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DOD News Briefing with Secretary Panetta and Gen. Dempsey from the Pentagon

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Location: Washington, DC

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Good afternoon.

We wanted to, if we could, open with a few comments, and then I'll turn it over to General Dempsey for his comments, and then we'll open it up to your questions.

One of the questions that I've consistently been asked is how the U.S. military is going to be able to project power and to maintain presence in a global world in an era of declining resources.

We believe that the new defense strategy that we put in place, plus the budget that we have sent up to the Congress is designed to allow us to accomplish that goal.

But one important way that we are going to do this is to strengthen our network of defense alliances around the globe. Indeed, I think it's fair to say that a vital pillar of the new defense strategy that we released this year is the important work of developing and deepening ties to other nations -- developing their capabilities and building new alliances and partnerships to promote security.

This is one of the keys to the defense force that we're trying to build for the 21st century.

This system of defense alliances and security partnerships is one of America's greatest national security assets. No other nation in the world really has this asset.

These relationships are sound investments in an era of fiscal challenges and they really do pay dividends. They allow us to defend our interests, while developing more militaries that can shoulder the burden of the international security environment.

Let me give you a few examples of how we've been refocusing our attention on these alliances.

Yesterday, as you know, I met with my South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Kim, as part of our regular dialogue with allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Our goal there is to continue to strengthen the 60-year alliance that we have with the South Koreans for the future.

Earlier this month I consulted with a number of our European allies and ISAF partner nations at the NATO defense ministerial, where we came together to affirm our commitment to the international mission in Afghanistan.

NATO is a proven alliance, one that has conducted successful operations in Libya, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Before the NATO meeting, I met with my counterparts from the Western Hemisphere as part of the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas. And at that conference, nations of this hemisphere agreed on a concrete plan to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, really one of the first steps that that ministerial group has taken, in a way that brings all of these nations together.

What they did reflects a new era, I believe, of broad and constructive defense cooperation in the Americas.

Our goal is to continue these efforts. Early -- in early November, General Dempsey and I will be traveling to Australia to participate in the annual AUSMIN meeting with Secretary Clinton and our -- and our Australian counterparts. And I'll be meeting with Asian defense ministers in Cambodia at the Asian defense ministers meeting.

General Dempsey will also be traveling soon to the Middle East, and before he previews that trip, let me just note that this month the U.S. military and the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting an exercise called Austere Challenge. It's the largest exercise we have held between our two militaries.

The goal of this historic three-week exercise is to improve our combined ability to defend against missile attacks by exercising our active missile defense and air defense forces and systems.

As with all of the exercises that we conduct alongside our allies and partners, this is all about teamwork and making sure that our forces have the capability to be able to cooperate when necessary.

Using rotational deployments under our new defense strategy, we will be conducting more of these kinds of exercises with nations across the globe.

If I may, then, I'd like to briefly turn to another subject, which is closer to home. When Congress returns to town after the election, there is a great deal of critical work that needs to be done -- work that is vital to the defense strategy that I just referenced. There are four things that stand out for Congress to take up during this upcoming session.

First, Congress must act to avert sequestration before it takes effect on Jan. 2, 2013. There are only 70 days until that happens, and Congress is certainly on the clock when it comes to that potential sequestration occurring.

Second, Congress should pass -- we'd like them to pass a defense authorization bill. I'd like them to pass an appropriation -- a defense appropriations bill, too. But in the very least we really do need a defense authorization bill so that we can continue to implement our new defense strategy.

And, third, it really must pass a Cybersecurity bill -- Cybersecurity legislation. As I made clear this month, we really do need strong Cybersecurity legislation to ensure that we can help defend the nation against a cyber attack.

And lastly, I'm hopeful, obviously, that General John Allen, General Joe Dunford will be confirmed in their new positions at that time. We'll have the opportunity to hear from both of them in their conformation testimony on the important work that lies ahead in Afghanistan. But I want to thank Congress for taking up these important nominations and, hopefully, they will be confirmed.

This is a full agenda. It's one that requires Democrats and Republicans to work together. And after a tough national election the American people, I think, will expect both parties to roll up their sleeves, work together to solve the problems facing the nation, and to protect our national security.

With that, let me turn it over to Marty Dempsey.

GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

As you mentioned, I just finished hosting the 36th annual Military Committee Meeting with my Korean counterpart General Jung. We use this annual forum to reinforce our commitment to a combined defense to keep our capabilities and plans aligned and to guarantee that we are always ready in the event of a North Korean provocation.

