Media Roundtable with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from Melbourne, Australia

GEOFF MORRELL: Hey, guys, thanks for com­ing. Wel­come to our Aus­tralian friends. We’ve got a half an hour so let’s move quick­ly, shall we? Let’s start with our Aus­tralian hosts if we could. Peter Hartch­er and Greg Sheri­dan have dou­ble-dipped today so they go last. How about Ian McPhe­dran?

Q: Mr. Sec­re­tary, I was won­der­ing if you could per­haps expand on your com­ments about enhance­ment, enhanc­ing your pres­ence in our coun­try in the future mil­i­tar­i­ly. Could you just expand on that a lit­tle bit please?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Well, what I was refer­ring to is — oh, thanks — enhanc­ing our pres­ence in the Pacif­ic area in gen­er­al. And obvi­ous­ly, over the past year or so there have been some very pre­lim­i­nary con­ver­sa­tions, what more we might do joint­ly here in Aus­tralia. And actu­al­ly the reporter reeled off some of the things that have been spec­u­lat­ed about in terms of pre-posi­tion­ing of human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, dis­as­ter relief, equip­ment, more train­ing, more joint use of – or more port vis­its, a greater naval pres­ence in the region. So it’s a pret­ty broad menu.

And as I said at the press con­fer­ence, we real­ly — I haven’t even come to any con­clu­sions with­in the Depart­ment of Defense with respect to the Glob­al Pos­ture Review. And then, those, my rec­om­men­da­tions will go to the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil and ulti­mate­ly a deci­sion by the pres­i­dent. And only then would we be seek­ing to reach agree­ments with oth­er coun­tries if those were nec­es­sary.

As I said to our press on the plane com­ing out, we have no inter­est in any new bases in the region, but rather look­ing at how we can make bet­ter use, enhanced use of what we have.

Q: But just on that point, Mr. Sec­re­tary, would you envis­age the pos­si­bil­i­ty in this review of some exist­ing Aus­tralian facil­i­ties becom­ing in fact joint facil­i­ties in a legal sense?

SEC. GATES: Well, the hon­est answer is I don’t know. And I would expect the work­ing group to look at a broad array of alter­na­tives. We obvi­ous­ly do not want to do things that would be polit­i­cal­ly dif­fi­cult here in Aus­tralia. And we would like to do things that in the eyes of the Aus­tralian peo­ple enhance our alliance, not cre­ate con­tro­ver­sy about it.

Q: Why do you think it would be polit­i­cal­ly dif­fi­cult in Aus­tralia to expand the U.S. pres­ence?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think it would — you are a bet­ter judge of that than I am. I think it would depend on the form. I think our expe­ri­ence has been that the joint use of facil­i­ties, the full and open trans­paren­cy, what we have been doing seems to me to be not con­tro­ver­sial. But I’ve seen some spec­u­la­tion that I sus­pect would cre­ate prob­lems and we don’t want to go there.

Q: Sec­re­tary Gates, chair­man, can I ask you about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the com­ments yes­ter­day from Gen­er­al Amos to the effect that now is not the right time to repeal? Did you know those com­ments were com­ing? Do you have any reac­tion to them? Have you been in touch with him? And sep­a­rate­ly, on the Decem­ber review — are you con­fi­dent that it will both come in on time and that there will be a way to make use of it with the cur­rent Con­gress?

SEC. GATES: Why don’t you take that?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN: I have great con­fi­dence that the review is track­ing and we’ll com­ment on time. And all the ser­vice chiefs — and I’ve met with them sev­er­al times — under­stand both the process as well as the tim­ing of all this. And it’s I think very impor­tant that as these results are stud­ied and that we all come to our con­clu­sions that we do that in a way — what we’ve agreed to is to do this pri­vate­ly and to put togeth­er our best mil­i­tary advice. And my expec­ta­tions are that that’s part of the – that’s part of the process. That’s what we’re com­mit­ted to advise both the sec­re­tary and the pres­i­dent on how to move for­ward.

