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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