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Brian Luke Community Blogger, WGRZ-TV

Thursday, November 4, 2010

DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

MR. MORRELL: Hey, guys. Good afternoon. It's been a while. Let me go over a few items and then we'll get right to your questions.

First of all, our thoughts and prayers are with the Fort Hood community as they prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting that killed 13 and wounded 32. Tomorrow, Secretary McHugh and General Casey will travel to Killeen to participate in a ceremony remembering those lost and honoring the soldiers and civilians who helped tend to the wounded. You may recall that the 1908th and the 467th Medical Detachments were in the process of deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, when they and others came under attack at home. I'm happy to report that those units have recently returned home from successful tours overseas. Meanwhile, the prosecution of the accused shooter is moving into pre-trial hearings. The entire Fort Hood family has shown truly exemplary strength and resilience as they work to recover, and we will continue to support them in every way that we can.

Now to Secretary Gates' upcoming travel schedule. Late tomorrow night, he departs for Melbourne, where he will join Secretary Clinton for the 25th annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, or as we refer to is AUSMIN. This is Secretary Gates' and Secretary Clinton's fourth international trip together, and they will be joined this time by Chairman Mullen.

You may recall that this meeting was originally scheduled for last January, but was postponed due to the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti and the need for both secretaries to remain in Washington to help manage the U.S. assistance effort.

I should note that Haiti is currently bracing for another natural disaster, Tropical Storm Tomas, and we are again positioned to respond quickly. Several days ago, SOUTHCOM directed the USS Iwo Jima to steam toward Haiti, carrying a crew of 1,600 military and civilian medical, engineering, aviation, logistical and other support personnel to help where needed.

Back to AUSMIN now, this year's gathering is an occasion to reflect on the strength and resiliency of the U.S.-Australian alliance, a bond between two democracies of shared cultural -- culture, interests and values, while also considering the path forward together. In particular, the discussions will address our joint effort in Afghanistan, where Australia is the largest non-NATO troop contributor, with over 1,500 troops, serving largely in Uruzgan in RC South; our work together across Southeast Asia, both to confront the region's humanitarian, developmental and environmental challenges, and also to provide assistance to partners on issues ranging from disaster relief to maritime security; and finally, the vital role our military partnership continues to play in Asia's overall security environment.

From Melbourne, the secretary travels on to Malaysia next Tuesday. There he'll meet with Prime Minister Najib as well as Defense Minister Zahid, who actually visited the Pentagon earlier this year. They'll discuss our strengthening bilateral military ties -- over the past six years, we've held an increasing number of joint exercises, and Malaysia has been an important contributor to humanitarian and peacekeeping missions globally -- as well as a discussion on security issues in the region and other areas for potential cooperation. This visit, as you know, follows closely on Secretary Clinton's, who's in Kuala Lumpur this week, and is yet another signal of our deepening relationship with Malaysia.

One final item: Secretary Gates joins Secretary Clinton and President Obama in urging the Senate to approve the New START Treaty before the adjournment of the current Congress. He and other -- he and many other former defense secretaries and national security officials from both parties have frequently voiced their strong belief that this treaty is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal, our knowledge of Russian nuclear capabilities and U.S. national security overall.

With that out of the way, let's get to questions. Anne.

Q Well, following on what you just said about the START treaty, is it the secretary's calculation, then, that the treaty is more likely to be able to be passed if it's done in the lame duck? What chances do you give it with the change of political calculus if it holds over into the new Congress?

And separately, also related to the Republican gains, what do you think will become of the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation? Is there any chance that it will be passed in the lame duck, and what happens to it if it doesn't?

MR. MORRELL: Let's start with the first first if I may, and then you may have to remind me of the second.

But on the first, this is -- I don't believe that either the president or his secretaries are advancing this during the lame-duck session because of some political calculus that it may stand a better chance of passage during that time. I think we're advancing it at this time and pushing for ratification because we need this and we need it sooner than later.

It's -- why wait until next year, next spring perhaps, for something that has -- we've been almost a year now without the START treaty and its verification provisions.

