Media Availability with Secretary Gates and Secretary Fox from the Pentagon
SEC. GATES: Admiral Mullen and I just completed productive and substantive discussions, almost three hours worth, with Dr. Fox and General Richards.
Our talks included military operations over Libya, where the U.S. continues to be in a supporting role to the NATO-led campaign, along with our Arab allies. We talked about the way ahead in Afghanistan, where more than 9,000 British troops are in the thick of the fight. We talked about the historic changes under way across the Middle East, where we condemn violent tactics against peaceful protests.
We also talked about some of the challenges facing both of our military establishments to sustain key military capabilities at a time of economic distress and intense fiscal pressure.
For some seven decades, the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and the special bond forged in blood between our militaries, has been a force for good in this world. And I’m pleased that our dialogue today sustained and advanced that relationship at such a challenging time.
SEC. FOX: Can I begin by thanking Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen for hosting us here today at such an important time. Today, as throughout much of our shared history, our armed forces stand shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan, fighting piracy in the Gulf and, of course, today in Libya.
We had a wide-ranging set of discussions today. We discussed the situation in Afghanistan, which remains our main effort. We discussed how the process of transition was moving forward and how, increasingly, while we have control of the military space in Afghanistan, the situation in the political space becomes of ever greater importance.
In Libya, we discussed how the situation is progressing. We’ve seen some momentum gained in the last few days. We’re very grateful to the United States for making the armed Predators available and for the difference that makes in helping us to be able to hit more ground targets. We’ve seen some progress made in Misurata, and it’s very clear that the regime is on the back foot.
The sooner that Colonel Gadhafi recognizes that the game is up, however, today or shortly, the better. He is a liability for his people and his country, and the sooner that he gets this message, the better. It is also appalling for us to see the sight of young mercenary soldiers being pushed to the front of lines in places like Misurata, and it’s a sign of desperation from a regime that they resort to these sorts of tactics.
Finally, of course, we were looking at the situation in Syria. We deeply deplore the actions of the Syrian government in killing civilians. We urge them to take all measures possible to have political reform and to ensure that the people in their country are treated in safety and with dignity, in the way that we expect all in our own countries and in those countries who are part of the civilized family of nations to behave.
SEC. GATES: Do you want to take one —
Q: May I ask you a question — Robert Moore from British television ITN — and Secretary Gates as well? I wonder if you could explain to people why we are intervening in Libya with such conviction and passion, and yet humanitarian intervention in Syria seems to be off the agenda. How many people have to live in fear of their own government to justify NATO’s involvement?
SEC. FOX: Well, first of all, we had a long diplomatic process, when we tried to persuade the government of Libya to carry out a process of reform. When we saw the spontaneous uprising in Libya, we wanted the Libyan government to accede in the way that ultimately governments in places like Tunisia and Egypt had done. They decided not to do so, and when we got to the point where we saw Benghazi being threatened and a potential humanitarian catastrophe, the international community, through the United Nations, decided to act.
We would urge countries such as Syria to yet pause and reflect on the fact that it is the people of the country who must ultimately determine their destiny, not any despotic regime. And therefore we hope that the international community will be able to get the Syrian government to recognize that sense should prevail.
And finally, of course, as Prime Minister Cameron has said, because in the past we’ve not been able to do everything, doesn’t mean that we should ever do nothing. There are limitations to what we can do in a world which has more than its historic amount of instability. We will do what we can to reinforce the values that our countries share. But we can’t do everything all the time, and we have to recognize that there are practical limitations to what our countries can do, no matter how much we would like to do so. Q: Secretary Gates?
SEC. GATES: The only thing I would add is that I think that our values and principles apply to all countries in terms of peaceful protest, in terms of the need to address political and economic grievances of the populations.
That said, our response in each country will have to be tailored to that country and to the circumstances peculiar to that country. In the case of Libya, the diplomatic process started with a resolution by the Arab League — which was unprecedented in my experience — buttressed by another resolution by the Gulf Cooperation Council and then moving on to the United Nations. So there was a degree of international support for this humanitarian mission and the no-fly zone that I think was unprecedented. So I would — I would agree with everything Dr. Fox said and then just add those observations. Bob?
Q: Mr. — a question for both of you. The — in light of the attack on Gadhafi’s compound yesterday, is this an indication that targeting priorities are shifting toward what the U.S. military sometimes call centers of gravity of the regime leadership, those kinds of targets that might improve Gadhafi’s appreciation for the risk of holding on?
SEC. GATES: Go ahead.
Q: A second quick question on Afghanistan — could you bring us up to date on your decision-making process with regard to the July drawdown and the full drawdown of surge forces?
SEC. GATES: First of all, I would say we have considered all along command-and-control centers to be a legitimate target, and we have taken those out elsewhere. They are the ones that are — those centers are the ones that are commanding the forces that are committing some of these humanitarian — violations of humanitarian rights, such as in Misurata. So we consider them legitimate targets. We are not targeting him specifically, but we do consider command-and-control targets legitimate targets wherever we find them.
In Afghanistan, we will — I have not yet received General Petraeus’ recommendations. I expect that they will be coming in the not too distant future. I don’t know if you want to add.
SEC. FOX: People ask, in Libya, have we taken a side? And the answer is, yes, we have; we’ve taken the side of the civilian population. That is what the United Nations Security Council resolution has asked us to do. All that we want is that men, women and children can sleep safe in their own homes, knowing that they will not be attacked by their own government. And as long as that government continues to target civilians, as Secretary Gates says, we will continue to regard all their command-and-control mechanisms as legitimate targets.
We in the international community understand what it is that we have given in terms of our commitment to the civilian population. We understand our duty, and our resolve will not waiver as long as that civilian population remains at risk from an aggressive and wicked regime which has waged war on its own people.
SEC. GATES: Thank you.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)