Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—November 27, 2012.
GEORGE LITTLE: I’d like to begin with just a quick update on the department’s response to Hurricane Sandy. There currently remain about 1,000 National Guardsmen and more than 300 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel deployed to New York and New Jersey to assist local, state and federal responders. Our personnel have made a significant contribution to the recovery effort.
Since the storm struck, the Army Corps of Engineers has installed 198 power generators in critical locations and removed over 475 million gallons of water at 14 strategic sites, the equivalent of 720 Olympic-sized swimming pools. They’ve also removed more than 340,000 cubic yards of debris.
Meanwhile, the Defense Logistics Agency has distributed more than nine million gallons of fuel and more than six million meals to afflicted areas. The fact that we can carry out operations of this scale while simultaneously conducting operations in Afghanistan and throughout the globe is a testament to the department’s high level of readiness and our ability to plan for a wide range of potential contingencies.
I point this out because if Congress does not enact defense authorization legislation for fiscal year 2013 in a timely fashion, it could seriously hamper our ability to plan and to operate. Without this legislation, the department will face a number of adverse effects.
For example, important new military construction projects, including critical infrastructure upgrades, could not be initiated. Authorities to provide counterterrorism support to law enforcement agencies and several important counternarcotics authorities, including support to the government of Colombia, would expire. Bonuses and special incentive pay would end, potentially impacting recruiting and retention and hurting morale.
These are but a few examples that explain why one of Secretary Panetta’s highest priorities for the current congressional session, beyond preventing sequestration, is for Congress to pass a defense authorization bill. In the coming days, it is his hope that Congress comes together to help this department accomplish this mission by acting on this critical legislation.
Thanks, and I’ll take your questions. Lita.
Q: George, I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about — General Allen and the secretary had a conversation this morning, and General Allen, I think, has already submitted his options for the drawdown for post-2014. Can you give us a sense of the conversation and where things stand timing-wise, and at the same time, what is your sense of the timing — if you have any of the I.G.’s report on General Allen?
Is there any indication that it would be any faster than some of the more recent ones that have been like 18 months long? And because it obviously has an impact on General Dunford and everything, is there a timing you kind of go through on this?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary fully respects the DOD I.G. process. When the DOD I.G. investigation is complete, they will report their findings to the secretary. I don’t have a timeline at this stage on the investigation.
But let me be clear. As the secretary has said on several occasions now, General Allen’s leadership has been instrumental in achieving the progress that we have made in Afghanistan thus far in the campaign. And working alongside our Afghan partners, ISAF has made significant progress in bringing greater security to the Afghan people.
Their conversation today was reminiscent of conversations they’ve had on a near-weekly basis for the past year-plus. They hold regular teleconferences with one another, and the purpose of those teleconferences is obviously to provide regular updates to the secretary from Kabul on the state of play in Afghanistan.
Today was like any other teleconference between the secretary and General Allen. It was a very good discussion and was focused on an operational update on what’s happening in Afghanistan. That was the thrust of the discussion, and it reflects the kind of agenda that we’ve seen many weeks — or for a very long time.
Q: Well, can you give us a sense of — these drawdown decisions that the secretary and others have said, that they were coming in weeks and were kind of at that point where it was weeks ago that they said there would be some decisions coming? Where are we in the decision-making process?
MR. LITTLE: Well, this was a subject, obviously, of the discussion that — inside the department. And the president expects to make a decision soon on how we will continue drawing down troops based on what is in our national interest. He’ll receive an assessment soon from our military leaders on the situation on the ground and, of course, consider the input from his national security team, to include the secretary and the chairman, and in consultation with the Afghan government and our international partners.
I don’t have a set timeline for you at this stage on either the post-2014 presence or on the drawdown of troops between now and the end of 2014. But that’s something that we’ll be sorting out in the coming weeks.
Q: I’m sorry. Just to clarify, you just said two things. The president is going to make a decision soon and also…
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: … he’s going to receive an assessment soon. Hasn’t he already received this assessment?
MR. LITTLE: The White House has not yet asked General Allen for his assessment, nor have we begun considering any specific recommendations for troop numbers in 2013 and 2014. So the numbers that are out there in media reports and in the Washington rumor mill are pure speculation at this stage.
