|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 13, 2007
Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Speech
James S. Brady Briefing Room
In Focus: Iraq
2:48 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Welcome. I'm here as your MC and introducer, and then I'm out of here. We are going to have a briefing by senior administration officials on the record -- so this is all useable, verbatim -- but it is, in fact, senior administration official, so no direct attribution. And we will give you a preview of what the President will be saying tonight and, obviously, be taking questions. And with that, I will step away and make room for a senior administration official.
Senior administration official number one, please join us.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Tony. Great to see you all. I thought that I would give you a little bit of a sense of the President's speech. This evening's address to the nation will be from the Oval Office, from his desk. And he is going to, obviously, talk in response to the recommendations made by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in their congressional testimony on Monday and Tuesday, and share his views with the American public on how we should go forward in Iraq.
We do think that this is a key moment; that there are times when the public focuses on issues, this is a time when we believe the American public is very focused on our policy in Iraq and our issue -- not that they're not always; they are. They follow it closely we know, but there are some times where people give thought to the consequences and the future direction of a policy, and this is one of those moments. It's obviously true on Capitol Hill with members of Congress, as well -- believe that with the recommendation made by General Petraeus relative to the possibility -- or the recommendation that we can reduce our troop level without damaging our security status there, that we can maintain a level of security with fewer troops, that that changes the dynamic considerably in the discussion about Iraq. And the President will talk about that.
He has, after consulting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and members of Congress in both parties, and other of his national security team, allies, has concluded that he is going to accept the recommendations from both the General and the Ambassador relative to our future direction in Iraq.
The General, as you know, talked about the fact that our success, the success of the surge to date would allow for 2,200 Marines to return home this month without being replaced, and that an Army brigade would be able to come home this year without being replaced, which would mean that by Christmas we'd see about 5,700 troops be able to come home from Iraq without being replaced. He also has recommended that there be a reduction of 20 combat brigades to 15. The President will accept that recommendation and implement it as Commander-in-Chief.
We'll continue to make sure that General Petraeus has the troops that he needs to be successful and to continue the success that we're seeing. And General Petraeus will return, and the President will direct him to come back in March to brief the Congress again on where things stand relative to our -- how conditions are on the ground in Iraq in March, so we can gauge again where we are relative to what level of troop strength is necessary to continue the success that does allow us to bring troops home. The more we succeed, the more troops we can bring home from Iraq. The President calls this policy "return on success," and that will be a major emphasis of the speech.
There is another aspect of this that I think is important in terms of the public dialogue. For some time now those of us who believe that our success in Iraq is essential to protecting our national security and those who have said we should bring troops home have been on different sides of a very sincere debate. And the fact is that given the success that we have seen in Iraq and the recommendations that the President and the path forward the President will put forward today, it is possible to be for success in Iraq and for beginning to bring troops home.
The President will not only address the American public tonight, but he will also talk to the Iraqi people and share with them his hope for them and encourage them to encourage their government to continue to foster reconciliation and to meet some of the benchmarks that they have agreed to. He will also note that the government -- he has expressed his interest in doing that -- also note that they have had -- made some progress on some fronts that also should be recognized.
He will talk to Iraq's neighbors in the region and highlight the importance to them of success in Iraq and of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, and that those who seek to harm and destabilize the Iraqi government, who seek to harm Americans, also seek to harm those neighbors who seek peace in the region.
And lastly, the President, of course, will address our troops, who have performed brilliantly -- and not only the troops, but those diplomats and civilians and others on the front lines who have done everything that our country has asked of them to protect our national security.
I think it will be a very compelling speech. I believe that it will help, I think, foster maybe some greater common ground when it comes to support for going forward in Iraq.
With that, let me ask another senior administration official to come up and say a few words.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks. My colleague covered I think pretty well the outline of the substance here, but as we in the NSC step back from the speech a little bit and ask what are the themes that are apparent here and what are the themes that helped inform the decision-making process that leads to the announcement and decisions tonight by the President, let me just reveal some of the elements of both continuity and change that we've watched carefully in the NSC from the substance perspective to ensure that we think we're on the right track.