Q: Gen­er­al Amos?

ADM. MULLEN Specif­i­cal­ly yes. I was, actu­al­ly sur­prised. I was sur­prised what he said, sur­prised he said it pub­licly. And specif­i­cal­ly, again, back to the com­mit­ment that’s been there which has been to come togeth­er based on sev­er­al meet­ing that we’ve had, look at the data, and make our rec­om­men­da­tions pri­vate­ly, which is where we are.

Q: Have you been in touch with him or —

ADM. MULLEN: I have not. I have not.

MR. MORRELL: Yes, Greg, go ahead. Oh, this is Peter.

Q: Did you dis­cuss with your Aus­tralian inter­locu­tors the Chi­nese asser­tion of the South Chi­na Sea as a core nation­al inter­est? And what’s your view: Is Chi­na inclined to per­sist with that claim or to retreat from that claim?

SEC. GATES: Well, we spent a lit­tle bit of time this morn­ing talk­ing about Chi­na and our respec­tive rela­tion­ships with Chi­na, our desire to build those rela­tion­ships. We talked about the impor­tance of the meet­ings in Hanoi and else­where in terms of a vari­ety of coun­tries talk­ing about estab­lish­ing rules of the road, if you will, in terms of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, mar­itime secu­ri­ty, and work­ing in the con­text of inter­na­tion­al law and in par­tic­u­lar the U.N. Law of the Sea.

And it seems to us that that kind of a mul­ti­lat­er­al engage­ment among all of the coun­tries, includ­ing Chi­na, is the most pro­duc­tive way for­ward. We talked about that. And we talked about addi­tion­al ways in which we can engage Chi­na and work with Chi­na.

Q: Mr. Sec­re­tary, this year we’ve seen Chi­na make its claims on the South Chi­na Sea, demand that you not send an air­craft car­ri­er into the Yel­low Sea on two occa­sions, then tak­ing the actions on the rare earth min­er­als. They react­ed so strong­ly to the Japan­ese tak­ing cus­tody of the cap­tain who ran the Japan­ese ship. Is this a pat­tern of assertive­ness from Chi­na that gives you any pause for con­cern? And why are we see­ing this pat­tern from the Chi­nese?

SEC. GATES: Well, I would say that there were — in a meet­ing in Hanoi of the defense min­is­ters there was a dis­cus­sion of a num­ber of issues, includ­ing some of those that you’ve talked about and coun­tries express­ing their con­cern. And I would just say that I felt like that was a con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion. At the same time, we’re see­ing what I hope are some promis­ing signs from Chi­na in terms of our mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship.

One of our offi­cers was in Bei­jing in late Sep­tem­ber and laid out a — got an agree­ment in terms of the var­i­ous steps of coop­er­a­tion going for­ward. It began with the mar­itime con­sul­ta­tive talks a cou­ple of weeks ago. There’ll be the defense con­sul­ta­tive talks in Decem­ber in Wash­ing­ton. And, as you know, I’ve been invit­ed to Chi­na ear­ly in the year and I’ve accept­ed that invi­ta­tion. So I would say that this is all a work in progress.

Q: Will you send an air­craft car­ri­er back to the Yel­low Sea when­ev­er you feel like?

SEC. GATES: Well, we — let me just say that we believe and have long believed in the impor­tance of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and we intend to abide by inter­na­tion­al law. But we will assert free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, as we have for a long time. I don’t know. Do you want to add any­thing?

ADM. MULLEN: The only thing I’d answer is those are inter­na­tion­al waters and they aren’t owned by Chi­na. They aren’t owned by Korea. They’re not — they’re inter­na­tion­al waters in which we have and many oth­er coun­tries have sailed for­ev­er. My expec­ta­tion is we’ll con­tin­ue to do that.

