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Gen. Dempsey's Media Briefing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: This was – this, I thought, was a good opportunity to kind of – (inaudible) – what’s the effect of – you know, this is – what’s the effect on the – (inaudible) – when we’re transitioning out of Iraq into Kuwait and going home; some are staying. Then of course, I’ve been to Iraq for the change of mission ceremony, which I’ve already described. That was – it was pretty much our day for all of us.

And then I’ve been to Afghanistan because, you know, I want to get John Allen’s, Mike Scaparrotti's – assessment, and what they think – how that’s going. But also this touches many young men and women serving out there, as I can get their perspectives and thank them for their service.

And to Saudi Arabia, because, first of all, those programs over there – and they’re pretty big programs, you know; we got hundreds of soldiers over there working with the ministries. And, you know, I didn’t want to forget them. And I was one of them, so I did have a personal tug back to them – and then stopping here in Europe, both to visit with the leaders here and to – at Ramstein, Kaiserslautern and also important that we go over to Landstuhl.

And I’ll tell you, one of the highlights of the trip for me was, we did run into a young Marine who was a double amputee in Bagram. And then – or maybe it was Kandahar, I forget where he was – but we saw him there, and then we just saw him again. He’d been ’vacced (evacuated) into Landstuhl, and he was a pretty heroic young man, brave young man.

So you know, it’s all about not just understanding what’s going on around us, but also feeling. So thanks for being part of that.

Q: OK. General Dempsey, I’d like to ask you, as comprehensively as possible this morning, regarding North Korea. We have now seen them – they’ve launched some short-range missiles. That’s confirmed. Can you describe how you came to know the information overnight, what you’re watching – what are the indicators that would concern you the most, how does this affect U.S. troops in the Pacific? Everything you can tell us about where you are on this right now.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I – the – that is a comprehensive question. I’ll try to – I’ll try to measure up to the answer. The – I learned about it in the middle of the night, as it was evolving and – from my – the vice-chairman, Admiral Winnefeld. There was, of course, consultation among leaders military and civilian. The secretary of defense got a phone call. I know that he’s called his counterparts. We’ve been in communication with General J.D. Thurman, who is our U.S. Forces Korea commander on the ground in Korea.

And so the chain of command, if you will, military and civilian, very quickly coalesced around the fact that Kim Jong Il had died. And the conversation was exactly as you just described it. You know, what are the – are there any indicators? Do you have adequate resources to conduct the intelligence and surveillance that you need to do? How are the – our South Korean allies responding, you know, so are they – and, you know, the time change here is always pretty challenging.

But it was – I would describe it as kind of a – we quickly established a network of leaders to discuss this issue and to determine what we could do to contribute to understanding what might happen next. But no change in – no changes in troop dispositions, no changes in readiness levels. We’re simply remaining vigilant and relying upon our leaders in South Korea and engaging them with our South Korean allies.

Q: What are the key military indicators you’re watching regarding their potential military movements, the missile firings, artillery? And did you have to deploy or re-task intelligence resources to have more available to look at the peninsula?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. As for the first, I don’t want to tell you exactly what we look for, because in some ways wouldn’t that be an indicator to them of what to avoid? But, I mean, you could probably intuitively decide, you know – clearly, some of them would be troop movements, positioning of munitions and so forth. But beyond that, in terms of what we would look for from ROK leadership, I don’t want to go into that in public.

Secondly, the commander of Pacific Command, Admiral Bob Willard, has available to him the resources necessary. Now he may re-mission some of them, but he has adequate resources to do the kind of intelligence-gathering that he needs to do.

Q: To be clear, have you seen – of a North Korean move – anything –

GEN. DEMPSEY: No. We have not seen –

Q: The missile firing this morning –

GEN. DEMPSEY: To this point, we have not seen any change in North Korean behavior of a nature that would harm us.

Q: This short-range missile firing.

GEN. DEMPSEY: There is a likelihood that that was pre-planned, even before the death of Kim Jong Il. I mean, we just don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be a – it doesn’t seem to me to be an indicator of a change.

Q: I’m so sorry, just my last one –are you saying that overnight there was a national security –


Q: – inter-agency call, if you will?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I do. I am saying that.

Q: I’m sorry, I just wasn’t clear.


Q: And was the president on that?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I didn’t talk to the president personally, but I’m sure that his national security adviser was in contact with us.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Done on North Korea?

COL. DAVID LAPAN: We’re done on Korea.

COL. LAPAN: OK, yep.

Q: I’ll go to – on Europe, since you’re in Europe – you mentioned many times in the last few weeks about changes to the – to force levels, force structures. Can you say whether or not troops in Europe will come down or not?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, we already have it – there’s a plan right now that we will take one brigade combat team out of United States Army Europe in 2015. I don’t know if you were in here, but the – I can’t say that; I know that there are options for changing our forward presence both in the Pacific, in the Mideast, and in – and in Europe. As I said, I – and I really mean it – the SECDEF has said, until everything is decided, nothing is decided, because he really wants to see what this – the effect of the changes in the aggregate. He doesn’t want to be piecemealed – and he’s right about this – doesn’t want to be piecemealed into decisions until the strategy is finalized. And as you – he’s reported, he will – he will discuss the strategy here in the first few weeks of January.