First of all, a couple elements of continuity. The President is very clear that we want to adapt to conditions on the ground based on conditions on the ground, not the calendar. So, based on conditions, not the calendar. The second is rely on the experts. So I think -- I mean, I think you'd be hard-pressed not to be impressed with the expertise demonstrated by Dave Petraeus and Ryan Crocker in this set of marathon sessions on Monday and Tuesday. We've been impressed with them all along. Those of us who have worked with them over the last six to eight months, since they've been there in Baghdad as a team, have been very impressed with them -- and their expertise only grows as they get the day-to-day experience there. So, rely on the experts.
A third dimension of continuity is don't forecast too far in advance. Iraq is an unpredictable, dynamic setting, and you don't do ourselves or anyone else favors by trying to forecast too far. Don't overdrive your headlights is a way to sort of think about this. So you'll see us taking this in sort of digestible bites in terms of time frames in which we try to forecast conditions.
And then, stay focused on the consequences. So here we look at consequences in multiple dimensions: consequences for Iraq, consequences for the region, and American interest in the region, and our own interests -- some of which are reflected back here in terms of the health of the force and so forth. So the President is looking at the interest reflected in Iraq proper, but he's also looking beyond that to the region internationally and back here at home.
Elements of change -- so the counterparts, okay -- my colleague has mentioned a couple. Force structure: Dave Petraeus obviously made some force structure recommendations, which the President has accepted. We can go into more detail on those if you like. Another element of change in the mission. There's some controversy over this: Is the mission the same, is it not the same? It is a gradual change in mission based on conditions. There's probably an apt analogy here: This is not a change in mission in the sense of a light switch; we're not going to issue Petraeus a new mission tonight, the light switch flips and the mission across Iraq is different tomorrow morning.
Think of it, rather, as a change over time that might be reflected by a set of re-estats, okay -- if you're electrically inclined here, okay? It's not a simple -- it's not one re-estat for all of Iraq where you can just dial up different mission changes, but rather there are at least 18 of these, for the 18 provinces, and actually, there are more than that. So it's a very complex, non-linear, not uniform across-all-of-Iraq set of decisions that are represented here. But the mission will adapt over time and gradually, in a non-uniform way, we'll see a shift in mission.
Another element of change is really grounded in the 26 August announcement by what we call the Group of 5 -- so the five principal national-level leaders of the government of Iraq, when they asked in their communique for a long-term strategic relationship with the United States. The President has accepted their offer to begin work toward such a long-term relationship, and he will mention that tonight.
And the fourth element of change that I've watched at the NSC is this increased attention to the international dimensions of approaching Iraq. And what do I mean by this? I mean at least three -- the International Compact, the Neighbors Conference process, and the UNMI -- U.N. Mission in Iraq -- mandate, which have all had increased energy and attention paid to them in the last several weeks.
So, some continuity; some change. And I think we're ready to take some questions.
Q What's the mission changed to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The mission today, as based on the 10 January speech, is very population-security focused. The mission will gradually shift from -- and that's the mission to U.S. forces, to Dave Petraeus. The mission over time will shift from us doing the population security, our forces doing the population security, to the Iraqis doing population security. So you'll see U.S. troops doing less of the leading in combat patrols, the leading inside the joint security stations -- which some of you have visited -- and more and more, enabling the Iraqis to do it themselves.
So, in the verb -- if you contrast the two verbs, which is when we look in the mission statement we look to the verb -- it was "secure" the population, and it's moving increasingly towards "transition" to enable the Iraqis to secure the population.
Q Isn't that the old mission?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it's not, actually. There has not been -- a key conceptual change from January forward was this focus on population security. In fact, I'd offer that if January is a milestone, the one everybody -- the dimension in which everybody captures it is that we sent additional troops. What's largely under-reported, or under-estimated is the fact that at the same time we changed the concept and we focused on securing the Iraqi citizens.