We also assessed progress toward what we call Strategic Alliance 2015. Thanks to the steady leadership of General Jung and our combined forces commander, General J.D. Thurman, it is on track to become a reality. I look forward to seeing them both again soon.

As part of my trip to Australia, I'll be stopping on the peninsula to spend time with our troops on Veterans Day. As mentioned, I also head to Israel in just a few days to reinforce another essential relationship. This is a long-planned trip, and it's timed to observe the Austere Challenge exercise.

This exercise integrates our air, land and sea-borne missile defense capabilities with Israel's anti-missile forces. I look forward to observing our combined forces with my Israeli counterpart, with Lieutenant General Benny Gantz. As always, I look forward to getting his perspective on regional security issues.

Each of these relationships run deep. Trust reinforces our common interests. Confidence reinforces our combined capabilities. And it's this kind of trust and confidence that makes our strategy work.

I look forward to your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, as you know, there's been a lot of discussion about the fact that it could take weeks or maybe even months for Western nations to mobilize support for Mali.

Prior to some of that happening, do you intend to reauthorize sending some U.S. troops in to help do the training that they were pulled out from Mali to do before? So will you send those trainers back in sooner?

And is the U.S. already providing intelligence support in the region there for -- in order to find some of the insurgents that some believe may have been involved in the Benghazi attack?

And for Mr. Chairman, on Benghazi there's been a lot of questions about why there was no military support earlier on the attack. Can you explain why there was no additional military support sent in sooner and what went into that decision?

SEC. PANETTA: With regards to the situation in Mali, as I've stated, our -- our approach is to make sure that Al Qaida and elements of Al Qaida have no place to hide. And we've gone after Al Qaida wherever they are, whether it's in the FATA; whether it's in Yemen; whether it's in Somalia; and whether they're in North Africa.

Our goal in Mali, because of our concern about AQIM, is that we need to work with the nations in the region. They all agree that we are -- we're facing the same threat there from AQIM. And so, because of that, working with those countries and developing a strategy that develops the kind of intelligence that is needed in order to be able to go after them effectively, develop that kind of intelligence, one.

And two, to be able to then develop what kind of operations would be used to then go after them has to be done, I believe, on -- on a regional basis.

And so our goal right now is to try to do everything we can to bring those countries together in a common effort to go after AQIM.

GEN. DEMPSEY: So on the events in Libya, clearly the American people deserve to understand what happened in Benghazi. As you know, there are reviews under way both here and in the Department of State so we'll better understand what happened.

It's not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers. I can tell you, however, sitting here today, that I feel confident that our forces were alert and responsive to what was a very fluid situation.

Q: Can I follow up on that? One of the reasons we've heard that there wasn't a more robust response right away is that there wasn't a clear intelligence picture over Benghazi, to give you the idea of where to put what forces.

But when there was, in fact, a drone over the CIA annex and there were intelligence officials fighting inside the annex, I guess the big question is, with those two combined assets, why there wasn't a clear intelligence picture that would have given you what you needed to make some moves, for instance, flying, you know, F-16s over the area to disperse fighters or -- or dropping more special forces in.

SEC. PANETTA: You know, let me -- let me speak to that, because I'm sure there's going to be -- there's a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here.

We -- we quickly responded, as General Dempsey said, in terms of deploying forces to the region. We had FAST platoons in the region. We had ships that we had deployed off of Libya. And we were prepared to respond to any contingency and certainly had forces in place to do that.

But -- but the basic principle here -- basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on; without having some real-time information about what's taking place. And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.

Q: So the drone, then, and the forces inside the annex weren't giving enough of a clear picture is what you're saying.

SEC. PANETTA: This -- this happened within a few hours and it was really over before, you know, we had the opportunity to really know what was happening.

Q: As far as the Korean Peninsula, after the United States permit South Korea to develop 800-kilometers-range ballistic missile, the North Korea claim to have missile to reach American mainland. And tomorrow the South Korea's going to launch a rocket space -- space rocket tomorrow.

So, some comments say the America is accelerating tensions in Korea Peninsula. What is your comments? And why American change the idea that to allow South Korea to have -- to extend the missile range?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, look, we -- we've been dealing with the threat from North Korea for a long time now, in terms of their developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach our homeland and could obviously reach other countries in that region. That's a threat. That's a threat.

In addition to that, they have -- you know, they develop nuclear weapons. That's a threat. In addition to that, they continue to enrich uranium in violation of every international rule. And that's a threat.