Once that strategy then is final, then we will take a look back at the budget work we’ve done and make sure that the decisions are coherent with that strategy, and then we turn the budget in on the 6th of February. And it’ll play out over the years ’13 through ’17. But, I mean, look, you know, yes, we are looking at changing the forward presence in Europe. Of course we are – as an option.

Q: Sir, you mentioned the Marine you visited with today. How does that affect your thinking about what you do to protect troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, that’s – that is exactly the right question. You know, you – I think about it in terms of, how do we prepare them? You know, what if – what are we – you know, do – are we training them correctly? Then it’s, how do you equip them? Are we – do we have the equipment where it needs to be? Are we stretching ourselves out adequately in terms of technology to try to deter – but I’ll give you a fascinating vignette, if you’re interested.

You know, we tend to look at how to counter these roadside bombs, IEDs, pressure plate, homemade explosive devices. You know, we took a tech– we to try to look at a technological solution. There’s also training solutions, and the kids themselves are just so adaptive. So there’s a – there’s a device downrange used by the Marines called the Holly Stick, named after a EOD guy who was blown up – a Marine, and it’s nothing but a bamboo rod with – with a, like, a sickle strapped to the end of it. And they get down on their stomach and they – you know, they touch the earth at intervals to find loose dirt where earth has been disturbed, which is a pretty good indicator that there’s probably an explosive device.

So it’s not all about finding the silver bullet of technology. It’s about capturing best practices, it’s about training them. And then, you know, when they are wounded, it’s about making sure they know that they’re going to get the best medical care on the face of the earth.

Q: Are you confident they have what they need right now?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I’m confident – yes. I am confident they have what they need right now. But you know, the enemy – you know, this is the thing about war that I keep reminding both myself and anyone who will listen. Warfare is unpredictable, chaotic and dynamic. So every change – every change we make, the enemy will react to it. So we – it’s a constant cycle of, you know, action and counter-action.

So as I sit here today, I mean, I think we’re doing what we can, what we need to, and what we must. But we can’t ever, you know, become complacent about it.

Q: General, let me ask you an open-ended one. What was the most interesting thing – new thing you’ve learned on this trip which you’re going to take back to Washington and work into all of the larger themes you have talked about to this audience and others, in particular the “inflection point” thing that you talked about in London?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, the most interesting new thing. Let me – let me take a stab at two. One was – I mentioned in an earlier session with you. I was surprised by the degree of confidence that notably the military leaders, Army and Marine in RC-South, had in their Afghan counterparts. That was actually – I mean, obviously I’m encouraged by that. But, you know, prior to this visit, and prior to maybe the last year’s fighting season, I don’t know that they would have had that – the depth of confidence – well, the confidence level would have been that deep. I was actually – that was a new thing to me.

The second thing is – the second new thing was, I was really heartened by our relationship with Saudi Arabia and the growth of our – of the programs there that are helping them build capability – probably maybe twice what they were when I – when I was there from ’01 to ’03. So there’s a – there’s a clear commitment on the part of the Saudis to maintain the relationship with us, and I think that’s encouraging as well, given some of the other challenges that are emerging.

Q: Can I ask, after the first few months, this first big trip – meaning us – do you feel like you’re – you’ve settled in, you’re ready to head into this new budget season on anything that’s coming at you?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I hope I never answer that question in the affirmative. I really mean that. I’ve told people, I hope I never say I’ve got it figured out. Because just as the dynamic changes in the theater that I just mentioned today, the dynamic in Washington is, you know, it’s kind of challenging as well. And, you know, I just think it’s, you know, one of those times in our history where the leader who succeeds will be the leader who expects change and doesn’t try to, you know – if I try to jam my particular vision into a changing environment, I think that I may not be as effective as if I kind of establish some pretty broad white lines and then be prepared to adapt, you know, within them.

So what I will say, though, is, you know, there’s understanding the job. And I – you understand it by repetitions. You know, so you go through a series of budget processes or meetings or strategy meetings or groups at which – that’s – that – in that way you develop an understanding. These trips are about developing a feel, you know, a feel for what we need to do. And I think it’s only in combining, you know, that effort to understand the challenge and then getting out and touching it to feel it that we can possibly find our way forward.

Q: Because I have one more –

COL. LAPAN: Last question.

Q: I have one –

COL. LAPAN: Last one, then we've got to go.

Q: Back on North Korea for a minute. The question of the succession – let me first just ask, is it your understanding that he died, like, yesterday? There’s some reports emerging it may have been a couple of days ago, actually, that he died, and –

GEN. DEMPSEY: I heard the speculation, but, as I sit here today right now with you, I still – I think it was last night.

Q: And your sense then of the succession – you indicated it may be a little bit unclear. Do you believe it will be the son? Can he take hold of the government and the country? What do you know about him? Is – many people say he’s completely unprepared for this.

GEN. DEMPSEY: It is my expectation, as I sit here with you, that he will be the successor. We do have – we’ve done a significant amount of work to try to understand him. And I would only say at this point that he is – he is young to be placed in this position. And we’ll have to – we’ll have to see whether in fact it is him, and how he reacts to the burden of governance that he hasn’t had the – you know, he hasn’t had to deal with before. So I don’t know about him.

Q: Are you worried about him?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I worry about – well, look, I’m worried about transitions everyplace. I’m worried about a transition in North Korea, I’m worried about a potential transition in Syria, I’m worried about the continuing transitions in Egypt, yes.

COL. LAPAN: OK, thanks, guys.

GEN. DEMPSEY: All right.