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

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary George Little and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations Capt. John Kirby December 02, 2011

DOD News Briefing with George Little and Capt. Kirby from the Pentagon

GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. We don't have any announcements, unless you do, John --


MR. LITTLE: -- so we'll go straight to questions.


Q: Pakistan. First, have you been -- has the U.S. been officially notified by Pakistan that they will not be participating in the investigation? And secondly, can you just talk a little bit overall about what impact this may or may not have on the supply routes as we get into winter? I mean, are there a lot of supplies sort of sitting at the waterfront, waiting to go? Is there any jeopardy involved right here?

MR. LITTLE: The Pakistanis have certainly been invited to join the investigation. We believe their participation would be important as we look into this tragic incident.

They have elected, to date, not to participate, but we would welcome their participation.

The relationship with Pakistan remains very important to the United States. We think that cooperation with Pakistan on a variety of fronts, to include counterterrorism, is essential. And we realize the bumps in the road that we've experienced over the past several months, but we're going to work very hard to work with our Pakistani counterparts to get over this latest bump in the road.

CAPT. KIRBY: With regard to the supply routes, I mean, we certainly look forward to working with Pakistan to get those gates back open, clearly.

That said, logistics is about alternative, it's about options, and we're certainly working through what sort of options we may need to pursue.

I will say one thing, and that's that we have a very important mission in Afghanistan, and we're going to make sure that our troops have what they need, when they need it, to accomplish that mission.

MR. LITTLE: Yochi.

Q: (Off mic.)

Q: Two questions about the marathon stuff on the Hill these last couple of days. Has the department started formulating policies for how it will handle detainees who are transferred to military custody? And also, has the department in any formal way communicated opposition to the -- trying to -- the effort to strip away the sequestration language?

MR. LITTLE: Well, first, on detainees, we believe that the provisions that have been proposed would impose restrictions on our ability to deal effectively, especially in the counterterrorism arena. Flexibility is key when it comes to the detention of terror suspects.

When you're dealing with terrorism, it's important to disrupt plots, to capture those who are associated with them, but then eventually to bring them to justice. The Department of Defense prides itself on providing the fullest range of options possible to the president of the United States, and we don't believe that we should take any of those options off the table when it comes to detention of certain individuals connected to terrorism.

With respect to sequestration, if you could repeat your question, Yochi? What are you getting at specifically?

Q: Yeah, just wondering if the secretary or anyone else in the department has, in any sort of formal way, weighed in on the Hill to express opposition to this effort to strip away the sequestration language.

MR. LITTLE: From the defense budget. The secretary supports the president's view on this, on the so-called “detriggering” mechanism. The secretary, from the very outset of this process, has encouraged a strategy-driven process that looks holistically not just at the defense budget, but also at the entire federal budget: the discretionary side; the mandatory side; he's even talked about revenues. This is someone who's addressed virtually every budget battle of the last 25 or 30 years. He wants to have a national conversation -- a genuine one -- about the entire budget.

And when it comes to sequestration, we have not been asked to plan for it. Our focus right now is on dealing with the more than $450 billion we've already agreed to in cuts. And that will drive the submission of the department's FY '13 budget.


Q: On the budget, so just to follow up, there's a lot of nervousness in the defense community that more than half of the 460 billion (dollars) will come from modernization. That's been buzzing around out there. Is that accurate?

MR. LITTLE: I don't think that any final decisions have been made at all when it comes to the budget, let alone on percentages when it comes to modernization.

Rest assured that this secretary and this department, the senior leadership, understand the importance of modernization. We also understand the importance of address -- of doing our part to contribute to deficit reduction. Everything remains on the table, Tony, but the American people should feel confident that we are going to have the weapons systems and the capabilities, the skills and the expertise we need to address the very serious national security threats of the future.

Q: And one quick follow-up. GE today, General Electric, announced that they were pulling the plug, basically, on the long- running second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. This building has opposed it for like the last six or seven years. What's your reaction to GE's announcement today?

MR. LITTLE: You're right, Tony, in that the department has expressed its views on the second engine repeatedly over time. We understand the decision of GE and Rolls Royce. I do want to say that these are two very important industrial partners, and they do a lot of work with the defense department. They're an important part of our industrial base, and we look forward to continuing to work with them.

