I'm just not familiar with it. Obviously, you know, we -- in many of our conversations with our Japanese counterparts, this has been a subject of discussion. We've obviously been encouraging of them to partake in this program. We think it is a better option for them, as for all our allies, frankly, than the F-22. And -- but I know of no requirement that they pay for information. We can certainly -- if you want to send me an e-mail, I'm happy to look into it for you.

Yeah. Yeah, Mike, if you have a comment.

Q Geoff, the Senate, I guess, in its most recent defense bill, added money for another destroyer that the -- I guess the Navy or this building didn't really necessarily want. What are the plans for that destroyer? Are you going to go forward with that project?

MR. MORRELL: Listen, I saw media reports of that. I have not seen any sort of final bill -- the language in any -- in the final bill.

I mean, I would repeat to you the mantra that you are so familiar with by now: that every dollar that is allocated to things that we have not asked for or do not need is a dollar that comes out of something which we think is more important and that our warfighters do need.

So we would object, of course, to those kinds of things -- extra C- 17s, extra F-18s, an extra destroyer. Those are things that are costly and take money away from things that we believe to be more valuable.

I thought you were going ask me about the fact that, at least according to one of the versions that's sort of being reconciled right now, there are calls for additional funding for a second F-35 engine.

Q No -- (off mike).


Q First, do you want to comment on -- (off mike) -- and others who have -- (off mike)?

MR. MORRELL: All I will tell you on that is that the secretary considers this a serious matter, and intends to discuss it with the president.

Okay, let's see, a couple of last ones. Courtney?

Q I'm still unclear on the resource request, why the secretary and the president found it appropriate to overstep the military chain of command on this request -- on this resource request; why the secretary had this informal copy and provided it to the president before his military leadership. I mean, doesn't this just --

MR. MORRELL: What don't you understand about it? What do you find troubling about it?

Q Just doesn't this just further -- doesn't this further exacerbate this argument that there's a division between the civilian and the military leadership on what you're going on?

MR. MORRELL: I don't -- I don't think so at all. I mean, again, let me remind you of the facts. At every stage in this process, the military has been represented in every discussion. They've participated in every discussion. General Petraeus has a seat at the table today, just as he has in the previous two conversations. General McChrystal will be -- (inaudible) -- in from Afghanistan, just as he had in the previous conversations. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of course, has a seat at the table. So the military is strongly represented in each of these discussions, and will continue to be.

Q But you said yourself that this is --

MR. MORRELL: And -- and I would also draw your attention to the fact that the president met with General McChrystal face-to-face in Copenhagen this week.

Q (Off mike) -- okay, do you mean to deny that there was any talk in any of these previous meetings --

MR. MORRELL: There has not been. There has not been.

Q So this argument is irrelevant, then. I mean this --

MR. MORRELL: What I'm saying to you -- what I am saying to you, Courtney, is there has been a long trend here of military involvement in each of these discussions. That trend will continue when the resources are considered as part of this equation. There's no reason for that to change. It will not change. So I don't think they have any issue with their participation in this thus far, and I don't think you should, either.

Q And if the secretary's so concerned about the leaking, you know, or an opportunity for leaking, is there an investigation into who leaked the assessment to the media?

MR. MORRELL: I think we don't talk about whether or not we investigate or don't investigate.

Okay. Anybody else? Nancy, last one.

Q I had a question on the strategy review. As part of this review, are the principals considering whether to negotiate, whether the United States should be in any way negotiating with the Taliban?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don't think it's appropriate for me to discuss what's on the table or not on the table in these discussions.

Q One quick point on the attack from last weekend you mentioned at the top. Can you tell us where the investigation into that stands?

MR. MORRELL: I -- you know, I think we are -- you know, this tragedy took place just a few days ago. I think a normal -- I think it's a 15-6 is -- investigation is under way right now.

And I mean, obviously, this was a very difficult, very deadly 12- hour fight that ensued up in Nuristan. And I know I've seen some of these reports where I think the Taliban was trying to claim credit for driving us out of this combat outpost, similar to claims that were made after the Wanat incident a year ago.

I would tell you this: This was a combat outpost that was scheduled to be shut down long before this attack took place, because of General McChrystal's belief that we need to focus our limited resources -- and we will always have limited resources, frankly, no matter what the decisions are made, because this is a very large country -- we need to focus our resources on those areas where they can have the biggest impact on population centers.

So this was always slated to be closed. There was no impact -- I mean, the attack had no impact on any decision about whether or not to close COP Keating.

And I would also remind you, as you've seen coming out of Afghanistan, that the insurgents here paid a very, very heavy price for this attack. We suffered some horrific casualties. We lost eight soldiers. But by our estimates, as many as a hundred insurgents were killed during this and in the aftermath, as we hunted down those who perpetrated the attack.

Q (That's not the account ?) the Taliban --

MR. MORRELL: Well, we can -- there -- I -- listen, we reserve the right to contextualize incidents. And I think, you know, they obviously characterize things one way, and we are not disputing the fact that we lost eight people in this attack. But I think it is worth noting that to do so, they paid a terrible price, and they will continue to pay that kind of price.

(Cross talk.)

Q Just to briefly follow up -- you mentioned the 15-6 investigation in Nuristan. What's the status of the 15-6 investigations of the incident in Kunar province last month?

MR. MORRELL: Which incident?

Q The one involving my colleague.

MR. MORRELL: I -- you can talk to the folks down range. I'm sure they can tell you.

Last one. Yeah.

Q Is Keating still open right now, or --

MR. MORRELL: Keating -- I don't know the current status of it. If it's not closed, it's imminently closed. But it was, as I mentioned, scheduled to be closed for some time now. Okay.

Q They shouldn't have been there, basically, when they were.

Join the mailing list