The result is that we're not only in victory base in these large forward operating bases, but now we're down into dozens -- literally, inside Baghdad alone, dozens of smaller neighborhood-based outposts where you can actually secure the population.
Q I'm sorry, can I have one more follow-up to this? So the mission prior to the surge was to turn over to the Iraqi security forces to -- what? And now the mission is to turn over to Iraqi security forces to secure the population? What was the mission before -- turning over the Iraqi security forces to do what?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Before the mission, Martha, was very enemy-focused, so follow the enemy wherever he takes you, attack him, a series of raids and so forth. So if the enemy surges north, then Iraqi security forces focus north, and so forth. It was not the sort of neighborhood protection of the Iraqi population that has been the focus since January. They both feature transitions, okay? And ultimately, though, that's what we should expect, because unless we're going to be in Iraq forever -- I mean, ultimately Iraq belongs to Iraqis. So, clearly, a common theme in both before and after January, and from last month to next month, will be this foundation of we've got to eventually turn this back to the Iraqis.
Q Sir, how is this different than stand up, stand down? And the President has continually said that the U.S. mission involves going after al Qaeda, et cetera. So can you help to -- help us understand the distinctions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the distinction is, first of all, stand up to do what? Okay. And the stand up to do what now, since January, has been secure the population. So this goes back to the shift that we saw in January that has resulted in what I would call the infrastructure -- the security infrastructure required to secure the population. So these are the joint security stations, the combat outposts -- you've all seen the dotted maps -- and so forth that did not exist before.
So now, when we transition to the Iraqis, we're transitioning this new concept and the infrastructure to allow them to do it. So there's some elements -- there is some element of stand up, stand down, but it is not -- it is now focused on population security, when it was not pre-January.
Q You talked about the long-term relationship. Can you expand on that? I mean, is the President going to essentially talk about a U.S. military deployment in Iraq for years to come?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you probably all saw Dave Petraeus's slides, and probably one that drew a lot of attention -- I think the very last one, where there was a bar chart and it showed what we're doing now with 168,000, and then eventually there was -- the bar was very small out there in the future somewhere, unlabeled, some unlabeled date in the future. That's -- the right-hand box on that chart represented conceptually a long-term bilateral, multidimensional relationship between the government of Iraq and the government of the United States, not unlike the kind of relationship we have with dozens of other states around the world.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And if I might, that's always taken almost solely in a military context, and it's not. If you look at the communique from the five leaders that the senior administration official referenced earlier, they talk about this in terms of diplomatic, economic and security ties, so it's a much broader discussion than that.
Q Sure, but you have the Speaker of the House out saying this is a 10-year military effort, this is an open-ended long-term commitment. How does this not --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What the President is going to say is that he obviously wants to get our position in Iraq to a point where it's in a good place for the next President to come in. And this is something that whomever is elected in 2008 as the next President is going to gauge what our presence in Iraq and how it affects our national security means. And they will make that assessment. The President's view is that certainly the troop level that General Petraeus recommends at this time is the right level to protect our national security interest in Iraq. Any presidency after his will make their own assessment. It's beyond his presidency, though --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I think the key here is that -- you might ask, well, why would we do this? And that goes back to the long-term enduring interests of Iraq and its geo-strategic position as crossroads in the Middle East. You can't walk away from geo-strategic interests here. And so we have interests in this region that go beyond Iraq proper. So why would we accept an Iraqi leader proposal that we form a relationship with them? Because we have long-term interests in there that this kind of relationship would serve. And that's how we'll structure the relationship.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It doesn't mean 169,000 troops.
Q Doesn't the President have a pretty tough sell tonight? I mean, we've seen -- we've heard about progress before, but nothing really changes substantially in Iraq. And so how is he going to deal with a skeptical audience?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I do think that the public has seen tangible signs of progress in Iraq through the course of the summer, and heard not just the General and the Ambassador, but members of Congress and members of the media who were there and saw -- were on the ground themselves and saw change there and improvement in the situation on the ground.