Q: George, can I follow up on a budget thing and then ask a Pakistan question? I didn't understand when you said the American people should be confident, essentially, that the troops will have everything that they need, if I understood you correctly. That's sort of what the secretary has been warning maybe what does not happen if all of this -- you know --

MR. LITTLE: Look, if sequestration happens, that would be devastating. He's called it a doomsday scenario, and it would be. But if we do this in a strategy-driven manner and if we look to find savings in certain areas that lead us to an effective fighting force that may be smaller and more agile and more deployable, we'll still have the capabilities we need to confront the U.S. military -- or, excuse me, to confront the threats of the future. Then we'll absolutely be able to support the security needs of this country and our commitments around the world.

But if we move to sequestration, that is an irresponsible outcome, not just for us in the defense department, but more broadly. And he's made that clear. He wants Congress to exercise leadership on this issue.

Q: Can I follow up on Pakistan briefly? The U.S. military, while it has offered condolences, very specifically has not used the word "apology" or that it is sorry for what has happened. Why has the U.S. military not apologized for this incident? And has the White House had any involvement in telling you not to apologize or specifically say that you're sorry, which is something Pakistan has already asked for?

CAPT. KIRBY: We've expressed our remorse and our regret for the loss of life at the highest levels of this department and in other agencies as well. Excuse me -- (coughs). What we aren't going to do is get into fixing blame or fault right now.

There's an investigation going on. We need to let that investigation proceed, let the facts take us where they may and, as George said, we certainly continue to invite the Pakistanis to participate in that investigation.


Q: What -- why is it then that, in Afghanistan, when there were mistakes made and tragic outcomes, the U.S. would apologize up front and then carry out an investigation? Would you compare those incidents with this one and explain why there's no apology in this case?

CAPT. KIRBY: Again, we've expressed remorse and regret, Dan. And some of those -- the cases that you're referring to are, as I recall, largely regard the death or the injury to innocent civilians. In this case, this was clearly a military engagement.

It's under investigation. We're going to let that investigation proceed, and then we'll go from there.

Q: Well, what -- can I just follow up on that? You say blameless civilians in Afghanistan, but a military engagement in this case. Do you have reason to believe, then, that you were fired upon by Pakistani troops? You're suggesting this was a military engagement on the part of Pakistan.

CAPT. KIRBY: Well, clearly, look -- well, it was a military engagement, in fact, that that cross-border fire resulted in the deaths of some two dozen Pakistani soldiers, not innocent villagers or civilians. I'm not going to get into the details of how it occurred. That's what we're doing right now in the investigation.

Q: You called it a military engagement. Do you believe that any of that fire now came from Pakistani soldiers, rather than insurgents, which is why the U.S. troops called in the airstrike?

CAPT. KIRBY: Not going to get into the details. It's under investigation. We're going to let that proceed.

Q: If I can follow up.


Q: George, in Pakistan, there is anger building up against the United States and within the civilians and also military, and now Pakistanis are demanding what now my colleagues are saying -- saying that time has come for the U.S. to apologize but also, at the same time, that not only anger but trust and faith is losing as far as Pakistanis in their government and also on the U.S.

My question is that how can you rebuild this relationship? When the secretary was there in Pakistan and they tried to rebuild, and there was some kind of -- little bit of bitterness within the Pakistanis and now even the U.S. ambassador feels the same thing. So where do we go from here now? Because also now more anger is building up here, in the U.S., among Pakistanis.

MR. LITTLE: Well, thank you. Thank you for the question. And let me say, in the strongest possible terms, that this was not in any way, shape or form an intentional attack by the United States military on Pakistan.

The relationship with Pakistan, as I said before, is absolutely critical and essential. We are partners with the government of Pakistan. And the sign of strength in any relationship is how we work through very serious disagreements and incidents such as this. And this was, in fact, a tragedy. So we are going to be working overtime to try to resolve our differences on this and other matters so that we can take the long view on the Pakistani relationship. It is an essential one, and that is our goal.


