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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter July 24, 2015

Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Troop Event in Erbil, Iraq

STAFF: Here we have the distinct privilege today of having the U.S. secretary of defense, Secretary Carter visit us today. He has a great reputation for wading into the fray, wading into issues to get his head around the details, and I think that's particularly important in his visit up here in Erbil, where for the most part, the weight of our effort is actually done by non-U.S. coalition forces. And you can see many of them represented here. So with that sir, welcome, it's great to have you here.


Well, good afternoon.

The -- you all look fantastic, and I want to thank the -- the Americans of course, because you are where my heart is. But we have so many good friends and allies here, too.

And since this is civilization fighting barbarism, we need the civilized world. The countries represented in this room are important, and a major chunk of the civilized world. So for those who are not Americans who are contributing to this, these words are for you, too.

And I'll just say two things to you first. I just was meeting with President Barzani, and I've been in the region now for about four or five days and I've seen lots of important people but, the most important people to me are you.

You are what I think about every minute of every day. You are the reason I wake up in the morning. You're what I'm thinking about. It's your welfare. It's the tremendous pride that we take back home. The trust we reposed in you. The sacrifice and the skill that we so respect in you, we don't take for granted. I certainly don't take it for granted.

And -- you know, none of you has to be here. You're here because your talents took you here and because you enjoy the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourselves and of living the lives that you do so that others can wake up every morning and be safe and take their kids to school and go to work and do whatever they do, dream their dreams safely.

You provide that. It's the most precious thing people can have, and you do that.

So number one is thank you. You're the most important thing to me. But I think I'm speaking certainly for the whole Department of Defense, everybody in government, and I really -- and certainly for the Americans, I think I speak for both people. So that's thing one.

By the way, anybody mind if I take my jacket off please? It is really hot. Thank you.

Thing two is to tell you why what you're doing here is so important? Obviously, we have to beat ISIL. You will beat ISIL. And we're going to beat ISIL because we represent civilization, and we always will. And we are the many and they are the few. We will win.

We are all -- we are trying to defeat them and we -- the trick here -- the trick, and it's represented by our being here in this area and my meetings with President Barzani today and yesterday with officials in Baghdad, the trick isn't just to beat ISIL. If it were only to beat ISIL, we could do that. We could do that from the outside, yeah, right?

We all team up, boom, ISIL gone. No doubt in my mind about that.

But that's not the strategic outcome we're trying to get. We're trying to get a defeat that sticks: a lasting victory. And that can only be delivered by the people who live here.

And so that's the reason why we're trying to enable the people who live here to be able to sustain the victory that we help inflict with them against ISIL. And that's the part that's tricky. That's the part that takes time. That's the part that takes effort. That's the part that here the Peshmerga are pretty far along in their capabilities. So they can win on the ground with our help, training, assistance, advice, equipment, air support, intel, all the things that we collectively provide. With those things, they can do it. And then they can hold and provide for a decent way of life for the people who live here.

Because without somebody coming in, a hold force that provides a decent way of life for the people living there, it'll just -- there'll be another cycle of uprising, violence, barbarian. So to make the victory stick, we have to have local forces. That's the -- that's the secret sauce here.

And it is very much represented here by the Peshmerga. And in some other places, there are parts of the Iraqi Security Forces that are capable in that same way. There are some Kurdish forces out in Syria that are capable in the same way. And we are trying to build up a -- a force throughout the territory of Iraq, and then someday, and that's trickier, because it's a very different situation in Syria that can do that: that can sustain the victory you help with here. So that's our strategic approach.

And the -- here in Kurdistan is the -- KRG area and the Peshmerga is the model of what we're trying to do -- achieve throughout the AOR when it comes to ISIL. So you guys are in a sense the pathfinders for all of us. And that, we admire you for as well. Because what you learn here and the tradecraft that you develop, the ability you have to work together, the ability you have to work with your partners here, that's something that's going to benefit all of us and also benefit all of the other forces that are building themselves up here in Iraq and Syria.

And we're headed in the right direction. We're trying to go as fast as we can. The pacing item is the local forces. But we will win. Of that, I don't have any doubt that that's the way we're going to win.

So what you do here, the moral of this story, is what you do here is extremely important, and I just want you to know, we all know that. We all see that. The whole world watches. The whole world admires. We've got a lot of problems in the world, but this is a very big one. And we have to beat this. And we will. But this is the way we do it. We do it through folks like you.

So thank you for what you're doing. Thank you for who you are, number one, and please tell your families that. You next make a phone call or send a message or something, please pass to your families my thanks on behalf of our country for what you're doing here. It means a great deal to us. We know you can't do what you do without them, so I have to not just thank you, but I have to thank your families as well. Since they're not here, please pass that on.

And tell them, by the way, that also you know, ISIL isn't the only one on Facebook. I am, too. (Laughter.) And so if they want to ask me a question or say something to me or you do, that's a -- that's a good way to do it.