Q: Mr. Sec­re­tary, can I ask — dur­ing the press­er today you said that you have indi­ca­tions that efforts are hav­ing effect in Iran. Can you elab­o­rate on that? What signs you’re actu­al­ly see­ing?

SEC. GATES: Well, I would, with­out get­ting into details — I think we see evi­dence that the sanc­tions are bit­ing more deeply than the Ira­ni­ans antic­i­pat­ed they would and that the actions that indi­vid­ual coun­tries have tak­en on top of the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion have had con­sid­er­able effect in terms of aggra­vat­ing Iran’s trade and finan­cial oper­a­tions.

Q: Mr. Sec­re­tary, John Kerin. Can you clar­i­fy, when there will be more on the joint strike fight­er, and the details of the review?

SEC. GATES: There is a — well, the review is under­way or will be under­way I think next week if I’m not mis­tak­en. And then there will be a meet­ing of the part­ners in Rome under the MOU.

As you know, I took strong action last — ear­li­er this year in terms of restruc­tur­ing the pro­gram, fir­ing the pro­gram man­ag­er, hir­ing an extreme­ly capa­ble vice admi­ral to run it and penal­iz­ing the com­pa­ny $600 mil­lion in per­for­mance fees. So I think peo­ple know we’re seri­ous about this and going to be very tough in our expec­ta­tions.

I think that the actions that I’ve tak­en over the last 18 months or so show that the time when the Pen­ta­gon will be patient with pro­grams that are over cost and over­due with the gov­ern­ment accept­ing the risk has worn thin. This is obvi­ous­ly a very impor­tant pro­gram not only for us, but for all of our part­ners. We will go for­ward with it but we clear­ly have expec­ta­tions.

Q: Mr. Sec­re­tary, could I just ask a fol­low-up to the ear­li­er ques­tion I asked? You said in answer to that that the Unit­ed States did­n’t want to do any­thing which would cre­ate polit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in Aus­tralia. In terms of the future coop­er­a­tion between the two coun­tries, to what extent do you feel con­strained by poten­tial polit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties?

SEC. GATES: Well, at this point since no ideas have actu­al­ly been put on the table between two gov­ern­ments, I don’t feel con­strained at all. And I expect that Joint Work­ing Group will put a num­ber of things on the table and the first thing we have to see is what’s use­ful and what’s use­ful to both coun­tries from a mil­i­tary stand­point, from the stand­point of pre­pared­ness, espe­cial­ly for nat­ur­al dis­as­ters.

So I think that — I real­ize it’s been a big deal in the Aus­tralian papers here in the last cou­ple of days, but the truth is we’re right at the begin­ning of this process. And not only has noth­ing been decid­ed, noth­ing for­mal has even been put on paper between the two coun­tries as far as I know.

MR. MORRELL: Anna.

Q: You both were dis­cussing cyber­se­cu­ri­ty through­out these meet­ings and cyber war­fare. And there’ve been con­cerns about the extent to which the mil­i­tary should and can delve into the cyber secu­ri­ty in the pri­vate realm as well. And I’d be curi­ous about your thoughts. How do you pro­tect pri­vate U.S. cit­i­zens and their pri­va­cy while still pro­tect­ing cyber­space?

SEC. GATES: Well, this is an issue. And here is the chal­lenge. In terms of pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can — America’s net­works, the real­i­ty is the mil­i­tary has vir­tu­al­ly all of the capa­bil­i­ty. So how do you – and it can’t be repli­cat­ed. There isn’t the human tal­ent and there isn’t enough dol­lars. So how do you give the civil­ian side of the gov­ern­ment access to that in a way that pro­tects pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties?

And the way we have done this is that this sum­mer, this past sum­mer, Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty Napoli­tano and I signed a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing that actu­al­ly puts a sep­a­rate Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty unit in the lead­er­ship struc­ture of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency.

So the DHS with its own lawyers and with Depart­ment of Jus­tice rep­re­sen­ta­tion and all of the pro­tec­tions for pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties can in fact use the — task the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency to help DHS ful­fill its respon­si­bil­i­ties for the “dot gov” and “dot com” worlds.

