TODAY | November 30, 2009
>> david gregory , thank you. robert gibbs is the white house press secretary . mr. gibbs , good morning to you.
>> reporter: good morning, meredith , how are you?
>> great, thank you. it seems the president has a tough job tonight. he has to define his mission in afghanistan before an increasingly skeptical public while also presenting some sort of exit strategy . let's begin with the mission. i've heard everything from 30,000 to 34,000 troops that he plans to include in this surge. what is the exact number and what is the goal?
>> well, meredith , i'll tell you that the ballpark of numbers you just gave me is in that range. i'll let the president discuss clearly the number that he's picked as commander in chief. here's what the goal is, to disrupt, dismantle and destroy al qaeda and its extremist allies to ensure that the people that plotted to attack us on 9/11 don't have a safe haven within the country of afghanistan . what the president will tonight announce is an acceleration of that strategy to take on al qaeda and its extremist allies, an acceleration of our training of afghan national security forces, so that as quickly as possible, we can transfer the responsibility of providing that security directly to the afghans. this will not be nation-building. this will not be an open-ended commitment. the president will discuss how we will begin to transition our forces out of afghanistan and put the afghans in the lead.
>> let me ask you about this, because the president has repeatedly vowed that his commitment is not open-ended, as you just put it, but he also said last week that his intention is to finish the job there. doesn't that imply open-endedness? if you want to finish the job, you go until it's done.
>> well, and meredith , the job is not going to be done until the afghans are providing their security through their own responsibility. we're going to take areas and help them clear them, hold them. but ultimately, those areas have to be transferred to the security of the afghan national security forces, their army and their police. that's what the president envisions for afghanistan . and we have to have a partner in the afghan government . there has to be -- they have to address corruption and governance issues, and we have to further internationalize this force. this is not one country's problem, this is not one region's problem, this is the world's problem.
>> well, it's a two-pronged problem for the president. one, it's a corrupt government in afghanistan . how can he assure himself that they will be an equal partner? you're talking about others providing more troops -- nato has already said that allies may provide 5,000 more, at best. is that good enough?
>> look, obviously, this has to be an international force. it's an international force there right now, and we hope, as has happened in britain, more nato countries will offer troops to help the effort there. the president expects and will demand from the afghan government a change in their governance, addressing corruption, and i think the president will outline ways that that can be addressed in tonight's speech. it's critical that they play a willing partner role in addressing those issues and then understanding the responsibility that they have in assuming ultimately the security for their own men and women.
>> what about the cost of this surge, mr. gibbs ? the office of management and budget -- the white house office of management and budget stijts estimates it costs about $1 million per troop per year, so talking about $30 billion per year. is the president going to discuss how to come up with that money?
>> the president will discuss the cost tonight. obviously, he didn't make a national security situation to protect the men and women of this country based on just money numbers, but i can assure you that will be a discussion going forward and the president will both address that and understand that that has to be part of the budget that we have going forward. we can't continue to pretend that this is a cost-free excursion.
>> before i let you go, mr. gibbs , i want to ask you about the security breach at the white house . "the washington post " reporting this morning that the salahis had an e-mail exchange with michele jones, who is an official at the pentagon, and sources close to the salahis say that they believe that they had an invite to the gala. now, michele jones, the pentagon official, has denied that, but would you be surprised if more information surfaces that would support the salahis' claim?
>> well, i think if you ask the salahis directly, they were not on a list here at the white house . their name was not in a security tower in order to get into this secure complex, and they had been told on a number of occasions that they did not have tickets for that dinner. the president and the secret service are rightly concerned about how this happened. i think this matter is continuing to be looked into criminally. and i have to say this on behalf of the men and women who provide security for the president. the president is enormously grateful for what they do and proud of their work. we both want to address what might have happened. we'll look at our procedures within the white house and do anything humanly possible to make sure that something like this never happens again.
>> so, no way was it a misunderstanding in your book?
>> this wasn't a misunderstanding. you don't show up at the white house as a misunderstanding.
>> all right, robert gibbs , thank