Q: I think that maybe Secretary Panetta may have contributed to the rumor mill that there’s options, because he said on — over two weeks ago that General Allen has worked on several options and we’re working and reviewing with the White House. So how is it — I mean, presumably that has not gotten to the president’s level, but the White House does have options right now that they’re basically considering for more than two weeks now.
MR. LITTLE: We had a very good discussion of this in yesterday’s gaggle, in my office, and I think I’ve pointed out that there are lots of discussions, as you would expect, going on inside this building and in policy circles about where we should head in Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014 and then beyond. The discussions at this stage are principally informal, and a formal process of presenting and considering recommendations really hasn’t matured.
Q: So there’s no concern at this point that — there’s no concern that — I mean, General Allen, he told the House Armed Services Committee like — at the beginning of this year that he was going to have the recommendations for 2013 and 2014 soon after the election, frankly, is what he said, which is, you know, several weeks ago now. These are the recommendations for troop levels in 2013. That’s a month away. There’s no concern that there’s no recommendation, that there’s no agreement on where troops are going to go beginning next month.
MR. LITTLE: Let me be clear. There’s a lot of thought being applied to all of these questions right now. General Allen is conducted a thorough analysis, and his recommendations will be considered in due course. So there is no stagnation in the process. There is a great deal of energy being applied to these questions.
But let’s step back and realize what’s happening. This is not just about numbers. It’s about a broader campaign and the success we’re having. That was another element of the discussion that General Allen and Secretary Panetta had this morning, and that’s the progress that is being achieved in Afghanistan.
And so it’s important to keep our eye on that ultimate prize, which is a safer and more stable Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself. And it’s not just about numbers.
Q: But do you think that it’s fair — I mean, at this point, General Allen has been the leader there for over a year. He knows — his assessment — I don’t know what could change between now and when the White House makes a decision. Is it fair to say that General Allen’s assessment is concrete? He’s set forward his recommendation for where he thinks it needs to go, 2013, 2014, beyond, whatever, and then at this point it’s really more of a White House or a political decision.
MR. LITTLE: I’m really not going to characterize General Allen’s assessment at this stage. I want to preserve as much decision space for him as he moves through the process. This is really, I think, a process that is following exactly the right steps.
The military commanders in the field are making assessments based on their view of what needs to happen to achieve our ultimate goals in Afghanistan. Their recommendations are working their way through the department ultimately. They will report their way through up to the secretary and then go to the president for a final decision.
This is a methodical process based in objective analysis, a good military experience and insight, experience in — over 11 years in Afghanistan now, and we’re going to follow this through to the logical conclusion, but we’re not ready to make an announcement yet. But a lot of work is being devoted to this issue, obviously.
Q: George, is it correct to say that the conversation today did not deal with troop levels in Afghanistan?
MR. LITTLE: The focus of today’s conversation was not on troop levels in Afghanistan.
Q: Had the secretary already received General Allen’s recommendations in terms of troop levels? Has he already received that recommendation?
MR. LITTLE: We have not worked through that formal process, as we discussed in my office yesterday.
Q: Apart from numbers, will the review or the assessment also address the question whether the Haqqani network and the Taliban insurgency leadership in sanctuaries in Pakistan will be the target of any counterterrorism mission after 2014? Because you’ve all said that there will be some counterterrorism aspect to the post-2014 mission.
MR. LITTLE: Well, any post-2014 mission will obviously be at the invitation of the Afghan government. We have full respect for Afghan sovereignty. I think we’ve said that a prospective, a possible post- 2014 presence would be aimed at training Afghan forces and targeting the remnants of Al Qaida.
Q: Sorry, that didn’t answer my question. So remnants of Al Qaida is one thing, but would it be possible, would you address the question of whether the Haqqanis would be included in that list of militants? Or is that being reviewed, that aspect?
MR. LITTLE: I don’t know yet at this stage, Dan. It’s a good question. Obviously, the Haqqanis are a group that are suffering significant losses. They pose a threat to ISAF forces in Afghanistan today. What Haqqani-related decisions are, you know, post-2014 Afghanistan, I can’t say on this day in November 2012.