So I actu­al­ly think — and that went through the inter­a­gency and the pres­i­dent approved. And I think it is a good prac­ti­cal way to move this ahead in a time­ly way because the risks to the cyber net­works are grow­ing every sin­gle day. And until we did this mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing, our bureau­cra­cy, frankly, was just tied up in knots because of the issues that you raise.

And this seemed like a good, prac­ti­cal way to make this hap­pen in a way that there are pro­tec­tions for pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties.

Q: Sec­re­tary Gates, I just won­dered if you could com­ment for me — yes­ter­day, Sec­re­tary Clin­ton reaf­firmed that the Unit­ed States intends to start draw­ing down troops in Afghanistan in 2011. For your­self, what are the mark­ers that you would see as a suc­cess­ful phase that you can begin such a tran­si­tion? I mean, in this sense, I guess how do you deal with the sort of cyn­i­cal ques­tion which would be the response from Viet­nam — let’s declare vic­to­ry and get out?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, we’re not get­ting out. We’re talk­ing about prob­a­bly years long process. It will be con­di­tions based and those con­di­tions will be eval­u­at­ed by the ISAF com­man­der and his staff, by the civil­ians from NATO and our part­ners and the Afghan gov­ern­ment. And I would not be sur­prised if there are some rec­om­men­da­tions as ear­ly as next spring in terms of dis­tricts and per­haps provinces that might be can­di­dates for tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty con­trol at that time.

Q: Could you elab­o­rate on the con­di­tions?

SEC. GATES: Well, it has to do with obvi­ous­ly secu­ri­ty, gov­er­nance, civil­ian capac­i­ty. There are sev­er­al met­rics that ISAF work­ing with the Afghans have put togeth­er against which they will eval­u­ate the sit­u­a­tion. Obvi­ous­ly, pri­ma­ry among those will be secu­ri­ty, the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion, and the abil­i­ty of the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, includ­ing the local police, to main­tain secu­ri­ty once our forces begin to thin out.

And the idea — again, the word “tran­si­tion” was cho­sen very care­ful­ly. When the debate began a year ago on this, we used the word “trans­fer.” But trans­fer con­not­ed – today you have all this sup­port struc­ture, includ­ing our troops and every­thing else, and tomor­row you have noth­ing, so you’re com­plete­ly on your own.

So tran­si­tion was the word we agreed to use because it described a process where what you will see is — you’ll see a thin­ning of the for­eign forces in a par­tic­u­lar dis­trict or province. And so there’s a bit of a safe­ty net under the Afghans as they see how they can do and as they take charge. And so I think that this makes a lot of sense.

And in truth, there are already places in Afghanistan, most notably Kab­ul, where the Afghans have tak­en the lead in secu­ri­ty.

Q: Can I ask you just to clar­i­fy —

(Cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: Let’s go to Dan next.

Q: Just to clar­i­fy a lit­tle, you talked about that we’re not get­ting out obvi­ous­ly imme­di­ate­ly. You talked about it’s a year’s long process. Can you just explain exact­ly what you mean by that?

SEC. GATES: Well, let me just say that peo­ple say, well, you pick July, 2011, and that lets the Tal­iban know that there is an end date. Well, I hope the Tal­iban think that’s an end date because it’s not and they’re going to be very sur­prised come August, Sep­tem­ber, Octo­ber, and Novem­ber, when most Amer­i­can forces are still there and still com­ing after them.

NATO is look­ing at — one of the agen­da items for the Lis­bon sum­mit is to embrace Pres­i­dent Karzai’s goal, com­plet­ing the trans­fer of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghanistan by 2014, so I think that’s the time – that’s the kind of time­frame that we’re talk­ing about.

