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TRANSCRIPT: George Little Provides Updates on Libya and Region during DOD News Briefing
<i>Following is the transcript of a briefing with George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary, September 14, 2012. Little told press that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta &#34;authorized the
Following is the transcript of a briefing with George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs and Pentagon Press Secretary, September 14, 2012. Little told press that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "authorized the movement of a Marine Corps fleet anti-terrorism security team, a fast platoon, into Libya to protect U.S. citizens and secure our embassy in Tripoli."

He added that the DOD is working closely with the State Department and partners throughout the region to ensure all missions are prepared to handle further protests. The complete transcript is included below: GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. I'd like to start today by commenting on the events this week in Libya and across the region. Secretary Panetta strongly condemns the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the strongest possible terms. The secretary extends his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the entire State Department family. The department has been working closely with the White House and State Department to provide resources to support the security of U.S. personnel and facilities in Libya. I'd like to quickly summarize some of our actions to date. Yesterday, the secretary authorized the movement of a Marine Corps fleet anti-terrorism security team, a FAST platoon, into Libya to protect U.S. citizens and secure our embassy in Tripoli. The department also provided support to evacuate military -- excuse me -- American personnel and casualties out of Libya and is supporting the return of the remains of our fallen colleagues to the United States. Over the past 48 hours, the leadership of this department, including the secretary and the chairman, have worked closely with combatant commanders to review our force posture in the region and to ensure that we have the flexibility to respond to requests for assistance or orders as directed by the president of the United States. This department also continues to work closely with the State Department and our partners throughout the region, including Yemen, Egypt and Afghanistan, to ensure all missions have any necessary resources from this department, given the potential for further protests in the coming days. Let me shift gears at this point. This weekend, Secretary Panetta will depart Washington for his third visit to Asia in 11 months as secretary of defense. The trip will take him to Japan, China, and New Zealand. In Japan, Secretary Panetta will meet with Minister of Defense Morimoto for their second consultation in as many months. The secretary will also meet with Foreign Minister Gemba. The U.S.-Japan alliance has been a cornerstone of security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region for more than 50 years. And as part of our rebalancing effort, we are making new investments in the alliance for the 21st century. MR. LITTLE: While in Japan, Secretary Panetta will also meet with U.S. service members. Next, the secretary will travel to China at the invitation of China's Minister of National Defense General Liang. The visit provides an opportunity to deepen the military-to- military engagements between China and the United States. The United States and China continue to work together to establish healthy, stable, reliable and continuous military-to-military ties. This visit, as you know, follows on General Liang's trip to Washington in May. Lastly, Secretary Panetta will travel to New Zealand. The secretary will be the first U.S. defense secretary to visit New Zealand in over 30 years. The trip follows the signing of the Washington declaration in June between the secretary and Minister of Defense Coleman. The declaration provides a framework for cooperation to focus, strengthen and expand the bilateral defense relationship. While in New Zealand, Secretary Panetta will lay a wreath at the World War II Hall of Memories to remember the sacrifices of the New Zealand defense force in that war and most recently in Afghanistan. With that, I'll take your questions. Lita. Q: George, can you say what, if any, additional military movements there may have been over the last couple -- over the last two days, including whether or not the Marines are gonna be going down to Benghazi and what steps have been taken in other places around the world where security is being evaluated and stepped up? And then, just secondly, what are your thoughts on whether or not the military and/or whole of government may have underestimated the impact of either this film or 9/11? And to which have you determined (inaudible) attribute these protests and the violence? MR. LITTLE: Thanks for the question, Lita. It is a very major priority of this department to support the State Department in the protection of U.S. diplomatic facilities, especially our embassies around the world, and we stand ready to do so in these trying days. I'm not going to comment about specific steps that we may take in the coming days to continue our efforts to augment security around our embassies and other installations around the world, but we're consulting closely with our State Department partners to determine any needs that they may have so that we can protect embassy personnel. As to what contributed to events over the past couple of days, I don't know specifically what sparked every protest in every case. We do have concerns about films that incite violence. Films that incite violence have led to the deaths of Americans and others in the past, and that includes service members. For that reason we have very serious