So we think this is what's necessary. It was necessary weeks, if not months, ago. So we hope the Congress will -- the Senate will address this as quickly as possible when they reconvene after this -- after the recess for the elections. There's no sense in putting off what we need now to the next Congress. But I don't believe our urging of this, of the action to be taken, is because we think that it fares any better chance in this Congress than the next Congress. We're advancing this now because we think it is the right thing to do. It is what's needed by our country at this time.

Q And "don't ask, don't tell" on the same calculation?

MR. MORRELL: I -- well, let me -- again, I mean, we're not -- what Congress decides to do legislatively with regards to, you know, "don't ask, don't tell," or any other issue for that matter, is largely their business. They take up things in the order that they -- that they see fit. Obviously, you saw the president yesterday address "don't ask, don't tell" in his post-election press conference. You also saw today during this cabinet meeting him specifically outline his desire for New START to be dealt with.

So I don't know what the Congress will do with regards to that. All I can tell you is sort of what we're in the process of doing. As I think you all know, the secretary's report is due on his desk by December the 1st. The working group, as I understand it, is very much on track to meet that deadline. So I think in, you know, 26 days time, the secretary will have the work product that he thinks is so necessary for us to be able to fully understand the full implications of a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and then what additional measures we need to take for -- in preparation for that eventuality.

You know from his discussion of this dating back to last February that he believes it's better to do this smart than stupid, and that this report is very important to us doing this smartly. So our focus right now is getting this report finished, getting it to the secretary, having him review it, carefully considering it -- consider it, and then take measures from there.

Q Can I follow up on that?


Q So right now, this department is urging congressional action on START, but not urging congressional action on "don't ask, don't tell." That's kind of what it boils down to, right?

MR. MORRELL: No. I -- we are clearly urging congressional action, echoing the president, on START. I think you saw the president speak to "don't ask, don't tell" as an issue, as a priority for him yesterday. We have been very, very clear on this. Again, Julian, dating back to last February, when the secretary first and the chairman first voiced support for the president's position on this, which is, they are for a repeal, but they want a study to take place in advance of that repeal to educate us about how to deal with this change. We have not yet completed that study, although we are very close. Let's let that finish, let's let the secretary get it and consider it, and then we'll chart a course from there.

Q So the calculation could change for the second half of the lame-duck session, essentially the December session, because at that point the review will be done. So depending on the outcome of that review, the -- this department might have more to say to Congress.

MR. MORRELL: I am not prepared at this time, Julian, to tell you what action we expect to take upon receipt of the report.

All I can tell you right now is, the report -- the working group is coming to a conclusion with its report. They expect to make the December 1st deadline, which was a very ambitious one the -- the secretary put in place last February for consideration of the full ramifications of repeal across every aspect of how we do business in this department.

So once the secretary gets it, I am sure that it will be a priority item for him to review and consider and then provide leadership for this department on how to move out based upon what the report tells us. But I don't have any news beyond that for you today on this.

Anything else on this? Yeah, go ahead.

Q Is Secretary Gates planning to urge, then, the Senate to pass defense authorization this year, or is he not going to engage --

MR. MORRELL: Well, I -- I mean, clearly we would like the defense appropriations bill and the defense authorization bill to be passed as soon as possible. We're operating on a continuing resolution that will, I think, expire early next month. We, of course, always prefer, Roxanna, for -- you know, to have these things done in regular order, for us to have had an appropriations bill, an authorization bill, by this point.

We're now operating on an extended CR, but that has a life to it and we'd much prefer to get an appropriations bill, an authorization bill passed, rather than have to extend the CR again and potentially have to deal with appropriations and authorizations come next year with a new Congress.

So, yes, there are many things we'd like the Congress to be dealing with. But, you know, clearly, funding this department, authorizing this department's activities are our priorities as well.