Q: Just one quick follow up if you don’t mind, a little one. As far as terrorism is concerned and al-Qaidas and LeT in Pakistan, this afternoon at the U.S. district -- (clears throat) -- sorry -- U.S. District Court in Alexandria, a Pakistani from -- (inaudible) -- is going to plead guilty that he was involved with the LeT and against the U.S., as far as terrorism is concerned. And there are more people in the U.S. working against the United States.

MR. LITTLE: I'm unfamiliar with that particular case.

CAPT. KIRBY: I have -- I have no knowledge of that particular case, but we certainly have longstanding concerns about LeT and their activities, their ambitions and the kinds of operations that they conduct over there, and the threat that they pose not just to us but to our Afghan and Pakistani partners. But I don't have any details on those specific cases.

MR. LITTLE: Chuck.

Q: Getting back to the F-136, GE and Rolls Royce said that their decision was based on changing circumstances. And I just wanted to check and see if there was anything that -- I know that there's been some ongoing discussions about the self-funding project. I wanted to check and see if there's anything that came out of DOD that could explain those changing circumstances, anything that you all have done or said in recent months.

MR. LITTLE: Oh, there has certainly been dialogue on this issue, but on many other issues with our industrial partners, including in this case. But this was a decision, as I understand it, that was made by GE and Rolls-Royce at the end of the day.


Q: Since this term "sequestration" has entered our lexicon here in town, we've heard a lot from this building it up on the Hill about how bad an idea it is. You called it “irresponsible” a moment ago. You also said beforehand that we shouldn't be sanguine about it just because it wouldn't go into effect at the beginning of '13, that there would be effects more or less immediately because of long-term budgets and planning and so forth. Are you seeing that already? What are some of the side effects today or in the near term, you know, within the next couple of weeks, of that problem, as opposed to the final cuts taking effect?

MR. LITTLE: Well, sequestration hasn't yet taken effect. As I said a couple of weeks ago, the sequestration bullet is fired in January but doesn't arrive until January of 2013. Our focus right now is on developing the strategy around the more than 450 billion (dollars) that we've already agreed to. And we -- and our focus remains on fulfilling the various missions that this department has to fulfill. We hope that sequestration doesn't occur. And the secretary and others have called on Congress to ensure that it doesn't happen.

Our focus is not on planning for sequestration. We've not been asked to plan for sequestration. We are laser-focused on our mission of protecting the American people.

Q: So you're not anticipating short-term planning and budget disruptions against the threat of this happening at the beginning of '13?

CAPT. KIRBY: The budget we're -- that we're doing now is going to include the -- factoring in the 450-plus (billion dollar) cuts that we already know we have to take. That's where -- that's the locus of the effort right now.

And Congress still has time to act to prevent sequestration. We certainly urge them to do that.

MR. LITTLE: Viola.

Q: You've said a number of times and officials from the Pentagon, since the incident at the Afghan-Pakistan border, that the military campaign in Afghanistan proceeds apace, proceeds without interruption. But you -- there must be some adjustments that have to be made for the fact that the Pakistanis have shut down cross-border cooperation, if we understand correctly. So can you talk a little bit about what adjustments have been -- have you had to make, what you're trying to do to restore the relationship on the Afghan -- on the side with the Afghans.

CAPT. KIRBY: Both your comments can be true at the same time, right, that the -- that the operations continue apace, and that adjustments have to be made in logistics. Logistics is all about making adjustments and alternatives. Sometimes it's just the weather that affects the way --

Q: What -- I know – I’m not talking so much about the logistics.

CAPT. KIRBY: No -- no, I got you. And I'm not going to -- you know, I wouldn't go into any specific details about any on-the-ground adjustments that are being made as a result of the shutdown of these two gates. I don't think there has been, since it's just occurred -- there has not been an enormous impact to our ability to operate. That, of course, magnifies over time; but so far, there's been no appreciable impact on our ability to operate inside Afghanistan. We're going to make sure that the troops have what they need, when they need it, to get the mission done.

