September 8 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - September 8, 2011

            GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. I'm delighted to participate in my first on-camera briefing with Captain John Kirby, an outstanding military officer and public affairs professional. I look forward to working with him, to engaging with all of you on a regular basis. I've longed believed that the press plays an important and critical role in our democracy. I'm committed to supporting your efforts to advance our nation's -- and indeed the world's -- understanding of this department and of the greatest men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to protect the American people, our interests and ideals and our future.

            In more than a month on the job here at the Pentagon, I've begun to develop an even deeper appreciation for the complexity of this building and the challenges you face in covering it. Working alongside Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Wilson and his department's dedicated public affairs professionals, I will make every effort to get you the timely and accurate information you need to do your job.

            Secretary Panetta is also committed to regularly engaging with the press as he seeks to communicate his vision for leading this department. And all of us here in the secretary's public affairs office will support his efforts to do precisely that.

            With that, I will just briefly update you on the upcoming commemorations for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

            As you know, Secretary Panetta visited the new and impressive 9/11 memorial in New York earlier this week. He was accompanied by active duty service members who've joined the military since 2001. It was, to be sure, a moving experience. He paid tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11. And in public appearances starting tonight and throughout the weekend, he will emphasize three key points.

            First, we must remember those who were killed and injured in New York, Shanksville, and here at the Pentagon, where even on the day of attacks, the result to confront our terrorist enemies did not waiver.

            Second, he will stress how grateful the American people are for the service of the millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who've deployed overseas in the past decade.

            Third, there's absolutely no doubt that for the past 10 years America has shown its profound resilience. That's part of the American character and is one of many reasons why the secretary believes America is a special place and a leader in the world.

            As we approach the 10th anniversary, we remain a nation at war. In Afghanistan, we continue to take the fight to the enemy and are making progress. We are drawing down combat forces in Iraq, and we are working toward a strategic relationship with Iraq in the years ahead. We are relentlessly pursuing al-Qaida and its militant allies.

            In these and other areas throughout the world, we honor those who are serving and who have served. They have shown extraordinary courage, ceaseless determination and boundless patriotism. Indeed, it's an honor for me to be able to represent the men and women of America's armed forces.

            Now I'll turn to my friend in uniform.

            CAPTAIN JOHN KIRBY: Thanks, George.

            And good afternoon, everybody. I'm also delighted to have this opportunity. I'm honored to share the podium with you, and I look forward to working closely with you as we move forward.

            Until I assume my new duties full-time next month, I'll be up here in my current capacity as Joint Staff spokesman. In that vein, the only thing that I would add to what George said regarding the 9/11 anniversary is that I hope we all keep in mind how very much the last 10 years has affected and been affected by the U.S. military. There's no question that we are a more capable and more joint force than ever before. We don't even think about deployments in any other sense but joint, and we certainly don't train for those deployments in any other way.

            We are now more integrated with our interagency partners, an attribute that I think makes us more effective not only in a war zone, but also in disaster relief and humanitarian operations. And we certainly adapted well to counterinsurgency warfare, learning valuable and sometimes very costly lessons in combat.

            In short, we are a radically different force than we were on the 11th of September, 2001, and we've been at war virtually nonstop since that day.

            Some 2 million American men and women have deployed in uniform to fight terrorism and secure our national interests in the last decade. More than 6,200 have come home to Dover Air Force Base. Nearly 46,000 have come home with Purple Hearts. Countless others still struggle with the invisible wounds of war. And we ought to remember today that 200,000 of them are still out there forward deployed around the world doing what they have been trained to do and -- if I may take the liberty of speaking for them -- what they love to do.

            These are the most combat-experienced troops in recent history, many of whom signed up in the wake of and because of the 9/11 attack. And they are supported by incredibly resilient, incredibly strong families. Though stressed by 10 years at war, our people are proud of the difference they know they are making.

            As we remember and mourn our loss this Sunday, including losses felt right here in the Pentagon, Americans can take pride in the readiness of their armed forces. Our allies and partners can take comfort in it. And our enemies should continue to take caution in it.

            Thank you.

            MR. LITTLE: Bob.

            Q: George, a question on Iraq. I know that you and the secretary both have said repeatedly there's been no decision about what size force might or might not remain in Iraq after the end of the year. My question is, has the secretary made any recommendations to the president on that subject?

            MR. LITTLE: Bob, absolutely no decisions have been made whatsoever with respect to post-2011 presence in Iraq. This is a series of discussions that is ongoing with the Iraqi government. And anybody who thinks that they can pin a precise number at this point on what the U.S. presence -- troop presence might be in 2012 is engaging in pure speculation.

            Q: But the question is about whether the secretary has made a recommendation to the president.

            MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into internal administration deliberations or on the ongoing discussions with the Iraqi government.

            MR. LITTLE: Justin

            Q: Then -- well, that was my question. You're not going to talk at all about the negotiations with the Iraqis? I mean, this is a big issue coming up here.

            You can't tell us at all what -- has any number been proposed to the Iraqis? Where do those state of negotiations stand now?

            MR. LITTLE: We're pleased that the Iraqis are talking with us. But in terms of specifics, in terms of numbers or other parts of the discussions, I'm simply not going to go there today. It'd be inappropriate to in the middle of the discussions with the Iraqis.

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