Q (Off mike) -- the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," because it's in the Senate bill. So how --

MR. MORRELL: Listen, I don't know how, ultimately, the Congress is going to consider these bills. That's for them to figure out. That's not -- we don't opine on such things. We clearly want our appropriations. We clearly want our authorizations. How they construct those, I'm not going to tell them how to do their business.

Q And just to follow --

Q On this also --

MR. MORRELL: Yes, David.

Q Just a quick one, and there's no reason you should have the answer off the top of your head. But have any service members been separated from the -- from service since the change in the procedures for implementing "don't ask, don't tell" were announced?

MR. MORRELL: The most recent changes, which is elevating this to ultimate approval by the service secretaries, in coordination with --

Q Yeah.

MR. MORRELL: -- the general counsel and the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness -- not to my knowledge.

Q Do you -- but you don't know for sure, or -- I mean, is there any way to just check on that issue?

MR. MORRELL: Sure. I think it's --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Not to my knowledge. We will check. I think it's highly unlikely. I think that's something that probably would have come across my desk at some point. Okay?


Q Geoff, how concerned is the secretary that the July 2011 deadline for troops to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan is pushing President Karzai into the arms of Iran?

MR. MORRELL: I don't get the sense that we believe that President Karzai is, as you describe it, being pushed into the arms of Iran.

Q But last week he -- his aides said that he received bags of cash from Iran.

MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I mean, I've seen those press reports. As I've told some of your colleagues, they don't surprise me. I think Iran for a long time -- we've discussed it from this podium vis-a-vis Iraq and Afghanistan -- has been playing, you know, both sides of -- of the fence: on one hand, trying to curry favor, as these payments would indicate, with the Afghan government, while on the other hand supporting anti-government forces, training, equipping, funding, directing them in their operations in Afghanistan -- not nearly to the degree that we saw in Iraq, but troublesome nonetheless.

So the fact that Iran may be attempting to do this I don't think is particularly surprising. But that said, listen, this is -- we're dealing with a sovereign country here in Afghanistan, who lives in a very, very difficult neighborhood. It has long historic, cultural, trade, ethnic ties to Iran, particularly in RC West, and they have to have a positive working relationship for there to ultimately be stability throughout that region.

So the fact that Iran or Afghanistan wishes to have a better working relationship, I don't know that we see as particularly problematic, provided Iran wants to play a constructive role in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and the region. If their desires are not ours in that respect, then that is troublesome, but they have to be -- they live in this neighborhood. They have to have relations with their neighbors. We hope those relations are constructive ones, but you know, President Karzai can have relations -- productive relations with us and also, presumably, with his neighbors as well, without it undermining necessarily our efforts in Afghanistan.

Q But are you hearing increasing complains from President Karzai or his office about the July 2011 deadline?

MR. MORRELL: No, not at all. I think they understand what the deadline -- you call it a "deadline," I -- what this date is all about. They understand that it has a -- there is a twofold purpose here. One was, as you know from this strategy, was to show a real sense of commitment to the effort in Afghanistan by inserting another 30,000 U.S. forces, another 10,000 coalition forces.

At the other hand, there was also an effort to sort of make clear to the Afghans that we're not going to be able to do this forever. So they need to step up to the plate and assume more and more responsibility, particularly on the security side. I think that message has gotten through loud and clear. You've seen this dramatic development in the Afghan National Security Forces over the past year. They've grown by a hundred thousand.

Our operations now in Kandahar, and Operation Hamkari, you now have six to -- 60 percent of our forces down there are Afghan forces. Compare that to our operations in Marja earlier this year, where I think the ratio was five U.S. troops to every one Afghan. So their capabilities, their effectiveness, their size have improved dramatically over the past year, and it's really becoming a difference-maker on the ground. It's one of the reasons that General Petraeus credits our success in Kandahar and its environs since Hamkari began in earnest in late August, early September when the full surge force was in place.

Q Can I follow up to Jim's question?


Q I mean, with the new Congress coming into office in January, many of whom have been very vocally opposed to this July 2011 date, if they are able to exert pressure and push the idea, would the Pentagon be open or receptive to a loosening of that date?