But the oth­er piece that I think is impor­tant is that we’re all con­vinced that we have to stay in Afghanistan in — and remain a part­ner of Afghanistan, even after most if not all of our troops are gone. We walked away from Afghanistan in 1988 and we saw the con­se­quences of that in 2001. And so I think we and our inter­na­tion­al part­ners are deter­mined that we will remain and con­tin­ue to help on devel­op­ment; con­tin­ue, if the Afghans want us to, to do train­ing. We undoubt­ed­ly work with them in terms of equip­ment for their forces and so on. So we don’t see this as a rela­tion­ship that ends when the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion is com­plet­ed. But the bal­ance changes over time. Right now, it’s very heav­i­ly weight­ed towards secu­ri­ty. And that will change as the secu­ri­ty forces come out over time and as con­di­tions per­mit, and as the devel­op­ment efforts are able to expand because of increased secu­ri­ty.

Q: Mr. Sec­re­tary, there’s a ten­sion, isn’t there, in there —

(Cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: Gen­tle­men, I’d just remind you also, we do have Admi­ral Mullen here for you to take advan­tage of as well, so, Greg, avail your­self of him as well.

Q: Admi­ral Mullen, if you’d like to com­ment on this as well —

ADM. MULLEN: It depends on the ques­tion (laugh­ter) —

(Laugh­ter.)

Q: A lot of folks in Asia and some in Wash­ing­ton say that there’s a ten­sion between the Amer­i­can com­mit­ment in Afghanistan and the abil­i­ty of the Unit­ed States to have the bud­getary resources to do every­thing that it needs to do in the Asia-Pacif­ic to main­tain its tra­di­tion­al pres­ence and for­ward deploy­ment and secu­ri­ty here. I notice that you said in the press con­fer­ence you were look­ing at an enhanced mil­i­tary pres­ence in the Asia-Pacif­ic. Are you real­ly con­fi­dent that the U.S. can sus­tain this in a bud­getary way? Has­n’t the U.S. already lost capa­bil­i­ties like the F‑22 that it would have had for the Asia-Pacif­ic if it had not been for the resources need­ed for Afghanistan and Iraq?

SEC. GATES: I did­n’t cap the F‑22 because of bud­getary con­sid­er­a­tions. I capped it because we had as many as we need­ed. For three years run­ning, we had told the Con­gress 187 F‑22s is enough. And we final­ly were able to pre­vail.

We have not, in my view, either over the last 18 months, or as I’m look­ing ahead to the deci­sions that I’ll be mak­ing going for­ward, look­ing at any cuts that would affect our pres­ence or capa­bil­i­ty in the Pacif­ic. And indeed, as I talk about cut­ting over­head in order to strength­en capa­bil­i­ty, that capa­bil­i­ty may include more air­craft. It may include more ships and obvi­ous­ly this region would be one of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of that. And those are the kinds of things that our ser­vices and the rest of the depart­ment are look­ing at right now.

But this is — this is a process and I’ll turn to Admi­ral Mullen in a sec­ond — this is a process where our mil­i­tary lead­er­ship has been deeply involved in all of these deci­sions every step of the way. And the pro­grams that have been capped or cut — pro­grams that have been capped are those where we say, like the C‑17s, where we say we have enough. And in fact, we have more than enough. Stop, so we can spend the mon­ey on some­thing that we need more. Same thing with the F‑22.

Oth­er pro­grams have been cut because they were so far over bud­get that it was unac­cept­able. Some were cut because they were so far over sched­ule — one had an orig­i­nal devel­op­ment time of four or five years and it was in its 14th year.

And so we weren’t cut­ting capa­bil­i­ty. We were cut­ting pro­grams that weren’t work­ing so we could focus our resources on those that are and on invest­ing in future capa­bil­i­ties. And so I think that the out­come of the process that we’re going through is that I do not see cir­cum­stances under which our pres­ence — bud­getary require­ments would lead us to reduce our pres­ence in the Pacif­ic.

Mike?