Q: But that would be addressed in the review?
MR. LITTLE: I think it’s a logical question that would be surfaced.
Q: (Inaudible) George, Afghanistan’s president, Mr. Karzai, was in India last week, and they discussed the same thing what we are discussing here today as far as a U.S. pullout and also beyond 2013 and ’14. And (inaudible) discussion of their — with prime minister of India or other Indian officials that — how India can help and fill the gap incase needed and he (inaudible) asking India’s more help, including investment and also they discussed terrorism and (inaudible) worried about (inaudible) after India (inaudible) completely.
So what I’m asking you, do you have any idea of what — what discuss or what the president of Afghanistan is looking for (inaudible)
MR. LITTLE: Well, I wouldn’t speak for either the government in Afghanistan or government of India, but the secretary did visit India earlier this year and expressed gratitude for India’s willingness to support a secure and stable Afghanistan going forward. It’s my understanding that India has provided some assistance to Afghanistan in the form of training and assistance, and we would welcome that effort in the future.
Q: And may have one more please, quick, China?
MR. LITTLE: Okay, all right.
Q: China has (inaudible)
MR. LITTLE: All right. We’ll stick with Afghanistan and then head to other topics. Okay.
Q: George, he talked with the — with General Allen. General Allen cited progress. What is he using to illustrate that progress? What sort of statistics is he giving?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I think we’ve — I’m not going to repeat verbatim what was said, but if you look at the markers of progress in Afghanistan, you look at the number of Afghans who are now living in areas under Afghan security lead, that’s one metric. The violence levels are down.
And let me just point out a recent poll that was conducted by the Asia Foundation. We welcome the results of this comprehensive opinion poll. Let me just go through that very briefly. So that I get this right, I’m going to read it.
More than half of those surveyed in this poll say that Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. That is an uptick from a poll conducted in 2011. There were many reasons cited for optimism, including good security, improvements in education, including for girls, reconstruction, and having an active Afghan national army and Afghan national police. And on that point, there is very strong evidence that ANSF capabilities are growing and growing quickly and stronger.
They are increasingly taking the fight to Afghanistan’s enemies throughout various parts of the country. And that was, in fact, a point that was raised in the discussion today.
Q: George, speaking of after 2014, as you know, there’s negotiations going on over a status of forces agreement for the presence of U.S. service members after 2014. Is the Pentagon going — would the Pentagon insist that any status of forces agreement include full legal immunity for U.S. service members from Afghan prosecution? As you know, that was a deal-breaker in the Iraq talks.
MR. LITTLE: I wouldn’t speculate on what the negotiations might involve, but the United States and Afghanistan, as agreed to in the strategic partnership agreement, are going to negotiate a bilateral security agreement that would supersede the current status of forces agreement with Afghanistan.
In addition to addressing the future presence and operations of U.S. forces, we would expect this BSA, as we call it, to include provisions similar to those in SOFAs in — that we had negotiated with other countries. That’s — and those agreements involve not just issues related to the military, but taxation, entry and exit issues, import-export, and access to host nation facilities.
The BSA with Afghanistan, we would expect would be entered into probably sometime next year. I don’t have the precise timeline for you, but that’s our goal. This is obviously not an easy process with any country. It involves a number of complexities. But we hope to achieve a lasting BSA next year.
Q: But don’t most other SOFAs the U.S. has entered into include full immunity for U.S. service members from local prosecution.
MR. LITTLE: A number of SOFAs do include provisions on immunities for service members.
Q: But you’re not — you’re saying that’s up for discussion?
MR. LITTLE: I’m not saying anything about the negotiations that will be underway on a future BSA with Afghanistan. I’m simply not going to speculate on what might be contained.
Q: Well, but they have to talk about it. It’s not speculation. I mean, that’s part of the discussion, right?
MR. LITTLE: I think there’s likelihood that protections for U.S. personnel are obviously part of any SOFA discussion, so I would expect that to be on the agenda for talks on a BSA, but we’re not to the point yet where any decisions have been reached by either side on specific legal provisions in an agreement that we don’t expect would be entered into before next year.