MR. MORRELL: First of all, this is a presidential policy, so fundamentally that's a question to put to the president and the White House.

But I think this -- there's this misperception as to what July 2011 is and what it isn't. This is not a date by which we all of a sudden decide, "See ya, fellas, we're out of here," and our forces leave the country.

This is a date by which, conditions-based, we make determinations about where we can begin to thin out forces and where we can begin to transition increasing security responsibility to the Afghans.

As General Petraeus and others have described it many times lately, this is not about us withdrawing from any particular region. It is about us thinning out, giving the Afghans increasing responsibility for the security situation there, and then taking the dividend from thinning out and sending some of it home, per the president's directive, while also reinvesting others elsewhere in the country where they are also still needed.

So I just -- I don't understand why people are confused about what this is and what it isn't. This is not, by any means, us departing Afghanistan come next July.

Q Well, I guess it is that the NATO commander in RC South recently just told us from Afghanistan that they're not going to have an idea of how much progress has been made until June, you know, that things are very seasonally based. You can't judge an area in November, you know, on -- you have to judge it in June, after the -- after the harvest. So I'm just wondering, if one of the most important and volatile areas of the country you're not going to have a good read on until June --

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, but --

Q -- but the decision has to be made 30 days later.

MR. MORRELL: Chris, I guess what I would say to that is, let's just -- I think it's pretty obvious that the areas of Afghanistan from which you are most likely to be able to thin out forces are probably not Kandahar and Helmand. I mean, I would remind you that 60 percent of all the violence in Afghanistan is centered in Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar provinces; so three of 34 provinces account for 60 percent of the violence.

So 10 percent of all the provinces are -- is where the Taliban has focused their efforts.

And I would remind you, Kunar is really a distant third because there's really only one district in Kunar that's particularly troublesome. So Kandahar and Helmand are the most problematic of the provinces that we're dealing with. I think those are the ones, in all likelihood, where you would see the least amount of thinning. I don't know that as a fact yet because these determinations haven't been made. But looking out months in advance, it makes sense that the security situation there is most tenuous at this point, and that you would likely be looking for a thinning out in other parts of the country that are more secure at this point -- probably more areas in the north, more areas in the west, perhaps, than necessarily in the south.

Although I -- you know, listen, July is a long way out and we are by no means going to sit on our hands this winter. I mean, I don't know what the Taliban's going to do in this -- in what has historically been a down time for them, a time for them to sort of retreat and try to reinvigorate/rearm themselves. We are not in any way going to take the foot off the pedal this winter. We're going to take the fight and continue our operations all winter long. We'll see what the enemy does during this period of time. But there is a lot of fighting left to be done before these kinds of determinations are made next spring. So the dynamics on the ground can still change considerably before these decisions have to be rendered.

Q Can I just follow up?


Q Thank you. As far as security in Afghanistan is concerned, I'm sure Secretary Gates must have already advised President Obama --

MR. MORRELL: Let me -- let me -- just because I -- getting back to your point, though, Chris. I mean, the one thing that you should keep in mind, though -- and I think there is -- and I see this in some of the stories that get written from downrange, where I see this -- there's a bit of schizophrenia sometimes in the coverage on -- the same area can be covered very differently by different reporters.

I think you've seen some people clearly note the tactical, operational progress that's being made by our troops in Kandahar, in particular, and Helmand as well.

But there are other stories which sort of say, well, governance is still lacking, people don't feel secure enough to take the job opportunities that are being presented to them. So the civilian side of this is still not what it should be.

What I would say to that is a couple things. First of all, there's historically always been a lag between sort of our security progress and our governance progress. I mean, by some accounts there's -- there can be a six-month lag between those things. But I think it only is logical and stands to reason that you need to establish a certain security climate before you can have, you know, the government's capabilities that we would all like the Afghans to have at this point.