And as a result of that, we're doing everything we can to defend ourselves against that potential threat and that includes the efforts by South Korea to be able to protect itself in the event that it becomes the target for that kind of attack.

So it's for all those reasons that we are working closely not only with South Korea, but Japan and other countries in the region to make sure that we can defend ourselves against the kind of provocation and threats that emerge out of North Korea.

Q: The attack occurred on the anniversary of 9/11, whether or not it -- that anniversary had anything to do with the attack. Did you have forces on any heightened alert in that area because of the approaching anniversary?

SEC. PANETTA: We did.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. And let me point out, it was -- it was 9/11 everywhere in the world.

Q: I would like to ask you, on Iran, on the joint exercise with Israel, do you see any message to Iran in conducting these exercise now?

And do you think that the time for diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran is over?

And Mr. Secretary, I would like to ask you, do you support the idea that United States needs to talk to Iran?

GEN. DEMPSEY: So, to the question about, are we messaging anyone with the exercise. First of all, this is an annual exercise. Secondly, it's an exercise not only for the kind of capabilities that Iran might deploy, but also for shorter range rockets and missiles.

And so it's not intended -- what is intended is to demonstrate our commitment to Israel for their collective defense against ballistic missile attack, rockets and missiles.

And as far as whether I think it's time to abandon the current path, that certainly isn't my -- my job to determine, but I do think that the -- there's reason to believe that the political and economic path we're on is -- is working. And so I think I'd be in the camp that suggests we should let it keep working.

SEC. PANETTA: And everything -- everything we are doing with regards to Iran, the sanctions that we put in place, the diplomatic pressures that we bring on Iran, all of the efforts to try to pressure them to back off of their efforts to develop a nuclear capability, all of that is aimed at trying to get them to the negotiating table.

So obviously, of course, we want to be able to get them to a negotiating table. But not just to talk, but to get things done. And, unfortunately, we still have not gotten things done.

And that -- that is what we're looking for now, is the kind of negotiations that are productive and that lead to real progress in terms of them backing off of their nuclear program.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I wonder if we could turn to Afghanistan for a moment? We keep hearing, the Afghan forces are increasingly in the lead, they're taking more territory, more districts. If that's the case, do you think more U.S. troops can be withdrawn by year's end or do you think it's wiser to wait until next year for the spring fighting season to see how the Taliban -- or if they bounce back or resurging?

SEC. PANETTA: I -- I really believe that the best thing we could do now is to stick with General Allen's plan; that he's put a -- he's put a solid plan in place. It's endorsed by NATO. It's a plan that we have a tremendous amount of confidence in, and we've seen it already working effectively to try to accomplish the transitions that we're trying to accomplish.

I really think that the best thing we could do at this point is to stick to it and make sure that we implement it the way it was designed to be implemented.

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me just add, I mean -- and -- and as -- as -- we've asked John Allen that question, and as we've told you, there's a timeline for these decisions to be made. And he's doing his assessment. But we won't do this alone. We've got 44 partner nations that we have to coordinate with, as well.

Q: And he'll decide next month the way ahead with the 68,000 troops, is that right?

GEN. DEMPSEY: The current timeline calls for us to determine what our enduring presence will be post '14 as the first step sometime in late November, early December. Because you need to know where you're going before you start the journey.

Q: I was over in Afghanistan in May and talked to General Scaparroti who's now head of the joint staff --

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I'm actually head of the joint staff. (Laughter.)

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. DEMPSEY: That'll conclude my remarks. (Laughter.)

Q: Director of the joint staff.

GEN. DEMPSEY: I'm kidding.

Q: He was saying he would prefer to see 68,000 troops well into next spring. Could you both comment on that?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, I think we really want to have General Allen's best recommendation on that. And I think as Marty was pointing out, you know, the initial step here is what -- what should the enduring presence look like in 2014 -- in the post 2014 period. What is that gonna look like?

And then, you know, what -- what kind of path should we take in terms of being able to draw down the 68,000.

And so what we're gonna do, and I think, you know, we've all decided that the best thing to do is to allow John Allen to have the opportunity to make that recommendation to us.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- just follow, Mr. Secretary, please?

Mr. Secretary, as far as Afghanistan --

SEC. PANETTA: You have to keep this short. (Laughter.)

Q: -- (inaudible) -- Secretary.

As far as -- a two-part question, sir. (Laughter.)