concerns, obviously. I'm not going to speculate as to what happened in Benghazi. Our focus now is on supporting whole-of-government efforts to provide security to our personnel, in Libya and elsewhere, and working closely with our State Department partners, and then supporting any efforts that we may be called upon to assist in the effort to, as the president said, deliver justice. Spencer. Q: On that note, beyond what the department is prepared to do to help secure embassies and diplomatic personnel, what if any assistance is the department providing to the hunt for the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack? I understand the FBI has a lead role there. Does General Ham and AFRICOM have a role there, or is that something that the department hasn't been asked to do yet? MR. LITTLE: You're correct, Spencer, in that the -- the FBI and the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into this tragic event. I would refer to them for specifics on that investigation, but obviously we will cooperate fully if called upon to support their investigation. Q: So you haven't been called upon yet? MR. LITTLE: We, to my knowledge, haven't received a specific request, but rest assured that this department is going to work very closely with our interagency partners to help investigate if we have -- if we're called upon to assist, and we will play our part in getting to the root of what happened here. Q: There are... MR. LITTLE: Yes, Jennifer? Q: ... there are two questions. First of all, there are reports that there were arrests made in Libya. Do you have any information on who has been arrested and if they were involved in the attack on the consulate? And second, there's a report that Ambassador Anne Patterson in Cairo had not authorized Marines to have ammunition in their weapons at the embassy. Is that true? MR. LITTLE: Jennifer, to your first question, I don't have any specific information on reports coming out of Libya that there have been arrests. What I would say to that point is that the Libyans have expressed their serious concern over what happened in Benghazi. They have condemned the attack on our consulate there. And they are working very closely with us to try to find out exactly what happened, and we're grateful for their support. With respect to your second question, I would say, first, that with or without a weapon, Marines are always armed. In this case, in Cairo, our Marines do in fact have weapons. Q: Do they have ammunition? MR. LITTLE: Do they have ammunition? Q: That -- that was what the report was, that she had not -- the ambassador had not authorized them to have ammunition in their weapons. Is that false? MR. LITTLE: To my knowledge, they have weapons and I have heard nothing to suggest that they don't have ammunition. Q: Thanks. Are there also Marines guarding diplomatic facilities in Yemen and Tunisia? MR. LITTLE: As a matter of course, there are U.S. Marine security contingents that provide security to our embassies around the world, to include those two countries. Q: Is the FAST platoon expected to stay in Libya? When will they leave? MR. LITTLE: I don't have a specific timeline for you. As you know, they were just deployed and it's too early to say how long they'll stay. Q: George, do the secretary and the chairman still consider Egypt a military ally of the United States? MR. LITTLE: There's been a lot of discussion about this today, and I think that "ally" is a legal term of art. We don't have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt. What we do have is a very strong defense relationship with that country, one that has been built up over many decades. And we expect that strong defense relationship to continue. That's certainly our desire. Q: Well, can we just explore this a little bit more? Before the president said what he said, did the secretary and the chairman consider Egypt a military ally of the United States? MR. LITTLE: We have always considered Egypt a strategic partner and we continue to do so today. We look forward to continuing our bilateral defense relationship. As you know, the secretary recently visited Egypt; had very productive discussions there with President Morsi and others. And our relationship with Egypt, we believe, is on the right track when it comes to our military ties. Q: Why not call them an ally? MR. LITTLE: I don't think that we really need to get into semantics. I think I've said what I have said, and that is that "ally" is, in fact, a legal term of art and we do not have a mutual defense treaty with that country. Q: To follow up on Egypt, the U.S. has offered to help Egypt (inaudible) in the Sinai. Can you give an update as to is the U.S. doing anything militarily to help that effort? And does anything that's happening recently change that offer or those activities? MR. LITTLE: I've heard of no change in our overall posture with respect to Egyptian-Defense relationship. We, of course, expect our Egyptian partners to work to bring those to justice -- those who have committed violence against our embassy. And with respect to the Sinai, there's been no change in our dealings with the Egyptians on that issue. Q: So there's an offer of action? Or is the U.S. helping Egypt (inaudible) Sinai already? MR. LITTLE: We have over the past several months offered assistance to the Egyptians to help the Egyptians themselves, and of course, U.N. personnel in that region provide for greater security for themselves, and to go after security threats in that part of the world. Q: Two questions. First, the -- I wonder if you could comment and discuss the role of the Navy warships that are headed toward Libya? What -- what role might they play? What role might they not play? And then secondary question is: Does this department have a role in assessing security at embassies and making recommendations? Or do -- is it purely when the State Department asks, you provide -- provide Marines or FAST units? MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into the specifics of embassy security. That's for the State Department to address. Q: No, no, not in terms of the -- boosting one or the other. But is it -- do you play a role in the sort of planning of that, not what the plans are -- but -- or is that just a State Department matter? MR. LITTLE: The State Department has the lead for embassy security around the world. Naturally, if they ask for our advice in given situations we'll offer it up, no question about it. On the issue of assets being moved toward Libya, I want to be very clear that we do have ships in the Mediterranean. We have had ships in the Mediterranean for some time. None of our naval vessels in that region have been assigned to any specific mission with respect to -- to Libya. And our assets in the region are prepared to respond to any contingency. That's what the U.S. military does. But, again, they haven't been assigned a specific mission. Q: George, two questions. One, as far as the incident in Libya is concerned, first the U.S. helped to free Libya from the tyranny of Gadhafi. And my question is, whatever happened now in Benghazi or Libya, do you believe that still even after the death of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaida is still existing in the region, including in Libya -- and (inaudible) Libya? MR. LITTLE: Well, first of all, let me say that we are, in the wake of this tragic event in Benghazi, grateful to the Libyan government for their assistance. We have worked very closely with the Libyans since their own transition to develop those stronger ties, and we hope to strengthen those ties going forward. We do believe that Al Qaida has a presence in various parts of the world, to include in North Africa. AQIM, as you know, has members of the group spread throughout the region, and we consider them a threat. And we're working closely with our partners in the region to help thwart the threat that they pose. Q: A different question. As far as the U.S.- India defense military-to-military relations are concerned now, since the secretary is visiting the region, one, can you confirm reports that India will be the largest -- or biggest importer of U.S. arms ever the world has seen between the defense relations between the two countries? Also a part of it, is U.S. shifting defense ties with Pakistan because Pakistan general is (inaudible) and there may be some kind of defense deals between the two countries? MR. LITTLE: As you know, the secretary recently visited India; so did Deputy Secretary Carter. We hope to strengthen our relationship on the military front with the Indians, to include arms sales. We've been very clear about that. On the issue of export technology transfers is one that we are working through in particular. I don't have a dollar amount to assign at this stage to the defense relationship or arms sales to India, but we are looking to develop closer ties. On Pakistan, I think I've been very clear in recent weeks that I think the relationship has settled down and that we can continue to cooperate closely with our Pakistani partners. Q: I'm sorry, George, if I missed it, but did you say -- is there any further clarity on who carried out the attack in Libya? And also, when Secretary Panetta goes to China, who all will he be meeting with? Will he be meeting with the president-to-be? MR. LITTLE: The itinerary hasn't been locked down yet for -- for China, so I don't have an answer for you on that one. And we haven't yet determined precisely who was responsible for the tragic attack in Benghazi yesterday. Q: Shifting, another part of the Persian Gulf... MR. LITTLE: Sure. Q: ... next week there's going to be a lot of attention focused on what CENTCOM says is the largest counter-mine exercise in that region's history. Can you give a feel for the -- what's to be demonstrated and what signals this exercise will be sending or hopes to send to Iran and our regional allies? And I had a follow-up on a different subject. MR. LITTLE: I've addressed this issue in the past. This exercise... Q: (inaudible) MR. LITTLE: Sure. Sure. I think CENTCOM probably has the details for you on the exercise. But this is about our relationships with countries in the region. This is about exercising capabilities that we want to exercise with our partners in the region. It's not meant to send any particular signal except for the strength of the U.S. resolve to maintain a strong military presence in the Middle East. Q: What about the world economy, those who follow oil trade, that the world is... MR. LITTLE: I'm not sure there's a particular or specific nexus to the oil trade between or with these exercises. Q: Well, oil traders, people who care about oil going through the Strait of Hormuz.... MR. LITTLE: Sure. Q: ...might want to be reassured that the world community is doing what it can to stop Iranian mines. MR. LITTLE: Sure. But I'm not going to speculate on economics. That wasn't one of my strong suits in college. Q: A China follow-up. Two years ago, when Secretary Gates went, he was cold cocked or surprised, whatever word you want to use, by the J-20 Chinese stealth fighter being displayed, test run on the runway, whatever, seen as an embarrassment to Gates. Do your China hands expect any kind of surprise, China surprise, or do you feel this is going to be pretty much a transparent visit and no agenda from China? MR. LITTLE: We believe this will be a very productive and cordial visit, one that will advance our shared goals of a more transparent and even more viable relationship with the Chinese military. Q: Thanks. Q: George, is it possible to know how many troops are being deployed and what are the priority countries which are the countries that are most of your concern? MR. LITTLE: I'm sorry, say it again. Which countries are our most concern in which context? Q: Yeah, I would like to know what -- what is the