And we really began, as I mentioned earlier, Operation Hamkari in Kandahar and its surrounding areas in September. So although we've been -- we've noted extraordinary progress over the last couple months, I don't think anybody had the expectation that we would be seeing, you know, a dramatic change in the governance situation down there in that span of time, although I would -- I think you can go to any objective observer and say that, you know, Governor Wesa and some of the, you know, the people below him are performing very admirably under very difficult situations there.


Q Thank you, Geoff. What I was saying, that as far as security situation in Afghanistan is concerned and India's role in Afghanistan, and now president is going to India tomorrow, and I'm sure secretary must have consulted or advised him about U.S.-India military-to-military relations, and also India's role in Afghanistan will be discussed during the -- during his meeting with the prime minister of India.

My question is that, what do you think that India's role now in the future will be, since we will have a new Congress and now the president will be discussing these issues in India?

MR. MORRELL: Listen, I think the best people to talk to about the president's trip to India and his objectives and what we hope to come out of it would really be the White House. I think it's inappropriate for me to try to wade into that right now.

I think I'm on the record in terms of India's role in Afghanistan. I don't have anything new or different to add to it. So I'd refer -- I'd refer you to the White House.


Q No, I'm just saying, as far as this trip -- it's not to the president's trip. What I'm saying is the secretary's role toward why prime minister -- President Obama, during his trip to India, to discuss with the Indian officials.

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I think the secretary's advice to the president is between the secretary and the president, but thanks for the try.

Yeah, Justin.

Q India's state media is reporting that the president is going to bring an enormous amount of security with him during his visit to India this weekend, to include 34 U.S. warships that would be moved to the Mumbai area. Whether or not these reports are true, they've certainly stirred up a lot of interest. I was wondering if you could comment on specifically the 34 warships portion of that.

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I mean, I think there's been a lot of creative writing that's been done on this trip over the last few days. I've seen other reports with some astronomical figures in terms of what it costs to take these trips.

I don't know the cost. We don't speak to the cost. We obviously have some support role for presidential travel. We don't speak to that in detail for security reasons. But I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy -- some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier -- in support of the president's trip to Asia. That's just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.

But the notion that the president would require security as he travels to India and elsewhere should not come as a surprise to anyone. I mean, you know, this is a country that, sadly, withstood a devastating terrorist attack – what? -- a couple of years ago. So it is -- it stands to reason that we would want to take precautions for presidential travel.

But that is a, really, issue that you should probably most directly address, again, to my friends at the White House. Does that answer your question?

Q It does. Unless any, you know, special security requests come this time around with this trip. We'd be interested to know --

MR. MORRELL: Well, I -- we would not speak to you about special security requests. We wouldn't speak to you about any security requests. All we'll say is that this department does play a role in support of presidential missions, but we don't care to, for security reasons, discuss the particulars of that.

I made an exception in batting down this absurd notion of there being 34 ships, or more than 10 percent of the Navy, deployed in support of this trip. That is most certainly not the case.

Al Pessin.

Q Back on the election --

MR. MORRELL: Let me just while I -- because I got handed a note here. Back to your question, David. There have been no discharges under the new policy that the secretary instituted about a week ago.


Q Back on the election, Geoff, what sorts of concerns are there by the secretary or other officials of new challenges or new changes to defense policies by the new Congress -- particularly the war in Afghanistan, but also the planned Iraq withdrawal, the possibility of military action against Iran, and whatever other issues have been discussed?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, I've gotten variations on this theme over the past couple of days. You know: Is the election going to hasten the secretary's departure? Is the election going to make his job even more challenging?

To the first question, no. His calculus on when to finally leave this job is based upon personal considerations and not politics, and his notion of when he would like to leave was formulated long before these political winds began to blow.

With regards to the second question about, you know, how does the election outcome change at all or make our lives more challenging in dealing with the Congress, I sort of -- I dismiss that one as well. I mean, there is, thankfully, a long tradition of bipartisan cooperation on national security issues. We expect that to remain the same under this new Congress, as it was under the last Congress. So I just don't buy into that. Our core relationship fundamentally does not change.