(CROSSTALK)

Q: What -- what in the future of Afghanistan -- this is what the Afghans are asking, Mr. Secretary -- and also Pakistanis are also asking -- that what will be their role in the area?

And second part, Mr. Secretary, as far as the (inaudible) strategy is concerned, what is the U.S. and India's strategy will be in the 21st century in the region?

Thank you, sir.

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, first of all, I think with regard to Afghanistan our goal has always been an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself and that can be a sovereign and independent country in that important region of the world, and one that is, you know, sufficiently secure so that Al Qaeda never again finds a safe haven from which to conduct attacks on our country or anyplace else.

That's -- that's the goal, and that's the kind of Afghanistan that I think we're trying to -- to work toward, and I think it's the kind of Afghanistan the Afghan people want to have for the future as well.

With regards to India, India's an important country in that region, and obviously whatever India can do to try to help develop stability in that region, both working with Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, would be very helpful to the prospects of peace in the future.

Q: I have a cyber question for you, and a force structure question for you.

What are the budgetary and readiness implications of reversing the planned 100,000 troop and Marine reduction by 2017? And just a reality check on that. There's been, as you know, some proposals to do that.

And for Mr. Secretary, in your speech of October 12th on -- on cyber, you mentioned the major attack on the Saudi Aramco facility. You implied, short of saying it, that it could have been Iran or a state actor.

I want you to elaborate a little bit on it. Is there evidence that Iran was involved? Or just is -- is it possible that it could have been an individual, a non-state individual, and a good hacking network that did it, as opposed to a state actor?

There's a lot of speculation on this. I'd hope you can clear that up a little bit.

GEN. DEMPSEY: So Tony, I'm not sure what you mean by "could we reverse decisions made." Let me just say -- 'cause the issue's really about which way the budget's gonna go.

Q: If you were forced to reverse it, what are the budgetary and readiness implications of having to keep that 100,000?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, if we -- if the Budget Control Act remained in effect and we were tasked to find $487 billion over 10 years, and if we couldn't touch manpower to do it, is that the question?

GEN. DEMPSEY: We would hollow out the force, because we couldn't touch manpower. It's very difficult and it's timely -- it takes a long time to touch infrastructure. That leaves operations, maintenance, training and modernization.

Q: So -- (inaudible) -- hollow out the force if you had to reverse -- if you had to keep the number you want --

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. DEMPSEY: If the Budget Control Act number of $487 billion remains in effect and manpower is exempted, I'd hollow out the force.

SEC. PANETTA: Tony, with regards to, you know, the cyber attack and the speech that I made with regards to the attack on Aramco, I'm not going to -- I'm not gonna get into classified information here.

But I think what I was trying to point out was that the attack on Aramco involved a pretty sophisticated tool, and that tool basically, it's one of the first we've seen that can actually take down and destroy computers. And it took down their computers to the point that they had to be replaced.

That's a very sophisticated tool. There are only a few countries in the world that have that capability. But it -- it raises tremendous concerns about the potential for the use of that kind of tool when it comes to our power grid, when it comes to our financial systems, when it comes to our government systems, and that was the concern that I was raising.

Q: Can you rule -- you would rule out, though, an individual or a non-state network of hackers, given the sophistication of the attack?

SEC. PANETTA: I just don't want to comment on -- on specifically, you know, the kind of information as to who was involved in that particular attack.

Q: Thanks.

Q: On Turkey, General -- (inaudible) -- that you had -- I mean, U.S. Army Europe has had forces personally in Turkey. Could you please give more details about the personnel that you have deployed on Turkey since the crisis in Syria has begun?

And second --

SEC. PANETTA: In Turkey?

Q: In Turkey.

And second, the Admiral Winnefeld was in Turkey this week, too, and there is a huge expectation from Turkey's side in terms of the struggle against PKK for the cooperation with the U.S., and also cooperation expectation with U.S. on -- in terms of the crisis in Syria.

Could you please give more details about -- (inaudible) --?

GEN. DEMPSEY: On the -- on the issue of have we deployed additional forces to Turkey in response to the crisis in Syria, there have been times when we've sent teams over to do some planning with them, notably on humanitarian zones, ballistic missile defense, and also some of their counterterror concerns related to an unstable northeastern Syria and the PKK. And in fact, Admiral Winnefeld, my -- my vice chairman, just returned back and had conversations with his counterpart about those things.