ADM. MULLEN: We’ve been very focused, obvi­ous­ly, and right­ful­ly so on the bud­get require­ments. I would say – and the secretary’s guid­ed this — and one of the prin­ci­ples of guid­ing this was to make sure — basi­cal­ly to be able to sup­port our force struc­ture. So I sort of come at this two-way. One is the force struc­ture that we have and the effi­cien­cies the mon­ey that we’re gen­er­at­ing will be put into more capa­bil­i­ty across the board, very com­mit­ted to con­tin­ued engage­ment and pres­ence glob­al­ly. Cer­tain­ly today’s meet­ings reem­pha­size the impor­tance of the region.

And the oth­er aspect of this is as we con­tin­ue to tran­si­tion out of these wars over the next years, we will — that will free up resources, which have been hereto­fore very much tied down in the Cen­tral Com­mand to do oth­er things. So I see it — I see it with­in our over­all force struc­ture. And you heard about the com­mit­ments to this region. In our future, we will cer­tain­ly be able to stay com­mit­ted very specif­i­cal­ly to this region and oth­er places as well.

SEC. GATES: I would just add — I would just add one oth­er thing and that is most of the — almost all of the war costs have been cov­ered in sup­ple­men­tal appro­pri­a­tions, not by our base bud­get. And what we’ve been try­ing to do over the last cou­ple of years is iden­ti­fy those things that have been fund­ed in the sup­ple­men­tals that we think need to be a part of our base bud­get going for­ward. So, as an exam­ple, Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand has most­ly been fund­ed in the past years through these sup­ple­men­tals. We are — we have worked over the last two or three years to move more and more of the SOCOM bud­get into the base bud­get so those capa­bil­i­ties can be sus­tained. All of the fam­i­ly pro­grams and wound­ed war­rior pro­grams that we have that have been fund­ed by the sup­ple­men­tals in the past have been moved into the base bud­get.

So the wars have tak­en a toll in terms of what it will cost us to reset on equip­ment, cer­tain­ly a toll on our peo­ple. But in terms of the war costs itself, they’ve been prin­ci­pal­ly fund­ed through the sup­ple­men­tals. And when the sup­ple­men­tals go away, every­thing I’m try­ing to do is that we will be able to sus­tain our cur­rent force struc­ture.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: Let me just do this. We have time for four more ques­tions — two a side. It’s Anne, its Phil, its Ian and John Kerin.

Q: Can I ask you both to revis­it the Lis­bon and Karzai’s 2014 goal just a lit­tle bit. Does the Unit­ed States sup­port the 2014 cal­en­dar as a Lis­bon agen­da item and as a pro­gram and do you think that 2014 is a real­is­tic end date for that tran­si­tion process?

SEC. GATES: Speak­ing per­son­al­ly, I would say yes to both ques­tions.

ADM. MULLEN: Yes, and that’s the way I see it as well. When you look at what is laid out for Lis­bon and what Gen­er­al Petraeus and oth­ers have looked in terms of tran­si­tion, both in the near term and the far term, it’s — there’s an awful lot that’s been flushed out along the lines that the secretary’s talk­ing about before, obvi­ous­ly great­ly tied to secu­ri­ty and the Afghans being able to take the lead. I mean, we’ve accom­plished a lot with the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces over the course of the last year in terms of their struc­ture, their train­ing, their cur­ricu­lums, et cetera. We’re clear­ly not there. But as a tar­get at this point that — that makes sense. And so I’m com­fort­able with it at this point.

MR. MORRELL: Phil? All right, let’s go to Ian — mixed it up, sor­ry.

Q: I’m just won­der­ing if you could com­ment on the polit­i­cal process that would be required in Afghanistan and on the idea of engag­ing with the Tal­iban or what mod­er­ate ele­ments of the Tal­iban can be iden­ti­fied in this process of draw­ing down mil­i­tar­i­ly.

