Important news about the review of Afghanistan policy, discussed in Who are the experts advising our generals? We know what they’ll say. SecDef Gates appears to have sent it back for revisions, and the new version is expected in late August or early September.
Here is a transcript of the news conference. It has some interesting bits about the policy review process — and hints about the result.
News Briefing with Geoff Morrell at the Pentagon Briefing Room, 5 August 2009 — Excerpt (slightly edited for clarity):
QUESTION: What is your expectation as far as the timing and form of General McChrystal’s assessments and recommendations? Do you expect it to be one document or assessment, or two? And do you still expect it in mid-August, or might it be later, such as after the Afghan elections?
MORRELL: Well, I thank you for the question, because I think we need to clear up some of these things and perhaps lower expectations just a bit about what it is that’s coming. This is not akin to the much-anticipated General Petraeus assessments that we got in 2006, 2007.
I mean, this is a work product that was commissioned by the secretary and also by the secretary-general of NATO. It is designed to give those two people and the people who work for them a better sense of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and the way ahead as the commander there sees it.
I can tell you that based upon the secretary’s meeting over the weekend, on Sunday, in Belgium, with General McChrystal, that he was very impressed with the briefing he got and the assessment thus far. But he wants him to take into consideration a few other ideas he had to address some additional issues in this review of the situation on the ground.
In light of that, the secretary has told General McChrystal to take beyond the 60 days if needed. So he anticipates getting this final product in late August, early September, at this point.
This was also communicated in a phone call the secretary made yesterday to the new secretary-general, Rasmussen, the primary purpose of which was to call and congratulate him on his new job and welcome him. But during that call he did communicate that he had tasked General McChrystal with a few other things to incorporate in this review, so he did not anticipate getting it until late August, early September, at this point.
QUESTION: Can you frame out at all what those additional tasks would be, what sorts of things he would like the general to look at?
MORRELL: Well, frankly, the secretary didn’t share them with me. So I can’t share them with you. I simply do not know.
Your second question was — you referred to two work products, I think, or something of that nature. I will tell you this. The assessment will not be, despite some erroneous reporting that I’ve seen, a work product that includes specific resource requests, if indeed there will be additional resource requests. I think Admiral Smith, who’s responsible for communications matters in Afghanistan, has shared this with some of you, but that the assessment will focus, as I have talked about, on the situation on the ground and the way ahead, but it will not offer specific resource requests or recommendations.
If it is determined subsequent to the review being received and reviewed that there are additional resources required to complete the mission, those resources will be requested as they always are, through the normal chain-of-command process, so that they can be validated. And ultimately a decision will be made, by the secretary, about whether or not to recommend, to the president, additional resources for the mission.
QUESTION: As far as assessment and review is concerned, is this with NATO only? Or are you considering countries in the region like Pakistan or India or Russia or China, as far as progress or assessment or review?
MORRELL: No. This is a commander’s review of his area of responsibility, which is limited to Afghanistan. That’s what this assessment is on. It’s an assessment of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, as General McChrystal and his team see it.
QUESTION: As far as President Karzai was saying that he might need additional troops or more resources and all that. So are you —
MORRELL: If it is determined by the commander that he needs additional resources, to complete his mission, that request will be made through the normal chain of command. It will go up through CENTCOM, to the Joint Staff, to the secretary. It will be validated along the way. And the secretary will have to make a determination about whether or not he recommends to the president additional troops.
I think he has been very forthright with you all over the past several months if not years now, about his concern about having too large a footprint — coalition footprint, international footprint — on the ground in Afghanistan, for fear that we could be viewed not as liberators or allies but as occupiers. So he has been mindful of — that there could be a tipping point here. That said he’s also not in the business, as secretary of Defense, to be imposing arbitrary troop caps on his commanders.
So it’s a fine line. And it’s one that if additional resources become an issue, that they will work through together.
QUESTION: — is secretary, one, satisfied with the progress going on now in Afghanistan? And second, is secretary in touch with countries like India for additional resources or troops or any other — any additional help?
MORRELL: I don’t know about any communications with India.
Is he satisfied with the progress? I don’t think anybody’s satisfied with the progress. I think that what he is heartened by is the fact that we have a new commander, a new deputy commander, a new ambassador, a new team that he thinks is better equipped than any other to solve this problem. If it can be solved, it can be solved by this team. That’s how he approaches this problem.
But I think it’s very, very early, too early to be gauging satisfaction with progress. We’ve just undertaken these major military operations as a result of us just now getting these additional forces on the ground. So, I think anybody who were to make judgments about the direction of things — I think it’s premature at this point. I think everybody is very, very cautious and mindful of the fact that we are early in this new approach by General McChrystal.
But I think, at the same time, he has seen signs from the population from the Afghan people that if we are there to stay, if we are committed, if we are willing to see this through, that they are with us. They want to support us, but they also want to know that we’re there for them. And that’s the whole purpose behind this new strategy of General McChrystal’s. So that’s what I would offer on that.
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Some of the posts about the War in Afghanistan:
- Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?, 31 October 2003
- Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
- We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
- The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
- Can we answer SecDef Gates’ question about NATO and the Af-Pak War?, 19 May 2009
- New bases in Afghanistan – more outposts of America’s Empire, 21 May 2009
- The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
- An expert explains why we must fight in Afghanistan, 11 June 2009
- Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
- The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
- The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009