You know, to your point, we've been -- we've been having an intelligence-sharing regime with Turkey for about the last five years. And one of the things we're looking to do now is learn lessons from the last five years, recognize a different situation on Turkey's southeastern border, and see if there's other things we could do to -- to assist them, as well as to reduce the threat of ballistic missile attack inside Turkey.

So it's a work in progress, and we go and come as we need to have those consultations.

Q: -- (inaudible) -- suggested last week to -- (inaudible) -- against the PKK, some PKK leaders like -- (inaudible) -- which has been used in the attack to -- the killing of Osama bin Laden. But the Turkish prime minister has replied that it's a different situation -- that conditions are different. Osama bin Laden was at home, but PKK leaders are in caves.

So this kind of negotiations, you mean this kind of --

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, what -- what Prime Minister Erdogan said, that's his country, and I wouldn't question his approach to this. He's been doing quite well, actually. But we -- we offer partners, and Turkey is not only a close bilateral partner, they're part of our NATO alliance -- we offer them to share our expertise and also to learn from their experiences. And sometimes they take our offer and sometimes they don't.

But I wouldn't read anything into -- that there's a disconnect in any way.

Q: A question for both of you. What have you learned thus far the strategic choices process that's been going on here over the last few weeks?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, if you want me to start, Mr. Secretary. So the secretary, you know, and -- through the dep sec def and the vice, they run that portfolio, strategic choices. I supplement it by gathering the combatant commanders and the service chiefs in strategic seminars to inform our choices.

And what we learn -- we learn a lot about how issues that are regional are no longer limited to region; that they tend to be trans-regional. They tend to actually impact back upon the homeland. So there's -- there's issues and choices to be made and investment in that way.

We do learn a lot about cyber and the future threat in the cyber domain. We learn a great deal about which resources tend to be under greatest pressure and how we should either invest more heavily in those particular resources or find different ways of accomplishing the task.

So, and, you know, it's a very dynamic situation. We'll be running another one here in another couple of months.

SEC. PANETTA: You know, it -- it really is -- it's a process of looking at the key elements of our -- of our strategy on defense, and looking at the world that we're dealing with and making sure that there's a fit here.

You know, obviously, the first point is, you know, we know we're drawing down, but, you know, how do we develop the kind of agility that we have to have in order to have the kind of quick deployability that we're gonna need in the world of today, as we've seen in the last few months.

Secondly, the -- the forward presence, to be able to project force into the Pacific at the same time we're projecting force into the Middle East, how do you maintain that kind of forward presence in a way that doesn't put undue stress on the force, and at the same time gives you the kind of -- the capabilities that you need to respond to situations in those areas.

This is a -- you know, this is not an easy challenge to kind of make sure we have that kind of balance.

Secondly, the presence and the alliances that I talked about, how do we develop that whole set of issues?

And then lastly, the investments that we make.

Now, let -- let -- let me just share with you one of -- one of the problems here, is that in some ways -- you know, I'm working on -- we're developing a 2014 budget that to some extent is -- is not -- is not based on what Congress has done because they haven't done it. We don't know what the 2013 budget is going to be. I've got a six-month CR on the 2013 budget.

So I don't know what -- what am I going to get for 2013 much less what is Congress going to provide for 2014. And the issue -- I mean the -- and this is a strategic issue, is what kind of stability am I going to have in terms of defense spending for the future?

And I recognize, you know, what we've had to do in cutting the defense budget by almost a half a trillion dollars. But for me to be able to put a strategy in place, for us to be able to make the kind of strategic choices we need to make, I have to have some stability with regards to where are we going from here. And I don't have that right now, and that -- frankly, that's a major concern.

STAFF: We have time for two more.

Q: On sequestration. Has OMB indicated when you can start planning for it yet?

And what's your message to the people inside this building who are watching that 70-day clock tick down and might face furloughs at the end of it?

SEC. PANETTA: We have not -- you know, we -- we have not received that word from -- from OMB. And, you know, I guess in line with -- with the president's comments and my comments and everybody else's comments, the hope is that sequester won't happen.

STAFF: Last one.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday the South Korean defense minister said that North Korea is trying to conduct another nuclear test. Are there any indications that such a test might be imminent or might occur in a couple weeks around the time of the elections?

SEC. PANETTA: I have not -- I have not seen intelligence that has indicated that this was imminent. We always get intelligence that, you know, they continue to make plans for this, but I have not seen, at least intelligence that I -- I've noted, that indicates that it's imminent.

STAFF: Thanks, everyone.


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