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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel at Forward of Base Gamberi, Afghanistan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
December 07, 2014

SEC. HAGEL: Hello, hello, hello.

STAFF: Okay, Dan.

Q: Secretary, so there have been three failed rescue operations in basically a few months. Do you think it's time to have some kind of a review -- a review to look at how intelligence is gathered, how the raids are conducted?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first as I said yesterday, no rescue mission is ever recommended to the president by any of us on the National Security Council unless there is a complete, thorough internal review of intelligence, of what we know, also what we don't know. And as I noted yesterday, that's one component.

And then what would it take, if the intelligence matches up with an operational plan? Then of course you start with the real question, how much risk do we believe that the hostage is in?

Is the hostage's life being threatened, based on our best intelligence? Is it imminent? How much time do we have? Are there other ways that we can get the hostage back?

There's an immense about of focus and time in review that goes into each of these operations. So I don't think it's a matter of going back and having a review of a process. Our process is about as thorough as there can be.

Is it imperfect? Yes. Is there risk? Yes. But we start with the fact that we have an American that's being held hostage and that American's life is in danger. That's where we start. And then we proceed from there.

Q: Is there maybe a more aggressive policy now from the United States in terms of going after hostage takers?

SEC. HAGEL: I don't think there's been a less aggressive or a more aggressive. I mean it's still a policy of the United States, always has been, to get our hostages back. I mean that hasn't changed administration after administration. The same components, regardless of the administration or the year or the circumstances, the same components go into analyzing the possibility of action as we've always had.

Is our intelligence more sophisticated today and technology has brought more to it? Sure. But you know the reality is that human intelligence is always the best intelligence. And you never have enough human intelligence.

So I don't think it's a matter of more aggressive or less aggressive. It's always been the policy of the United States of America to get its hostages back.

Q: Sir, how do you feel -- I was just wondering about your emotions here? I mean obviously it's going to be likely to be your last visit as SecDef. What's going through your mind? Is there a bit of sadness here to see these guys? And as a combat veteran as well, the continuity's got to seem -- you seem to be a little bit more at ease.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I'm enlisted so I'm always at ease. But well you started with -- it isn't just today. Every part of my life since I came back from Vietnam I have been close to military guys.

And it isn't just me. It's anyone who's ever been to war. Anyone who's ever watched the suffering and literally been in trenches and jungles and foxholes and mountaintops with men and women who look after each other and save each other's lives.

So that component doesn't change. So I've always been very close and feel close, do today, always have.

I always have enjoyed the two years I served as the secretary of defense of getting out and doing these kinds of things. Many of you have traveled with me all over and you know I do this everywhere I go because I -- it isn't just a matter I like it, but it's, I think, part of the responsibilities of this job too.

Do I connect with them? I do. I'm proud of that. Sure, it's something that -- I've had this opportunity, this great privilege the last two years to see them up close in unique ways that most people never have.

So I always take away from any job or any experience the most positive parts of that and build on that for my future. And it's always worked for me. And these are special, special people and you all know that. So I admire them and I always like to be around them.

Q: Is there a sadness, though, about this being your last visit here?

SEC. HAGEL: Yeah. Well, I think there's always an emotional piece of this that you can't help but have that with the kind of bond that I have with these people, that anybody has, as I said, with military men and women, been to war, share that bond, share that relationship.

So, but I don't think about that. I really don't. I don't stand up here and talk to these guys and think oh this will be my last time with them. That's not what goes through my mind.

I always think ahead. And I think about these guys. And you know will it -- we'll always concentrate on these guys. It started long before me.

Q: Mr. Hagel, you said that Iraq and Afghanistan were different situations. And it's true that the attitude of the government in Afghanistan is very different than Mr. Maliki's government.

But the drawdown you've got outlined over the next two years from 10,000 to just a small number in Kabul is not going to be that different than the number we left in Iraq. And why should we expect a different situation here than we saw in Iraq after we pulled out the majority of our troops?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, Julian, let's go back to the beginning and the premise of the point. The premise of the point, we left Iraq under totally different circumstances. And we're transitioning out of Afghanistan over the next two years.

First of all, this transition was with the agreement and the invitation of the Afghan people and the Afghan government. This is a transition with our closest 50 partners over the next two years after we continue to help the Afghans build their capacity, build out that capability, build their institutions, train, assist and advise.

That's totally different than how we left Iraq. As we get into the second year of the transition, 2016, this has been planned, we bring those troops down because that won't be -- our role will be different. We'll be working ourselves out of a job.

General Campbell talks about that. All our commanders who were there. That's the whole point of this. And this will be 15 years at the end of 2016 that we've had very active military roles here. Thirteen of those have been combat roles. The last two have been train, assist, advise and working through this.

So I see it as a fundamentally different set of dynamics here. It's planning. It's training. It's transitioning. It's in agreement with everybody knowing what the objectives are every month as we transition out and help build their capacity.

STAFF: This is going to be the last one.

Q: If the drawdown plan for Afghanistan was kind of on a Karzai era. And I think we've heard even from last night from President Ghani like it's a new era. He talks about even American forces here in a totally different way than Karzai did.

I mean even in your conversations in Kabul this trip you get a sense that the drawdown plan is not -- doesn't fit now the current situation...

SEC. HAGEL: Oh, no. No.

STAFF: Mr. Secretary, just hold just a second, please. Just one second.

Q: It's changed really.

SEC. HAGEL: No, it hasn't actually, not the plan or the agreement. I'll give you a very real example of that.

Yes, we had a transition of governments or presidents from Karzai to Ghani. Let's start with Karzai. As that transition went forward, President Karzai took the bilateral security agreement to the Loya Jirga that he called and endorsed it to the Loya Jirga.

Now, there were intervening dynamics after that. I get that. He has now transitioned out. A new president is in.

This new president Ghani picks up the bilateral security agreement, picks up the train and assist mission just like it was, endorsed it. He did it as a candidate, as did Dr. Abdullah.

So there's no shift just because you have governments that -- one government wants to change it and the other one doesn't, not at all. There's no shift in that.

Q: In your conversations here you didn't get a sense from the new Afghan government that they are concerned about the drawdown plan that the U.S. is being sweated to execute?

SEC. HAGEL: They help facilitate and work out the agreement, along with General (inaudible) and I talked about it. Their corps commanders, their commander, General Karimi and I spent time yesterday talking about it.

They helped write the plan. And they understand it better than anybody because they want to have the capability to be able to do on their own without us having that constant we're the backup, call us in.

Give you another example of that. I used this before and I do think it gets underplayed.

It was a big deal about these elections these year. It was clear the Taliban, Al-Qaeda wanted to, said so that they would disrupt it, do everything they could. Iraqi Security Force -- or the Afghan Security Forces independently assured those elections.

And I think that's a pretty significant testament to the capability of the Afghan Security Forces and the people of Afghanistan wanting this to go forward, and everybody being in general agreement about our role and our ISAF partners' role as we go into resolute support mission objectives after Jan. 1. So I think there's really no change in any of the commitments of where we want to go and the objective of the mission.

STAFF: Thanks, guys. We're going to have to end there.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Okay. We'll see you in Kuwait.

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