Q: I'm talking about cross-border cooperation, for example, in eastern Afghanistan, where you need to -- where the Afghans and the Pakistanis and the coalition need to coordinate at the -- coordinate military operations at the border and ensure, you know, that militants don't cross back over into Pakistan, or vice versa. That, I understand, is -- has been shut down as well. So what effect have you seen of that?

CAPT. KIRBY: I'm not -- (off mic) -- shutdown. Clearly an incident like this causes you -- and should cause you -- to take a step back and look at how you're doing things, and whether there need to be improvements made or any kind of tactical decisions that do things a little differently, and General Allen's doing that. And General Allen of RC East is doing that, and I wouldn't certainly discuss operational decisions that are being made or even being considered in a forum like this.

But rest assured that everybody takes what happened last weekend very, very seriously, and we -- up until that time, there had been a lot of effort put into our coordination and communication with the Pakistanis at those border control centers. And we certainly expect and hope that that same level of effort can continue. Clearly something went wrong here; that's why we're investigating it. But the important work that they're doing in RC East will continue.

Q: (Off mic) -- can I follow up on what you just said about -- (inaudible) --

BRIEFER: (Inaudible.)

Q: -- the border control centers?


Q: Specifically what has --

BRIEFER: Border coordination centers -- (off mic).

Q: Border coordination centers.

BRIEFER: That's right.

Q: What exactly has stopped there? How many of these are there? And -- because they were -- they were triple-manned, I guess, by Afghans and then Pakistanis --

CAPT. KIRBY: That's correct.

Q: So you have the Pakistani officers who were at those centers. Have they been pulled back or are they not participating anymore?

CAPT. KIRBY: I'm not aware of the staffing on the manning of each one. I think there's several. I don't -- I can get you an exact number; I don't have it off the top of my head. There are several along that border area, and I don't know what impact there's been to the manning and participation.

Again, we -- these -- an incident like this draws into sharp relief the risks or -- and the -- and clearly the potential for things to go awry.

But you know, there are innumerable days that have passed where we've been able to conduct operations close to that border, and things have gone well. So we really do believe in the importance of these coordination centers, and in the constant communication and coordination with the Pakistani military across the border. And we want that to continue.

So our hope and our expectation is that as bad as this is -- and we want to get -- and we want to work through this -- our hope and our expectation is that we'll be able to continue the kind of coordination, communication that we were working up to before this incident happened.

Q: So they are currently participating in --

CAPT. KIRBY: I don't know, Luis. I'm going to have to get you an answer on that, because I really don't know the staffing situation is on those right now. And I -- you can also -- I'd certainly encourage you to talk to ISAF about that as well.

MR. LITTLE: Marcus.

Q: The secretary met with combatant commanders this week. Can you discuss the focus of those meetings and what, if any, types of decisions came out of them?

MR. LITTLE: Sure. The secretary did welcome the combatant commanders to the Pentagon. He has done so more than once recently. And he values his discussions with them to discuss the various challenges that they're facing in their areas of responsibility.

So a range of security issues were discussed, as was the budget. No particular decisions were made about any of that, but this was the opportunity for him to receive input from senior military leaders, and he thought it was a very productive session.


Q: George, General Dempsey and others have indicated that one of the impacts of the present cuts will be considerable reduction in force levels, and you've said it yourself.

Presumably, as part of the review, the people in charge of it have to make strategic decisions about the world, what the world's going to look like in a few years' time. So what does the world look like in a few years' time to the Pentagon? And are people now saying you can forget about a future Iraq or a future Afghanistan?

MR. LITTLE: We're looking very closely, obviously, at the world of the future as we frame our strategy, and I'm not going to get into the particulars of that at this moment. We'll probably have more to say -- the secretary will have more to say on that in early January. But there -- at the end of the day, you know, we need to meet our national security commitments and our commitments to the American people.

In terms of -- in terms of the -- and Mike, what was the second part of your question?

Q: Well, are they saying you can forget about another Afghanistan, the sort of level of troops required for Afghanistan or for Iraq?

MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into speculation on the strategy at this point. But I can tell you that the process has been methodical and thorough. It's led -- been led by civilian and military leaders inside this department. And naturally, we're getting close to making some of those decisions in early 2012. And as I said, the secretary will have something to say on that in January.