I think also the American people have seen consistent calls for the President to bring troops home from Iraq based on political dynamics. And I've only been here eight weeks; I've heard it pretty consistently, about polling data and that kind of thing -- goes back much longer than my tenure, obviously. And the President has steadfastly resisted that and said, I'm going to base these decisions relative to conditions on the ground. So when his commander on the ground makes this recommendation that we can begin to bring troops home without having a national -- without having a risk to security, that may be the most tangible sign that people will see as a sign of success. And they should.
Q What are you going to do to address the deep skepticism in the American public about the political reconciliation issue? In other words, beyond just the August agreement among the five principals, everything in the surge was in service of breathing space to get the business done -- and they haven't. So what is the President likely to tell the -- what will he tell the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A couple of things. One, of course, we do want to see the Iraqi government meet the benchmarks that they agreed to. They did come together with the five leaders which -- that's not an easy process in and of itself, to come to an agreement for those five. And they did. I think they clearly see -- my colleague and I were both with the President when he met with all five in Iraq, and they clearly are committed to having this government succeed and getting the legislation done.
For example, the oil law -- and I know there are reports today about it being in jeopardy, but at the same time, it's true that the national government is sharing revenue with the provinces and sending money out to the provinces -- I think in Anbar last year, $107 million.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The fiscal '07 budget for Anbar was $107 million granted from the central government out to province. And last week in one ceremony they gave another $120 million.
Q But that's a tough sell to the American public to say, well, we're doing this in Anbar.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, but it's not just Anbar. I'm saying that was Anbar -- we know that number because we were just there. The other provinces are also getting the oil revenue based on population and they haven't --
Q Way less than they thought, though.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry?
Q There's much less than --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Much less than we thought in terms of --
Q Much less than you hoped that they'd put out.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mean the budget?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I mean -- not actually. I mean, there's a $40 billion Iraqi budget, central government budget for '07 -- $30 billion of it is committed to operating expenses -- salaries and so forth; $10 million of it to capital investment. And that $10 billion is parceled out fairly across the provinces, the 18 provinces, and across the ministries.
Q And they parceled out all $10 billion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ten billion is allotted. Now the real question, Martha, is has the $10 billion been spent? And the answer is, no, it hasn't been spent.
Q Okay, hang on for a second. The question I'm asking is, when people are watching the speech tonight, they're tuning in with a sense of the parliament was on vacation, nothing has been done -- I understand what you're saying as far as some of this revenue stuff, but that still doesn't sound like anything where you're going to go, wait a minute, we should give the Iraqi government a chance, there's all these tangible steps.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, I think because what you're talking about is essentially having the parliament codify what the executive branch there is doing. And that is a legitimate goal. But people shouldn't have the impression that it's not -- that there's nothing happening relative to the oil money, oil revenue -- which is essentially all the revenue that the Iraqi government has -- going out and benefitting the people in the provinces. It is.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And if I could double-tap on this. I think the other thing is a little different now. It is since January and since, in particular, Ryan Crocker's engagement on this -- if we listen carefully to Ryan, who is probably the most experienced Arabist in the foreign service and has repeated tours across capitals in the Middle East, he has never seen a tougher political setting than the central government setting right now in Iraq. So what we have an increased appreciation of is just how tough those benchmarks are going to be to meet. Now, it doesn't denigrate their importance. I mean, they have to eventually be met. But the --
Q That's what I'm saying is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- time from January from now has simply proven insufficient to meet those benchmarks. So we've got to stay at it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And there are some other points. You know, this is not to diminish the importance of the benchmarks, they are important. They were set with Congress and tried to identify some things that would be tangible signs of progress. And they need to be met, and when they are met, that will be tangible signs of progress.