Now, will different congressional committees under different leaders have different priorities and focuses? Perhaps. But I think that we enjoy a strong working relationship -- this department does, the secretary in particular -- with members on both sides of the aisle; with not just the chairmen of these committees, but also the ranking members of these committees. So these changes, we don't anticipate making much of a -- making a very dramatic difference in how we deal with the Congress.

I would also note, just as a historical reference, that you'll recall Secretary Gates came into office on December 18th of 2006. This was, you know, what, a month, six weeks after the last flipping of a Congress in November of 2006.

So he dealt with the kind of change that we're about to see in these committees when he first took office nearly four years ago. So it's fundamentally not new to us. We don't expect it to be dramatically different. We still expect to have very strong working relationships across both sides of the aisle. And we fully expect the strong, bipartisan cooperation on national-security issues that we have enjoyed over the years will continue under this new Congress.

Kevin Baron.

Q I wanted to go back to the civilian lag time of security in Afghanistan. The secretary has said that this has been a problem before, and he has pitched for more development aid and diplomacy as a -- as a way to help alleviate the burden on the troops and get the troops home sooner. I'm wondering if -- how much that worry is continuing in Afghanistan, given the timeline to July '11 --

MR. MORRELL: But I think we're talking about two different things. I'm speaking more to Afghan capacity, particularly out in the most difficult security climates. And I think you're addressing the notion of civilian support from the USG.

Q But the --

MR. MORRELL: (Inaudible word.)

Q -- civilian support is specifically to build that Afghan capacity. So I'm wondering, is Secretary Gates pleased with that balance? Or is there -- is there that worry that the lag --

MR. MORRELL: No, I think -- listen. We've seen basically this year a tripling in civilian support to Afghanistan. I think you now have upwards of almost 1,100 civilian personnel in Afghanistan -- and not just in Kabul, although the preponderance I think still may be in Kabul, but in the -- you know, deployed around the country as well.

Yeah, I think the preponderance is still in Kabul, but hundreds deployed around the country as well. So there is obviously a core group that's there to try to support the central government, building up its capacity, but also hundreds out in the field trying to work with provincial and district governments, as well, to try to enhance their capabilities.

So -- I think he's very pleased by the support that our military is getting on the civilian side. And, you know, the numbers clearly are out of whack. If you look at them just on face value, you see a thousand versus almost a hundred thousand. But I think you talk to any one of our guys who are deployed in Afghanistan, and they will tell you that these civilians, particularly those who are deployed out in the field, are huge force multipliers; that they have the effects -- because it's not just them, there's NGOs, there's Afghan civilians, there's others -- they have the effect of sort of -- one civilian, by some estimates, you know, has the impact of, sort of, 10.

So I think the numbers are heartening. The trend lines are encouraging. Is there still more work to be done? Clearly so, but I think people here are very much pleased with how the civilian side of this campaign has progressed.

Yeah, Luis.

Q Geoff, there have been reports earlier this week that the -- about the F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter.


Q And particularly that there are going to be more cost overruns, more schedule delays, that Secretary Gates was briefed on this this week. Can you confirm that? And can you speak to these reports?

MR. MORRELL: Well, what I would say, Luis, is that the department regrets that someone chose to provide unauthorized and incomplete information to the press on the JSF program.

Admiral Venlet, who is the new program manager, has been doing a soup- to-nuts review of the JSF program. It is the most thorough, the most extensive, the deepest dive yet we have done into the F-35 program. But that assessment is not yet complete. Therefore, what has been leaked to the press is premature, and I would suggest to you that in some respects it's inaccurate.

So it's not appropriate for us at this juncture to publicly discuss something that's not complete and that ultimately has not been decided on by the department's leadership; because once Venlet's assessment has been complete, it will be provided to leadership. It will then shape and inform our programmatic options and remedies that are under consideration. And then the secretary will make a decision about a path forward. And we'll provide that information to the Congress and to you all at the appropriate time, but we're not there yet.