CAPT. KIRBY: And I don't think anybody's approaching this -- these discussions from a perspective of forgetting anything -- like we've been through 10 years of war; we've had to relearn at great cost in blood and in treasure the lessons of counterinsurgency that we -- that we let loose after the Vietnam War.

This isn't about forgetting any one thing or one area and moving on to another. We're still going to be a global force. The U.S. joint force is going to be global. And we have -- we have security commitments around the world that we know we're going to have to continue to meet.

But there are going to have to be some tough decisions about how they are met, and that's really the focus of the strategy discussions that are ongoing; it's how are we going to meet these commitments.

MR. LITTLE: And whatever force we have, it will be agile, deployable and equipped with the capabilities we need to protect the country.

Q: After the NATO airstrike, you just said that such an incident makes the commanders to step back and reassess. Have you seen the Pakistani military taking a step back, or has it affected the intelligence cooperation and cross-border cooperation that you were receiving earlier? Have you seen it affected after this incident?

And the second part of my question is that General Kayani yesterday has instructed his commanders at the border to retaliate immediately in any such incident instead of waiting for the chain of command to follow. So do you think that could further escalate tensions?

CAPT. KIRBY: I think it's safe to say that the -- that the incident has had a chilling effect on our relationship with the Pakistani military, no question about that. Both sides deem it to be as serious as it was.

I've seen the comments attributed to General Kayani. I'm certainly not going to speak for him or for -- or for the government of Pakistan. But every sovereign nation has the right of self-defense and the right to order their troops to defend themselves. And that's what my understanding is what he did: He reiterated their right of self-defense. We certainly respect that right of his. We have it as well.

Q: And there was this Wall Street Journal report that quotes anonymous U.S. officials saying that Pakistan authorized this attack.

Do you have a comment on that, or can you confirm or deny that?

CAPT. KIRBY: That's all part of the investigative process.

MR. LITTLE: Part of the investigation.

CAPT. KIRBY: Again, we're not going to get into any sort of -- any details of the incident that are being investigated right now.

MR. LITTLE: Yochi.

Q: A somewhat different Pakistan question.


Q: Do you guys believe that the tape yesterday from Zawahri is accurate and that the contractor from here, Mr. Weinstein, is in fact in some sort of al-Qaida custody?

MR. LITTLE: We don't at this point, Yochi, have the ability to confirm that he is in al-Qaida custody. Naturally, it's -- we deplore kidnappings, and that's totally unacceptable. And he needs to be released immediately. But in terms of an al-Qaida nexus to this particular kidnapping, I can't confirm it for you at this time.

CAPT. KIRBY: No, we don't have any indication right now to confirm those reports.

Q: Right, what about the authenticity of the tape itself, about that being Zawahri?

MR. LITTLE: I'll leave that to others. But you know, I will say that over the years Ayman al-Zawahri has taken to being videoed to spread terrorist propaganda. And this is just the latest in a series of videos, potentially, that show, you know, how depraved al-Qaida and its leadership is.

Q: On Mr. Weinstein, has the U.S. offered any assistance in terms of intelligence, law enforcement, FBI, CIA, U.S. military to the Pakistanis? And have they either accepted or rejected such an offer?

CAPT. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any.

MR. LITTLE: I'm not aware of any.

But obviously, when it comes to missing Americans and requests for support, this government would do all that we can to try to support the individuals -- or the search for the individual, and we would certainly consider requests for assistance.

Q: Does the U.S. have -- (off mic)?

MR. LITTLE: I'm unaware -- I'm not aware of that, but perhaps other agencies and departments have more knowledge of that than I do.

Q: And back to the border situation, because of the situation and General Kayani's orders to retaliate immediately, has the U.S.- Afghan operation -- have they been scaled back along that border area as a result of this recent attack and the heightened attentions?

MR. LITTLE: I don't think I would comment on or characterize our operations inside Afghanistan. But suffice it to say, the war effort continues. We have important work to do inside Afghanistan. I will say that a great deal of progress is being made. Insurgents have been under increasing pressure. This fighting was a much different fighting season than in years past, and that's a good thing.