Q: Thanks, George. Two things. Is it safe to say that the e-mails scandal didn’t come up in the teleconference today? And if not, have — has Secretary Panetta talked to General Allen about that in person yet or over the phone or…
MR. LITTLE: Not to my knowledge. And I would be very careful about the language we’re using here. This is an I.G. investigation. I’m not using the word “scandal.” It’s an I.G. investigation into potentially inappropriate communications. And I think that’s an important caveat.
Q: Okay. Well, the reason I use scandal is because it’s sidelined his career. But the other question I have is about the…
MR. LITTLE: Well, let me address that, as well. Sideline his career, I think, is an inappropriate characterization, as well. We need to let the I.G. investigation go to its logical end, so let’s not jump to any conclusions here.
MR. LITTLE: We’re not. So I don’t think, with respect, anybody in the press should pre-judge the outcome of a DOD I.G. investigation.
Q: (Inaudible) had asked about the timeline, and it’s not clear to us what — whether the I.G. investigation is going to be faster than usual, which as Lita pointed out, is often 18 months, which would sideline General Allen’s next move, I would think.
MR. LITTLE: I think we’re getting out ahead of ourselves. Don’t have a timeline. The DOD I.G., we expect, will conduct a thorough review of the material that’s been provided. It’s our hope that we can move past this issue relatively quickly. But let’s not jump to any lasting conclusions about the outcome of the investigation or about any one person’s future career prospects.
Q: Can I ask you a follow-up on that?
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: The extent of the e-mails has been repeated in the press by columnists, news organizations, and even Jay Leno in a recent monologue, up to 30,000 e-mails between General Allen and Jill Kelley. Aside from the commonsense aspects of the fact that it’s almost impossible two people can do that, what actually did the FBI turn over? And what is — what’s the universe of what the I.G. is looking at, in terms of e-mails versus broad documents? It’s helpful if you clear the record.
MR. LITTLE: Sure, thank you. And it’s very simple. The FBI provided 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents. I’m not characterizing those pages of documents as e-mails. They’re pages of documents. I don’t have a precise breakdown in what those materials contain. I have not reviewed those materials.
Q: But would it be — would it be accurate or inaccurate to say that these are up to 30,000 e-mails between Allen and Kelley? I just want to get you to try to (inaudible) this.
MR. LITTLE: I don’t know the precise nature of the material contained in the 20,000 or the 30,000 pages, but I don’t think we’re looking at 30,000 e-mails. Okay?
Q: Different topic?
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: Can we stick with Afghanistan for a little bit?
MR. LITTLE: Okay, all right. We’re floating around on different tangents on Afghanistan. Go ahead.
Q: I’m lost between options and recommendations.
MR. LITTLE: Okay.
Q: Has General Allen submitted options, as in if you want to do this, it would take this many forces post post-2014?
MR. LITTLE: I’m really not trying to parse or play word games here. The formal process has not moved forward. There is analysis underway, and there are a variety of scenarios, as you would expect, under consideration. But those options or recommendations, whatever term you’d like to use, are not ripe for public discussion.
Q: But have they been submitted?
MR. LITTLE: I believe that they have not been formally submitted at this point. If that changes, I’ll let you know.
Q: What’s the difference between — I just don’t understand the difference between formally submitting them and what Secretary Panetta was talking about on the plane a few weeks ago, when he said that the options had — were under discussion. I mean, they’ve…
MR. LITTLE: Well, there’s a lot of informal — I really think we’re wrapping ourselves around the numbers axle here to some extent. The reality is that there are informal discussions all the time that occur inside this very large department. And on a wide range of issues, to include Afghan troops levels between now and the end of 2014 and beyond.
So I hesitate to use this term, but I’ll use it anyway. Sometimes there’s a little bit of spit-balling that occurs. And that’s what you would expect. You want to have people talking about what potential options might come down the pike.
So, yes, has there been discussion about what some of the possibilities might be? Sure. But until the concrete analysis is done, until concrete recommendations or options are presented, then it’s really not something that sticks, okay?
Q: So, George, are you saying then that at some point between now and presumably the end of the year, because we’ve been told repeatedly it was going to happen before the end of the year, that General Allen…
MR. LITTLE: We’re still in November, folks.