Q When do you expect this review to happen? What do you mean by the secretary will make a determination on the path forward?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I -- it's important, I think, Luis, to step back and remember what happened -- what's happened here. Clearly, this program has had its challenges over the years. I mean, we've been dealing with this for quite some time now. And just when you think you have some appreciation for what the situation is, it has -- we have learned later that it is -- there are other complications.

Not all of that is unexpected, given this huge program and given how sophisticated these aircraft are. But clearly, we have been disappointed by some of these developments -- by many of these developments. But remember, back in February, the secretary fundamentally restructured the program, based upon this very stark assessment that the Joint Estimating Team provided him.

So in addition to sort of restructuring number of aircraft and the test phase and all these things that -- he also withheld, I think, $600 million in payments to Lockheed. And he fired the program manager, to put it bluntly. He was not satisfied with the performance out of the program office. He canned the program manager and he inserted a more higher ranking, a more experienced professional to run that -- run that operation. You now have a three-star in there, in Vice Admiral Venlet.

And as I mentioned to you earlier, he is -- he is in the midst of this deep dive, but he's doing it -- it's not just dependent on him and a small cadre. He's got 120 people who are working this issue with him, and they are not taking anybody's word at face value. They are demanding that there be evidence to back up what they are being told about the state of the program.

So they are clearly in the process of doing that, finding some issues that had not been known to us before, but we're still not done. So it's premature, I think, for me to go, Luis, frankly, much beyond that at this point.

Q One more thing on this. You mentioned the Australia meetings next week. This is -- the F-35 is not strictly an American program but has international partners with the U.S. going into the purchase plan, including countries like Australia. Is there consideration about their path forward on this, and do you expect that the F-35 will be a part of these discussions next week?

MR. MORRELL: I don't know that the F-35 is on the agenda -- I'll check for you, Luis. I mean, this is -- that's -- may be a little bit too programmatic for this ministerial, considering the secretary of state's participation as well.

But clearly not just Australia, but, you know, the U.K., Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway, now Israel, all of these countries are keenly interested in this program. So we are -- you know, when I spoke about "at the appropriate time we will share this information with the Congress and the American people," we will obviously share it with our partners as well in this endeavor.

I would note to you that there are -- you know, there are economic pressures being felt on all these countries. And so some of them have -- some of them are not in a position to -- even were we at a stage in the program where we could be delivering aircraft sooner than we apparently will be, or had hoped to originally, that actually works perhaps to their advantage, given their economic situations.

But overall these are committed partners to this who ultimately need these aircraft for their -- to have fifth-generation capability, to have the kind of air-to -- air-to-ground, air-to-air capabilities to -- you know, to have air superiority in the future.

Yeah. Yeah, go ahead, Larry.

Q The defense attorney for Major Hasan at Fort Hood has said that ceremonies like what's happening tomorrow commemorating the anniversary of the massacre make it difficult for his client to get a fair trial in that environment.

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I think that's -- that's absurd.

Q Is there any --

MR. MORRELL: It's absurd. I mean, is the suggestion that that community, which was so rocked by that shooting last year, not pause, not take time to remember the 13 people who were killed? It's entirely appropriate for that base, the extended Killeen community and, frankly, the military as a whole to pause tomorrow and remember that tragedy.

The accused killer in this case will still get a fair trial. We -- he is dealing in a very sophisticated judicial system with very professional attorneys and judges. His ability to get a fair trial and our ability to mourn and remember and mark the year anniversary of this tragic shooting are not mutually exclusive.

Yeah, Justin.

Q Geoff, what, if anything, do you know about this military sniper? He's now shot up five different military-related buildings. They know it's all done with the same gun. Do we believe it's a military-issued gun? Do you have anything on his identity?

MR. MORRELL: Listen, this an FBI-led investigation. Obviously, there are certain investigative contributions being made by some of the services. But fundamentally, it's being led by the FBI, so I'd refer you to there.

I mean, we're obviously concerned. This is clearly someone who has -- has an issue, to say the least, with the military. And it clearly puts potentially our service members and the civilians who support them in harm's way.

