By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen testified before the Sente Armed Services Committee today. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) is chairman of the committee and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) is the ranking member of the minority.
Several issues of interest were discussed.
Asked about the size of the defense budget both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen said that the budget needed to be 4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Admiral Mullen said that 4% of GDP should be an annual “floor” or lowest national investment in defense.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates stands by his chair at the witness table on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008, prior to testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal 2009 Defense Department budget.
(AP Photos/Susan Walsh)
Secretary Gates said that there has been a recent shift in understanding by the government of Pakistan and that President Musharraf and his closest advisors now realize that the free reign apparently given to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan has now resulted in an “existential threat to the current government of Pakistan.” Consequently, President Musharraf and his advisors are now waging a much more effective war against terror in the tribal areas.
US intelligence chief Mike McConnell told a Senate hearing yesterday, Tuesday, February 5, that the al Qaeda network in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan has suffered setbacks, but still poses a persistent and growing danger from its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He stressed that al Qaeda remains the pre-eminent threat against the United States” more than six years after 9/11.
Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen supported and reiterated that view.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, today, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal 2009 Defense Department budget.
(AP Photos/Susan Walsh)
On the issue of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Senators expressed concern that all NATO nations had not fielded troops in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates said that he feared the evolution of a two tiered NATO with one tier “fighting and dying” and a second tier not participating. Secretary Gates said that he will continue to persuade NATO member nations toward a more active role in the war against terror.
Secretary Gates said he had become a “nag” to the Defense Ministers of NATO by pestering them about their contributions to the mission in Afghanistan.
In January some NATO defense ministers went public with their resentment for Mr. Gates.
“This is not the Robert Gates we have come to know,” Van Middlekoop told the Dutch broadcasting agency NOS last month, following criticism from Mr. Gates. “It’s also not the manner in which you treat each other when you have to cooperate with each other in the south of Afghanistan.”
Today Secretary Gates went out of his way to compliment the Dutch, Canadians, British, Australians and others for their work in Afghanistan. But he said there were still several NATO member nations not taking the mission seriously enough.
Secretary Gates said he would continue to press this issue this week end at a Defense Ministers’ meeting.
Last month, Pentagon spokesman Geo Morrell said, “The secretary is not backing off his fundamental criticism that NATO needs to do a better job in training for counterinsurgency. But he is not — nor has he ever — criticized any particular nation for their service in Afghanistan.”
Secretary Gates also spoke eloquently about the AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense system now deployed at sea, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and THAAD.
On combat troops in the war zone, Admiral Mullen said, “The well is deep, but it is not infinite. We must get Army deployments down to 12 months as soon as possible. People are tired.”