Q: Right. But General Allen will actually — will, like, submit a formal…
MR. LITTLE: … recommendation, option, okay.
Q: … or do these informal things just suddenly become the formal in an announcement?
MR. LITTLE: Wow, that is a hypothetical.
Q: Well, I mean, it’s not — we’re hearing a lot of different things, but no one’s…
MR. LITTLE: The bottom line is I’m really not trying to be difficult here. The precise timeline has not been nailed down. We expect for the timeline to emerge relatively quickly. We understand the interest in this. We want to complete the process. We also want to complete it in the right way. And some of these questions, obviously, involve not just the United States, but consultations with the government in Afghanistan and with our ISAF partners and NATO allies.
So let’s just exercise, if I may respectfully submit this, a bit of patience, and when I have an update on timelines and so forth and options and recommendations and choices and formal and informal, I will let you know.
Q: Bottom line. Does the secretary support a robust fighting force through the next fighting season?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary has not arrived at a view.
Q: Is it fair to say that the…
MR. LITTLE: I mean, obviously, he supports a sufficient fighting force to be able to complete what we’re tasked to do in 2013, but in terms of specific numbers, he hasn’t formed a view. Let me clarify that.
Q: So is it fair to say that the I.G. investigation delayed the recommendation process?
MR. LITTLE: I don’t believe that — in my opinion, the I.G. investigation has not delayed this process. General Allen has been focused on fighting the war overall in Afghanistan and on this relatively narrow, but important issue, also.
Q: On a different topic?
MR. LITTLE: Sure. I welcome a different topic, Joe.
Q: I would like to ask you about the visit of Mr. Barak, his first day.
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: If you could fill us, what’s the purpose of the visit? And do you think — do you believe the visit has been planned the last few days, given the situation in Gaza last week?
MR. LITTLE: I don’t recall precisely when it was planned. It was not a pop-up, per se. And the secretary looks forward to meeting with Minister Barak, and the two will hold a press briefing following their meeting.
Now, they’ve had an excellent relationship. They’ve met and talked on a number of occasions in the United States and in Israel, and they look forward to yet another discussion on a whole host of issues.
Q: George, four servicewomen have sued Secretary Panetta, saying the combat exclusion policy is unconstitutional and that it, quote, “sends a clear message to the world that women are not capable of serving their country to the same extent as men.” How do you respond to this? And does the policy actually create disadvantages for women?
MR. LITTLE: It’s really not my place to comment on pending litigation. But I think he’s made clear, the secretary remains very committed to examining the expansion of role — of roles for women in the U.S. military, and he’s done so.
On his watch, some 14,500, give or take a few, positions have been made available to women. And he has directed the services to explore the possibility of opening additional roles for women in the military. So I think his record is very strong on this issue. The recent openings that I just referred to are merely the beginning and not the end of a process, and we expect that process to continue.
Q: George, what concerns does the Pentagon have right now about what are visible preparations in North Korea for potentially another satellite launch that are now seen on commercial imagery? And then also — a different topic, I wanted to ask you, December 1st is approaching. That is the deadline for reporting to the president on your review of military ethics. Where do you stand on that? But North Korea first, please.
MR. LITTLE: Okay. I’ll take the ethics review first. I don’t have an update on precise timing.
But on North Korea, while I wouldn’t comment on intelligence matters, the United States’ position has not changed on North Korean missile tests. And let me just reiterate what our policy is. We continue to call on North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874. These resolutions, among other things, require the North Korean government to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner and re-establish its moratorium on missile launching.
I would draw your attention, as well, to the presidential statement by the president of the U.N. Security Council in April this year. That statement explicitly demanded that North Korea not proceed with any further launches using ballistic missile technology.
Q: On — but if I may follow up on the other topic, you have — there have been meetings now. Are things on track to report to the president by Saturday on your — the Panetta-ordered review of military ethics? Is the secretary getting recommendations from the Joint Chiefs? Where does all this stand?
MR. LITTLE: Well, again, I don’t have a precise timeline on this issue, either. This is a matter that the secretary takes very seriously. He believes that the chairman is working this appropriately and vigorously. And I don’t know if we’ll have something to announce by December the 1st, but we have confidence that the process is moving forward.