There are other, however, tangible signs of progress that matter. And the fact is we put the emphasis on the national element of this, but there is a very important reconciliation going on at the local level. And the truth is, if you're in Fallujah or Ramadi, does it matter to you that the national parliament pass a law relative? Yes, it does. It also matters to you if your children can cross the street and if they can go to school, and if you can go to buy fruit at the market. And those things matter a lot and those things are happening.
And so in Anbar, for example, I'm pretty sure virtually every municipality in Anbar now has a mayor and functioning municipal government. That's real progress that matters to people in their daily lives, and that shouldn't be discounted. That's not to say the benchmarks aren't important. But there are other things that matter, and this bottom-up reconciliation at the local level we believe is translating and will continue to translate into progress at the national level.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And let me just -- I don't want to cut off questions, but there's an important underlying point here, and that is that, look, we were all -- we were all, I suspect you were all, the Congress was clearly -- in fact, I'd offer that the government of Iraq was clearly focused on what we call top-down reconciliation. We thought top-down reconciliation would be a leading indicator -- a leading parameter, variable in terms of reconciliation across Iraq.
We discounted somewhat -- I, personally, discounted somewhat the potential to get the kind of bottom-up reconciliation. I thought that would be lagging. Well, guess what. This is Iraq, okay, and six or eight months into this it proved to be exactly the reverse.
Q This isn't moving the goalposts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not, actually --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think what it is -- it's saying, consider what's going on. And we're not moving the goalposts about the benchmarks. I will say it again: The benchmarks are important; we want them to be met and the President has encouraged the government and all five to meet them. However, they are not the only signs of progress or the only things to measure.
In a country like ours, where we pride ourselves and hope to be a bottom-up government, as well, we shouldn't ignore signs of bottom-up progress. I have to say -- just one anecdote from the time in Anbar was the governor of Anbar was in a meeting with the Prime Minister and the national leaders, and it felt, having worked on Capitol Hill for a long time, like you were in with a congressional delegation and with the executive branch: They wanted more money; they wanted the national government to get more money into Anbar. And they made the case for it. And the national government is saying, we understand Anbar is very important, we're getting you money; we've got other provinces, too, we've got to get money to. And it was -- you know, to see an exercise in federalism right there on the spot between the governor of Anbar and the national elected leaders of Iraq was fascinating. It's new to them and it's going to take a little while, but it's happening.
Q When you say, focused on bottom-up reconciliation, though, the man who is probably most responsible for that, Sheik Sattar, is dead this morning -- what are you going to say -- what is the President going to say tonight about that? And does that undercut his message of optimism in Anbar and the ability to replicate that across the country?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have said all along that this is a real fight and that the Sunni leaders and the sheiks who have engaged in this fight to drive al Qaeda out of Anbar and other parts of Iraq, they have taken their own fate into their own hands and made that decision to turn on al Qaeda. And at the moment that that sheik and other sheiks made that decision, they became the enemy of these terrorists, and they knew full well what they were doing. And this is a brave man who stood up for the people of his province and of his country and drove out people he knew were bad for his country. And what we have heard today from his allies and colleagues there is that this only reinforces their desire to complete their work and to honor his sacrifice.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The awakening in Anbar -- and Sheik Sattar was one of the founding fathers, if you will, of that -- is not a one guy deep, it's not one man deep. This is a movement. It's a broad movement. And my guess is that -- and I'm not an Arabist; I would need to talk to Ryan, but my guess is that this will redouble their commitment to this fight.
Q Is the President going to mention that tonight? In the speech?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe he will, yes.
Q We understand from one of the senior administration officials that the mission is about a gradual change based on conditions. Does that mean this is the beginning of an exit strategy for U.S. troops? And what do you say to the Democrats, in particular, who are saying that this is smoke and mirrors, sleight of hand because the troops were going to leave anyway, those surge troops were going to leave anyway next year?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me take on that second part first. First of all, the troops are going to leave anyway -- the five brigades of surge troops, beginning in April and extending for a brigade per month, from April through wherever that takes you, August, I guess -- and that was only going to be the case if we did not wish to change the 15/12 equation, if you follow me -- or 15 months deployed, 12 months at home.