Look, the enemy remains dangerous, and they are capable of violence, as we have seen, regrettably, in recent months. But if you look at the transition to lead security responsibility for the people of Afghanistan to the Afghan National Security Force, this is a trend that's positive. We've seen the second tranche recently occur, and that's something that I think is worth noting. Progress on the ground is being made.

CAPT. KIRBY: I don't think, if I was a member of the Haqqani network or the Taliban, that I'd be lollygagging around that area.

Q: And what specific steps have been taken to make up for the loss of the supplies that were coming through Pakistan?

Have provisions already been made to increase the flow of goods and materiel through other methods?

CAPT. KIRBY: Well, this gets -- I mean, I've -- I talked about this before. It's -- logistics is about the business of alternatives and options. We have those and --

Q: (Off mic.)

CAPT. KIRBY: Well, we -- there hasn't been, as I said before, an appreciable impact right now. These gates just closed. So General Allen's assessing what his -- you know, what his stocks in store situation is, and his logistics folks are doing great work in trying to make sure that alternatives and options are open. I wouldn't get into specifying what those may be right now, but as I said before, we're going to make sure the troops have what they need to carry on the fight.

Q: And there are reports that there are enough stockpiles now to last easily 60 to 90 days. Is there a time frame at which point this becomes critical?

CAPT. KIRBY: Well, again, without getting into specific time frames, Mic, I mean, you know, a lot of it depends on what materiel we're talking about. You know, you have different stockpiles of different --

Q: (Off mic.)

CAPT. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to get into the specifics of it. General Allen has a very good handle on what he has already in theater, how long it's going to last him, based on the pace of usage of whatever it is, whether it's fuel or ammunition. And he and his logistics folks are doing the necessary spade work to make sure that the materiel of war continues to flow.

MR. LITTLE: We have time for maybe two questions.

Q: If I could go back to the FY '12 authorization bill, the Senate this week included a measure that aims to sort of crack down on counterfeit electronic parts in DOD's supply chains. What are you currently doing to sort of mitigate this threat? And do you see a legislative remedy as necessary?

MR. LITTLE: This is an issue that we're aware of. The -- there have been parts that have been sold to us as new but haven't exactly been new; they -- some of them have been refurbished. They have entered some parts of the supply chain.

And we are getting our arms around this problem, and we're making headway.

I'm unaware of any failure of system or loss of life attributable to these parts that have entered the supply chain. I don't have a particular comment on this provision of legislation, but it's something that is a priority for us in the procurement components of the department, and we're continuing to work it.

CAPT. KIRBY: And every indication we have is that industry shares the same concerns with us. I mean, I think this is one issue where we all stand to lose, so we all stand to gain by working hard at it.

Q: So is the department satisfied with industry's cooperation to date? It didn't seem like the senators supporting the bill were so satisfied.

MR. LITTLE: We're working very closely with our industrial partners on this issue, and as John said, we believe that they're just as keenly aware of the problem as we are, and we assume they want to work with us on this.

Last question, Chuck.

Q: Yeah. Also on the bill, you know, the Senate has joined in the House in voting to make the head of the National Guard Bureau a member of the Joint Chiefs. Is there anything that you all are going to continue to try to do, you know, in terms of opposing this, to see if this can get out of the bill before it goes to the president?

MR. LITTLE: The department, various officials, to include the secretary and the chairman, have made their views known --

CAPT. KIRBY: As has -- the chiefs as well, yeah.

MR. LITTLE: Yeah, the chiefs also. So there is unanimity inside the department on this matter.

We understand the legislation that's moving through Congress. I wouldn't want to get into the particulars of what we're doing one way or the other. But at the end of the day, if this provision becomes law, obviously we'll abide by it.

Separate and apart from the issue of whether or not the head of the National Guard should serve as part of the Joint Chiefs, look, the National Guard plays an extremely important role in the department. They've made vital contributions over the past 10 years during a time of war. And we are deeply committed to doing what we can to sustain the skills and expertise of the Guard as -- even as we wind down in Iraq and eventually as we transition in Afghanistan.

Thank you.

CAPT. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.


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