SEC. GATES: Well, there are clear­ly a lot of threads asso­ci­at­ed with this thing. There is broad agree­ment that the end game in Afghanistan must involve rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to some degree. Our view is that it needs to be on — basi­cal­ly on the terms that the Afghan gov­ern­ment can accept. And my per­son­al opin­ion is that the Tal­iban need to clear­ly see that the prospects for suc­cess have dimin­ished dra­mat­i­cal­ly and that in fact they may well lose for them, at the most senior lev­els, to seri­ous­ly engage in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

My view is that — and it’s just a per­son­al opin­ion because things could change quick­ly — but I sus­pect that that would be dif­fi­cult. It would be dif­fi­cult to achieve those cir­cum­stances before next spring. And — but I think the fact that peo­ple are begin­ning to talk has mer­it, but I think that for the Tal­iban to be seri­ous about it, they have to rec­og­nize that the cir­cum­stances have changed pret­ty dra­mat­i­cal­ly. And I think we’re mov­ing in that direc­tion.

Now, I would dif­fer­en­ti­ate that from rein­te­gra­tion, which is the low­er lev­el com­ing over of the Tal­iban fight­ers and local com­man­ders to rejoin their local com­mu­ni­ties, to acknowl­edge the role of the Afghan gov­ern­ment, to put down their arms in terms of resist­ing the gov­ern­ment. And we’re see­ing that hap­pen in still rel­a­tive­ly small num­bers in a vari­ety of places around the coun­try.

Q: By that you mean that — by them los­ing you mean ISAF and NATO and the coali­tion win­ning. Is that how you see it?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think they have to see that they are not ulti­mate­ly going to be suc­cess­ful in retak­ing the gov­ern­ment by force, tak­ing con­trol of the coun­try by force.

MR. MORRELL: Phil?

Q: Pak­istan: what is — what more can be done to put pres­sure on the mil­i­tants in the safe havens? Clear­ly there was a report to Con­gress recent­ly that said there was a lack of polit­i­cal will as well, to a lit­tle after that, a com­bi­na­tion they don’t need to do that. Is there any­thing that can be done to change that polit­i­cal cal­cu­lus?

And the sec­ond part of the ques­tion is — the sec­ond ques­tion is about Wik­iLeaks. I don’t think either of you respond­ed pub­licly since that lat­est leaks, 400,000 doc­u­ments — (inaudi­ble). Can you tell me a bit about whether con­cerns that were voiced man­i­fest­ed? Were there any real­ly kind of com­pro­mised nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests in that leak?

MR. MORRELL: I think that is two ques­tions.

Q: That’s it. I’m done.

MR. MORRELL: We’ll take one of them. Which one do you want?

SEC. GATES: Why don’t you go ahead on Pak­istan?

ADM. MULLEN: I just think we have to con­tin­ue to stay engaged in Pak­istan. As you know, we had the third round of the strate­gic dia­logue two weeks ago, and it was — it was broad based from cer­tain­ly finan­cial to secu­ri­ty and we also talked about the floods. And we, in those engage­ments rou­tine­ly dis­cussed the neces­si­ty — their abil­i­ty to con­tin­ue to fight the fight that they’re in with respect to their extrem­ists.

And the premise of your ques­tion is get­ting them to change their cal­cu­lus is cer­tain­ly — the impor­tance of that con­tin­ues to be pri­ma­ry. That said, that cal­cu­lus is based on their own secu­ri­ty, their own views of their own secu­ri­ty. Not only did we leave Afghanistan in 1988, we left Pak­istan not too long after that. And so we’ve worked hard to try to rebuild that trust. We’re not there yet. It’s going to take a con­sid­er­able more effort.