What I'd like to do now is give you a chance to ask me anything you want, anything at all, or make a suggestion or an idea or an observation, something that I might not know that you -- that you do know, and we'll do that for a few minutes. And then I'd like to look each one of you in the eye and shake your hand and say 'thank you' personally.

So I think it's a small enough room, we're not going to have to use microphones or anything. Anybody at all?

Americans, not Americans. Who's shy?

Q: Yes sir.

My name's (inaudible). My first question is what -- so far, how are we doing with the – women in service review board, how that's going? And then are we looking at our -- is there still talks of lowering the standards of the SOF selection courses to cover victims?

SEC. CARTER: You say you're a P.A. here?

Q: No, pararescue.

SEC. CARTER: Okay, I was going to say. Because I thought if you were in P.A., only a P.A. person would ask a two-part question. (Laughter.) You're clever enough to do that.

Okay, so women in service and the second standards. To the second part, no.

We are -- we look at standards. We look at standards all the time, but there's not -- no idea of lowering standards. In fact, we have the opportunity in the U.S. military, because of the tremendous stock of people who want to join us and who stay with us, we're in a happy position that we, you know, increase standards.

I only say we look at standards all the time, and -- and a part of that is the women in service thing, but only a part. We need to look at standards all the time because we need to keep understanding what excellence is, and we need to keep understanding what is relevant in today -- in terms of today's combat skills.

So you're constantly looking at standards, just so that you -- because we have -- we're the best today, we want to stay the best, right?

Now, women in -- women in service, the second part. And sorry, for the not Americans, this is a question of there are -- while the -- while the various specialties of the U.S. military are mainly open to men and women, there are some that are not.

And we're looking at those remaining ones and seeing which if any can be opened up to women. We're not going to do that by relaxing standards or changing standards. That isn't what we want to do, as I said. It's by the way, not the way women want to be admitted to service, either. But it -- the services, the armed services are doing that. They have until the end of the year to complete their own thinking through of that, then they'll come to me with recommendations, and I'll make -- I'll make decisions in that regard.

And the only reason it takes time is you know you want to be careful with things like this. One of the things I'm proud of here at the Department of Defense, and I don't mean to be boastful here, because you know, others are from great militaries also, but one of the things that I am very proud of about us is what a great learning organization the U.S. military is.

So you know, we work through things really well. We'll work through the women in service thing, we'll work through standards in general in the future and how to carry ourselves forward in the future, but the specific answer on the women's service thing is the -- the armed services are doing that now. MOS by MOS for the restricted ones and they'll come to me at the end of the year and I'll take it from there.

One more. Okay.

If I can scare one up here.

It doesn't even have to -- it doesn't have to be a question. It could be something you think that I don't know, that you think I ought to know.


Q: Good afternoon, sir.

I'm Captain (inaudible) the lead meteorologist here in Iraq.

SEC. CARTER: It's hot.

Q: My question for you -- yes sir. (Laughter.) It is hot.

Thank you.

My question for you is what is you -- what is your biggest lesson learned since we first came back to war in Iraq?

SEC. CARTER: I don't know that I needed to learn this, quite honestly, but I think a lot of our country needed to re-learn the strategic lesson I was just saying, which is that to be effective in a lasting way, the -- can't be done from the outside, in. And I think that's now understood in our country, and they're saying 'yeah, I get it.' But we've had the experience of things not sticking and we don't want that experience.

They've seen us in Afghanistan, where I think we're being successful because we are staying with -- we're doing less and less as the Afghan forces get better and better, but that's the way to make success stick.

And so I think after some confusion at first, because people didn't know where ISIL came from, right, nobody had ever heard of it before, it didn't exist before. And all of the sudden, it was like, what is going on here?

And so they needed to, I think we needed to help people think through what was the right strategy for dealing, and I think now it's pretty widely understood that we have a comprehensive strategy of which, by the way, I -- I should say the military part is only one part. There has to be a political part. That's the whole strategic thing. There has to be a messaging part. There has to be a foreign fighters part.

There has to be a domestic counter-terrorism part. Because we all know that there are these strange, lost people who surf the Internet in all of our home countries and look at this stuff and get crazy ideas in their heads and so forth.

So it's a complicated -- so there's a lot of different dimensions to it, but for the military side of it, one needs to have that strategic understanding that that's the way to get lasting victory. And I think for our public at least, the American public, that now -- that understanding is there. What that means is they're very supportive of what you're doing. They know it will take some time, but they understand that's the way to win.

Okay, well look. Thank you all very much, once again. And I very much appreciate what you're doing. Very much in your debt. Very much admire you. Pass it on to your families.

Second of all, you're doing one of civilization's great historic deeds out here, and you're doing it very well, and in just the right way. And for that, not only people today owe you gratitude, but people for a long time in the future here and around the world will owe you a debt of gratitude. (Applause.)

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