Q: And it’s not a hypothetical question, but very specifically…
MR. LITTLE: Okay.
Q: … on the Allen nomination, as secretary of defense, I cannot imagine he doesn’t have a view on how long he is willing to let the NATO SACEUR nomination sit open with no — since he put — he put Allen in suspension on that nomination, he must have a view on how long he’s willing to let that nomination sit open. I can’t imagine he doesn’t think it’s important for NATO and for the alliance.
MR. LITTLE: Well, let’s, again, put this all into some perspective. There’s a DOD I.G. investigation underway. We have a supreme allied commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis, who is doing a superb job. This wasn’t going to be an immediate switch out of commanders at ISAF and EUCOM/NATO SACEUR.
So we have some time to work deliberately to manage this process in the appropriate manner and to do justice not only to the process, but to the individuals involved.
Q: But the reality is, of course, as everyone know Admiral Stavridis already is planning to retire, NATO is looking to see who the next U.S. nominee for SACEUR, supreme allied commander, will be.
How long is Panetta willing to let that decision sit in abeyance?
MR. LITTLE: I don’t have any particular timeline for you at this stage. If I have something to report on an issue, I’ll let you know.
Okay, we’re going to need to wrap it up. Kate?
Q: If depending on (inaudible) congressional authorities included in the Defense Authorization bill, what happens to the pay and bonuses for the programs in Afghanistan that require them? And is there any sort of backup plan or contingency plan that the Pentagon can use to — to move forward?
MR. LITTLE: These are very good questions. Some of the specifics I’ll need to get back to you on, Kate. But let me just say very broadly that we — look, we’re expecting more funding to continue in Afghanistan. We certainly hope so. But that this wouldn’t impact the war effort there.
In terms of bonuses, we could see a potential impact, as I said in my opening statement.
But let me get back to you on the specifics, okay?
And one or two more questions and then we’ll wrap it up.
Q: On the conversations being held on the way forward in Afghanistan, is the status of the prison at Parwan part of the conversations, and is it the position of this department that foreign nationals now in U.S. custody at Parwan should not be turned over to Afghan jurisdiction?
MR. LITTLE: Let me get back to you on that specific question, Richard. I apologize; I don’t have the — the precise answer for you at this moment.
But the agreements that we’ve entered into on detention operations at Parwan we are following, and we believe that we’re conducting that in an orderly manner, with our Afghan partners and in compliance with Afghan law.
MR. LITTLE: (inaudible) and then we’ll wrap it up.
Q: On a — on a different subject, Deputy Secretary Ash Carter recently released a series of instructions on checks and balances that the Pentagon wanted to implement on sort of next-gen drones and to minimize the, you know, the chances of an unattended incident or firing on human beings.
What — what are — what are — what is the Pentagon’s primary concerns about that technology and — and can you describe some of the checks and balances that are going to be implemented at the design level?
MR. LITTLE: Well, it’s a credit to the engineering profession and I am not an engineer.
But when it comes to unmanned aerial vehicles, as with any technology, we take great care in assuring that it — it is able to fulfill its intended purpose.
And when it comes to lethal UAV’s, which I think you’re referring to here…
MR. LITTLE: Autonomous — and I think great care has been taken by this department in development of these technologies to make these weapons some of the most precise in the history of warfare.
And anything we can do to ensure that they, when used, do not cause collateral damage, we’re going to take those steps. And this is something the secretary takes very seriously, I can assure you.
Q: Can I ask one quick clarification?
MR. LITTLE: One quick clarification, your option or recommendation or…
MR. LITTLE: Okay.
This is really the last question.
Q: (inaudible) about whether General Allen and Secretary Panetta had talked about the e-mails. If it was — not just at the VTC, but have they discussed it at all?
MR. LITTLE: Not to my knowledge, no.
Okay, thank you.
All right (inaudible), Dan.
Q: (inaudible) A Syrian missile brought a Syrian aircraft, is that — is that your — is that the Pentagon’s understanding, is the rebels now have that weapon?
MR. LITTLE: Is this a recent report today? I don’t have any information on that. I’ll have to get back to you.