number of troops you're deploying to protect the embassies and what are the priorities in Middle East. MR. LITTLE: It's not our usual practice to discuss specific numbers with respect to troop deployments, and I wouldn't do so in this case. But sufficient numbers have been deployed to Libya to help provide security to our embassy in Tripoli, and wherever else we're called upon we'll provide the same kind of support. Q: George, a question back on Egypt. I know you addressed it earlier, but with more than a billion dollars in military assistance to Egypt, has the defense secretary reached out and contacted his counterpart in Egypt since the embassy riots began? And is the Pentagon asking the Egyptian military to step in and take some measures to, you know, bring down the violence there? And I have another question. MR. LITTLE: The secretary has not called his Egyptian counterpart, but I can't rule out that that won't happen in the near future. As you know, the president -- our president has spoken to President Morsi. Q: And can I have one quick follow-up question on the Chinese (inaudible)? Is there an interest from the Pentagon to meet with Xi Jinping? The whole world seems to be looking for him. Any idea where he is? MR. LITTLE: This is not something I would comment on. This is for the Chinese to discuss, of course. So we look forward to meetings with top Chinese military leaders. Again, the itinerary hasn't been locked in stone. Q: You said that the DOD is not -- is not taking the lead on the investigation in Libya. That's going to be DOJ. But you're (inaudible) not on the ground yet. Are you relying entirely upon Libyan security right now to -- to push this forward? And what -- how close is the relationship between military to military with Libya right now? MR. LITTLE: Well, we -- the secretary visited Libya last December. And we believe that we have a good working relationship with the Libyan military. As to the specifics of the investigation, this tragic event occurred yesterday. I don't have specifics for you on how it will take place or how it will unfold. I don't have information on timelines for you. We stand ready to support if called upon. This is really a matter for the FBI and DOJ to address. Q: I was curious whether it was General Dempsey's idea to call Terry Jones (inaudible) White House? And secondly, were there Marines stationed at the embassy in Tripoli before this week? And if not, is that unusual if there weren't any? MR. LITTLE: Marines regularly provide security to our embassies around the world, including in Tripoli. And there were Marines at the embassy in Tripoli already. General Dempsey was willing to call Pastor Jones. The kinds of words and actions that Pastor Jones have spread have regrettably incited violence and have led to deaths, including Afghanistan, including American service members. I think that's why he called. It was a brief conversation. Pastor Jones was noncommittal. Q: Can I follow up on one thing, George? The -- you know, the work with the State Department about security of embassy installations. On the other side, is the secretary talking to his commanders at all? I know you always work the security, but one more time, to reassess security and military bases and military installations, ships at sea, air bases around the world. Is he talking to them about that? Is there any military side to this review going on? MR. LITTLE: I'm not aware of any specific review that's been directed in the wake of events in Benghazi. Our focus right now is on assisting American personnel and the State Department in Libya and throughout the region. The secretary has full confidence in his military leadership and in military commanders to assess security at the installations they command and to make calls on the ground. And that, you know, commanders routinely assess security conditions and he stands by their decisions. Q: On the... MR. LITTLE: Sorry. I didn't point directly. I think I pointed in the middle. Go ahead. Q: (inaudible) on embassy security, did DOD provide, you know, any input on the level of security that was at the consulate, that was at the embassy before this week or was that all a State Department thing? You mentioned (inaudible) the department gives advice when asked upon. Was any given previously in Libya's case? MR. LITTLE: I'm -- I'm really not gonna get into specific conversations that may or may not have taken place with respect to any diplomatic installation around the world and the security posture surrounding those diplomatic installations. This really is a question that's best addressed by the State Department. It's my understanding that it's not their typical practice to discuss their security posture -- for understandable reasons. And I wouldn't get into specifics today. Q: On the secretary's trip on -- to Japan. MR. LITTLE: Yes? Q: He just met his Japanese counterpart last month, and I wonder why he has to see him again in such a short period of time. Are there any specific issue that he has to take care of this time? MR. LITTLE: He looks forward to discussing a wide range of issues with his Japanese counterpart. We have an unwavering commitment to the Japanese alliance and to Japanese security. And it makes sense when you're in that neighborhood to stop by and visit your good friends. Q: Can I follow up on that? Is the Osprey issue of growing concern to this department, that it's not been able to be resolved so far? It's been weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. And something that seemed simple at first has dragged on, protest has grown. How much of that influenced the decision to... MR. LITTLE: We've been in close consultation with Japanese defense officials about the MV-22 Osprey aircraft. We have briefed them on the event that caused them concern in Japan. And we believe that this deployment remains on track. Q: Follow-up on (inaudible) MR. LITTLE: (inaudible) Q: Has the