So, first of all, it's not a hard mechanical stop in April. It was a matter of whether or not we wanted to change the deployment-to-dwell ratio. Nobody wanted to do that, by the way. But it could have been done. And the second thing is it didn't have to start a day before the 15th of April -- and at that point, only with the lead brigade.
So that's pretty sharply contrasted by what Petraeus has recommended, which is start this month with 2,200 Marines; take the lead of five brigades in succession -- don't start in April, don't drag it until the last available surge day, start in December, and then proceed well in advance of April with bringing out essentially five brigades, 4,000 Marines.
So he was not driven to a hard point, a hard policy decision point. Rather, he was driven by the conditions on the ground. And he's taken out the Marines where he can afford to take out the Marines. He's taken out the five Army brigades where it makes sense on the ground. So it's also interesting -- make sure you caught that he said, I won't be taking out the folks -- I won't necessarily be taking out the exact five brigades that surged. So, for example, today would you expect him to take out a brigade along a sectarian fault line in Baghdad? No. He's not going to create a vacuum there. He'll take a brigade someplace where the security situation allows it to happen and where he can measure the progress, do this in a deliberate, reasonable way.
Q They were scheduled to leave anyway --
Q Wait a minute, I asked the other question, the first question I asked.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me take this up. The Marines were scheduled to leave, however they're also replaced.
Q Right, but they were going to be replaced -- and they're not going to be replaced. Right, right, okay.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So it's their replacements -- yes, their replacements who really get the benefit here; they're not going into Anbar. They get to float around the Arabian Gulf.
Q The first part of my question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What was the first part of the question, again?
Q The first part of my question, does this demonstrate that this administration is beginning an exit strategy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is consistent with what the President has said all along, which is that success in Iraq is critical to our national security interests. It's obviously very important to the Iraqi people, but it is very important to the American people -- that's why we're there. And we will make our decision -- the President has said he will base his decisions on recommendations of his commanders on the ground. The commander on the ground has said we can have the same level of security with fewer troops, and that is why he's making this calibration.
Q But the reason why I'm coming to that question, you said this is very complex, not linear and not uniform; it will happen at different times, maybe Diyala one week or whatever. But it's going to happen if there is success. So that's why I'm asking, is this -- could this be the beginning of troops coming out and not being replaced?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is exactly that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is that. In fact, all these elements that Petraeus announced are exactly what you said. They're cases where troops are deployed there today. They'll go home and their replacements will not be deployed.
Q So I can say that this is the beginning of -- the possible beginning of an exit strategy out of Iraq.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The "exit strategy" term is your term. I mean, I'd argue this, that -- I mean, it is what we just said mechanically --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: How the President has -- will describe it is, is that, you know, the more successful we are, the more troops can return. And that is a "return on success" policy that he is describing.
Q You've talked about setting up for the next President, but there is still six months after July that he's the President of the United States. Can you give the American people tonight any sort of clues as to how much further below the 135 he expects to come down in that time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This goes to my third point of continuity: Don't forecast beyond what you can do with reliability. So what the President will say is he'll direct Dave Petraeus and Ryan Crocker to repeat their performance this week in March, and give a fresh assessment on how we're doing on the ground, what they can foresee -- because we're six months further down the road at that point -- and what the situation will bear.
So we expect at that point in March to hear about additional forces coming home.
Q How many are actually coming home by July? How many actual troops? Is it 21,500? Is it 30,000?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, none of those numbers in the multi-tens of thousands are our numbers. And we should all be very careful about this. Because for those of us who were near and dear to this problem eight months ago, when the surge started, you'll recall there was great controversy over exactly how many folks there are.