So we're watching it closely. The secretary is being apprised of developments as warranted. But he also has full faith and confidence in the FBI and the other departmental investigative services to get to the bottom of this.

Q Can you say what the services are doing to help the FBI in its investigation?

MR. MORRELL: No. I don't -- those are investigative matters that shouldn't be discussed publicly. But whatever assistance the FBI requires, it is being given by -- given by, you know, the Navy and whoever else is now involved in this.

Q Can I follow up? The FBI agent said last week at his press conference that he believes it might be a Marine. Do you echo that belief?

MR. MORRELL: I would have no way of knowing. I would have no way of knowing. Clearly, this is somebody who has issues with the military. Beyond that, I would have no way of knowing.

Q Can you just say if investigators maybe know more than they're telling us --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: I have no idea. I'm not involved in the investigation. This is an FBI lead. They could probably be --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: I said I'm not involved in the investigation. The FBI is in the lead and it's just not appropriate for us -- if there is something that we feel as though would help the investigation by sharing it publicly, I am sure that the investigative authorities will do so and do so in a timely fashion.

So if they felt it was helpful, Larry, and I didn't hear that, to release that information, it was probably done in a calculated sense. I don't have anything new to offer in that respect for you to share -- us to gain additional public participation in this investigation.

Yes, to the back.

Q Hi -- (inaudible.) Could you comment on the study of the rare earth supply to the military needs and whether you would support the bill that passed the House before recess awaiting action in the Senate?

MR. MORRELL: We have some stuff on that. I'm happy to talk to you off the podium. I'm not as familiar with all the intricacies of it and we -- either I or one of my colleagues are happy to walk you through it.


Q Do you have any time frame of U.S. and South Korea military exercises next?

MR. MORRELL: Well, we've had lots of military exercises.

Q Well you already have cancelled the end of October exercise.

MR. MORRELL: I don't know that we cancelled an exercise. We didn't cancel any exercise. We've been trying to work out the next appropriate date for us to jointly exercise in the Yellow Sea with the USS George Washington. We are still working on that date, but rest assured, we will do so with that aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea. So stay tuned as for when, but we will be back there with those assets. But this notion of cancelled, I think, is just hyperbolic. It is -- there -- you've got a lot of moving parts here when it comes to a large joint exercise, particularly one involving an aircraft carrier.

So it is difficult to get all those parts together and assembled and full agreement on when to proceed with this. But we will do so. We will be back in the Yellow Sea. We will be there with the George Washington and so stay tuned.

Q When will it be? I mean, next month or --

MR. MORRELL: It's still being determined. It's still being worked. When we have it all nailed down, I am sure we will share it with you. All right?

Gordon, I think is the last one.

Q Just a quick question. Karzai, President Karzai is continues to be concerned about the contractors in Afghanistan. I'm just wondering what -- can you give us some current sense of what the department is doing to help alleviate those concerns and what is Plan B?

MR. MORRELL: You know, I frankly know on this mostly what I've read on it, Gordon. It sounds as though -- I mean, we clearly have been working, you know, General Petraeus, as well as Embassy Kabul very closely with President Karzai and his team on trying to fashion the most responsible way forward in this regard. It is -- President Karzai has made it abundantly clear that he wants to do away with private security contractors as quickly as he can, but also as responsibly as he can.

He has made exceptions for static protection of certain diplomatic facilities and that was clearly encouraging and responsible.

There have been concerns voiced to him about the impact of sort of pulling the rug out on private security contractors or on NGOs by taking their contractors away precipitously, and the impact that would have on development projects. And that would -- you know, obviously our efforts in Afghanistan are not just driven by security needs, they're also driven by governance and development. So that's a key component to our ultimate success there.

So our -- you know, we are working with the Afghan government to try to fashion a responsible way forward that still allows for adequate security to be provided to development projects around the country while we are still growing the ANSF to the point where they would ultimately be able to assume responsibility for protecting convoys in support of development projects, the actual project itself. But those things are still being worked with right now. But we are encouraged by the fact that he has allowed for more time for consideration of this issue.

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