State Department asked for any additional Marines at any other embassies in the world, particularly that region? MR. LITTLE: If called upon we would obviously provide support to our State Department colleagues (inaudible) to provide additional security at embassies. And I don't have anything at this point to offer. If that changes I'll let you know. Q: Also, on -- on the consulate, is it routine practice that consulates do not have Marine or military security? And in this case in particular, because during the war, if you will, in Libya, U.S. military and intelligence officials had repeatedly warned about militant if not terrorist factions that were embedded in the uprising. So was the -- was there any evaluation on the potential security threat at that consulate? MR. LITTLE: Really, when it comes to these questions -- I'm really not dodging these questions, but these really are best posed to the State Department. They're responsible, ultimately, for security around diplomatic installations, embassies and consulates. It is a fact that generally speaking, Marines protect our embassies around the world. Marines do not protect all the consulates in all parts of the world. That's about as far as I can take it. For the specifics on threats and assessments of security of particular diplomatic installations, that's really something for my colleagues across the river to discuss. Q: The Marines provide -- you said do not provide security at consulates in all parts of the world. Are there parts of the world where Marines do provide security? MR. LITTLE: I don't -- I don't have the specific locations, but I believe that at least in some limited instances -- and I don't know the number, I don't know the precise locations. But my understanding is that where appropriate and where called upon by the State Department we do provide Marines at some consulates around the world. I just don't know precisely where. Q: (inaudible) information available? MR. LITTLE: I will check. Q: George, Marines were not there yesterday in Benghazi. Had they ever been assigned to the consulate and were then withdrawn? MR. LITTLE: I don't know that they were ever assigned (inaudible) to that consulate in Benghazi. If that changes, I'll let you know. I'm not sure. Q: George, I know you said that the Osprey deployment remains on track, but has anyone in the Japanese government requested that that be postponed? MR. LITTLE: I'm unaware of any request to postpone the deployment or operation of the -- the Osprey. I don't have a time line for when the Osprey will go fully operational, but, as I said, we believe the deployment remains on track. We'll take a couple more. Q: George, what can you tell us about the policy governing what Marines assigned to diplomatic posts are allowed or authorized to do to defend it? For example, are they authorized to open fire in certain situations? What can you tell us? MR. LITTLE: The Marines have an obligation to provide security for embassy compounds around the world. If embassy perimeters are breached and if certain conditions present themselves, then the Marines absolutely can act in self-defense, as you would expect, to protect American personnel and the inviolable compounds that constitute our diplomatic facilities around the world. That stands to reason. Q: Is that policy governed by DOD or Department of State? MR. LITTLE: I don't have a specific policy to point to, but it is certainly consistent with American law and policy. (inaudible) Q: The other one. MR. LITTLE: Oh, yeah. Q: George, you mentioned that there are Marines... MR. LITTLE: I don't know of another George in the room. Q: You mentioned there are Marines in Yemen. You mentioned that they can fire in self-defense during a breach. There was a breach in Yemen today, at least one on the outer perimeter. There were reports of gunfire. Did Marines in Yemen fire? MR. LITTLE: Good question. These are recently unfolding events. I don't have a situation update on precisely what happened in Yemen. But I would say that both U.S. and Yemeni personnel work closely together to prevent breaches against our diplomatic facilities in Yemen, and we're grateful to the government of Yemen for the assistance that they provided. Their response was strong and we're grateful. All right, one more. Wrap it up. Q: Secretary Panetta on CBS this week was asked about U.S. capabilities to destroy Iranian nuclear sites if they -- if the United States was called to do that, and he said, "We have in place now the capability to strike effectively if we needed to." One of the questions is, (inaudible) the moderator asked, was on the megabomb, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. Back in January Panetta was quoted as saying that it has limitations that we need to address. Fast forwarding to September, have those limitations been addressed and is this bomb now considered fully capable, fully operationally capable if needed? MR. LITTLE: The secretary, I don't believe, addressed any particular weapon system in the interview. He did talk about our capabilities with respect to prospective action. I wouldn't get into the MOP per se, just because details surrounding that particular system are sensitive and classified. Q: Well, listen, it's been written about. He alluded in January to -- he was quoted anyway saying there was limitations. I don't know if it's true or not. But have limitations been filled? MR. LITTLE: Let me see if I can provide an update. Q: Because this is the big arrow in the quiver is the United States was going to be forced into any action. I think the public has a right to some sense of whether this weapon is considered now ready to do the job if it was called on. MR. LITTLE: Thanks for the question, Tony. I'll see what I can do to respond. All right. One more? Okay. Q: On the SEAL book, has the secretary decided on anything? MR. LITTLE: I have no updates on the SEAL book. All right. Thanks, everyone.