That bor­der area hous­es the — we’ve said ‑I’ve said it’s the epi­cen­ter of ter­ror­ism in the world and it’s some­thing I think we all have to con­tin­ue to work togeth­er to con­tin­ue to focus on that. And they cer­tain­ly rec­og­nize that. But it’s going to take time and it’s not — we’d all like it to move more quick­ly. That said, we con­tin­ue to stay engaged, sup­port them in train­ing, and work toward the strate­gic part­ner­ship, which I think in the long run is the answer which solves the prob­lem — to make sure that it does­n’t con­tin­ue to thrive as a safe haven and in fact con­tin­ue to sup­port killing our peo­ple in Afghanistan. And we’re just not there yet.

MR. MORRELL: Ian? I mean John. Sor­ry.

Q: Can I just ask about the cor­rup­tion issue in Afghanistan, how much that’s hold­ing efforts back? If you’re mak­ing progress on the secu­ri­ty front, on the train­ing of forces — not least the cor­rup­tion sit­u­a­tion — gain­ing pub­lic trust in the gov­ern­ment.

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, we have to real­ize that cor­rup­tion is not a prob­lem unique to Afghanistan. And so I think we have to deal with it in a way that advances our mis­sion. We need to do what we can with the Afghan gov­ern­ment to get rid of the preda­to­ry cor­rup­tion that turns peo­ple against the gov­ern­ment or recruits them for the Tal­iban. And we need to go after cor­rup­tion that is so bla­tant that it becomes an imped­i­ment to achieve­ment of our mis­sion there.

Deal­ing with the prob­lem of cor­rup­tion in a soci­ety is a long-range prob­lem. And so I think we need to triage, if you will, and focus on the cor­rup­tion that is so bad that it gets in the way of our being able to accom­plish our mis­sion and we’ll keep work­ing at a larg­er prob­lem over time.

I think the one thing that per­haps I was one of the first to iden­ti­fy, and I did so in Kab­ul, is that when it comes to the cor­rup­tion, we are part of the prob­lem. Our con­tract­ing and the tens of bil­lions of dol­lars we are pour­ing into the coun­try in one way or anoth­er. And both we and the Depart­ment of State have tak­en — and I would say espe­cial­ly Gen­er­al Petraeus in recent months — have tak­en a num­ber of steps to try and tight­en up our own pro­ce­dures and our way we con­tract to try and min­i­mize the con­tri­bu­tion we’re mak­ing to the prob­lem that we face?

MR. MORRELL: So I think we’ve run over. Dan was try­ing to push us to go longer because he has a ques­tion for Admi­ral Mullen, so he could answer —

Q: We would feel bad if you could only doo­dle on the paper and not answer ques­tions for us.

MR. MORRELL: What’s your ques­tion, quick­ly? What have you got?

Q: I just won­dered whether or not you would like to say the Aus­tralian SAS have a base in Kan­da­har, rather than tran­sit­ing out from Tarin Kowt — in order to par­tic­i­pate in oper­a­tions there.

ADM. MULLEN: No, I mean we — and that’s some­thing that we talked about today, but also have worked very hard over the course of the last year, year and a half, as the Dutch tran­si­tioned — looked to tran­si­tion out of Uruz­gan and the Amer­i­cans — the U.S. has tak­en a lead there. And I — I mean, in dis­cus­sions I’ve had with Air Chief Mar­shal Hous­ton, how hap­py he is and how hap­py the Aus­tralian forces are with that tran­si­tion. And Uruz­gan is a crit­i­cal place. The train­ing mis­sion in par­tic­u­lar that Aus­tralian forces have exe­cut­ed has been ter­rif­ic. And obvi­ous­ly the Spe­cial Forces aspect, the SAS has real­ly been crit­i­cal as well.

I’ve nev­er – Gen­er­al Petraeus has told me this, I get it from the field – they’ve nev­er been — both the Aus­tralian lead­er­ship and the ISAF lead­er­ship have nev­er been more pleased with the way it’s going right now. So hav­ing worked that hard over the last year to tran­si­tion to what we have, we’re in a good place right now. And I cer­tain­ly would­n’t change that.

MR. MORRELL: Thank you all for com­ing. I appre­ci­ate it.

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

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