What Dave Petraeus --
Q And support versus combat.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Exactly. That's why. There are two big categories here. What Dave Petraeus announced was that he was going from 20 Army brigades to 15 Army brigades in July -- by July. And then the MEU, the Marine Expeditionary Unit, this month, two Marine battalions in the spring. Okay? Those comprise -- when you lump all that combat power together, those comprised the combat forces committed to the surge. They do not include -- and he did not address the support or enabling forces that keep them moving day to day on the battlefield. Why? Because the way this works mechanically, inside military headquarters is that first you focus on the combat forces required. And then, once you've got that step done, the next step is to consider the enablers and the support troops required. And that second step has not been calculated.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And if I might --
Q How many at this point are we committed to removing by July? How many --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Peter, you've got to -- you know, the Pentagon needs to address that and you need to ask them. I will tell you that somebody -- somebody in the --
Q You have to make a decision.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Of course he will, but he's basing it on the recommendation of brigades that was recommended and that's going to translate at some point into troop numbers you're looking for. Somebody made a back-of-the-envelope calculation and put a number of 30,000 out there. As you know, we have tried to make clear to people in this room and outside this room that no one in the administration has ever used that number, and we cautioned against using that number.
Q So what number is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And so then it became "as many as" 30,000, which was excellent. But our point to you is you need to get that information -- when the Pentagon knows that information it will be more clear.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And the number you ought to focus on is the combat part that Petraeus actually recommended.
Q I'm just trying to get --
Q But --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, I used to be the J3.
Q But that was 20,500, right? And then we may see more come home --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I hate to do math in public. You're best to get that from --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've got to get that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've got to get it from the Pentagon.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But, wait, let me add one more point here, though, because this is going to be an issue. Okay, one is make the distinction between combat and support.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. Number two, it's not a fixed number because things change over time. So for example, if we take 10,000 more detainees in the next six months -- guess what? Petraeus is going to request 2,000 more MPs to secure the 10,000 more detainees. So this is --
Q I'm just asking what he's committed to now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- a shifting number and you've got to be careful.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Committed --
Q But I thought the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's committed to the math, the Pentagon math that involves the following units: five Army brigades, a Marine expeditionary unit and two Marine battalions. Better for them to give you the math.
Q But hasn't the Pentagon briefed you on the math? I mean, don't you think the American public wants to know specifically, or roughly, how many troops? If the 30,000 isn't a good number, even a rough number --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because that is --
Q How do you know that if you don't know the numbers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is for the Pentagon -- first of all, we'll know as they begin to remove and you know how many you're dealing with and how many others. You know, you're asking us --
Q Yes, but I think people are waiting for the President's announcement to figure out how --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because then in six months, if the number -- we can commit to you the brigades that the President will accept the recommendation from General Petraeus, and you're --
Q Okay, but --
Q The brigade --
Q What is the arrangement --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because we'll be back here in January and you'll be accusing us of having done something we're not doing, which is giving you a bad number.
Q On January 10th the President actually did give a specific number of 21,500. And so we're just asking you to do the same now.
Q We're just asking --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The reason you need to go to the experts is it's not simply five brigades times 3,500 plus 2,000 here and 4,000 there. And the reason for that is every brigade is not exactly 3,500.
So if you ask for White House math, whatever number we give you, we can guarantee you one thing: That won't be the right number. Okay?
Q I get that, but --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because we're not in the unit structures. It is roughly what you're talking about because that's the combat structure.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe if your organization will contact the Pentagon and ask them, they'll probably be able to give you a range, but we'd rather have the --
Q We have --
Q What about --
Q When does the President --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can end on this, if you like. I'm happy to end on a "no comment" on this if you like. I mean, that's --
Q When does the President's report go to the Hill? When does the President actually --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's due on Saturday. And we'll make that deadline.
Q And what are we going to hear tomorrow from the President that we won't be hearing tonight from him? Why does he feel compelled to make remarks about --is it because of the skepticism that exists?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you.
END 3:24 P.M. EDT