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U.S. Department of Defense
Press Operations
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter December 14, 2015

Media Availability with Secretary Carter En Route to Incirlik, Turkey

SEC. CARTER: Well, good afternoon. I'll be very brief. First of all, thank you all for coming, very much appreciate it. Holiday season and the reason that we're taking this trip at this time is to very importantly visit our service members who are in this holiday season not at home with their families, but are instead working to keep America safe and I want them and their families to know how much we appreciate it.

And -- so Stephanie and I and the entire front office team are going to be thanking them for what they do for us and for spending their holidays out here.

Also, of course, I get a chance to talk to our battlefield commanders and get their latest reading on the battlefield situation, and also, very importantly, they're thinking about ways that we can continue to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL. We've been devising and executing such accelerating steps for some time now. We need more.

That was one of the things that the president repeated at our very productive meeting at the White House this morning. I'll come back to that shortly. But he reiterated his direction to us, which we are then passing on down the ranks that we need to identify and then carry out every conceivable way of accelerating the defeat of ISIL.

And last, on this trip, I get a chance to talk to our -- to coalition partners. This is important because this is a coalition campaign and as strong as America is and committed as America is to defeat ISIL, we receive important contributions from coalition partners, but we're asking them for more, and I have personally asked them for more, even as I'm asking our own commanders for more and the president's asking all of us, not just in the Defense Department, throughout the government to do more.

And finally, on that note, that was the basic theme of the National Security Council meeting that was held this morning at the Pentagon. The very productive -- the president reiterating his guidance to us, which is that we need to accelerate the campaign. That is guidance he's given us previously.

General Dunford and I and all our commanders continue to devise new tactics for attacking ISIL, new strategic directions to take the campaign, and also, new ways to obtain coalition amplification of our campaign.

It being a National Security Council meeting this morning, the conversation extended over all of the aspects of the counter-ISIL campaign that are involved in the defeat of ISIL, which include not only the military campaign, which we're obviously responsible for, but homeland security, law enforcement. Director Comey and Attorney General Lynch were there. Intelligence, very importantly diplomacy and all the other aspects that -- Treasury, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was there because finances of ISIL are an important thing to target and eliminate.

So it was a whole of government, as the expression goes, approach. A very productive meeting. And with that, thank you once again for coming along and let me take some questions.

Lita. No, please go ahead. It's your microphone.
Q: On that specific note, can you give -- talk to us a little bit in detail about what coalition partners you hope to be talking to this week and what are the types of things you expect to get from them, specifically since we understand that there is a pretty significant increase in aircraft coming out of Incirlik? Are there other places and other locations where you think other either aircraft or other -- other troops or other things can go? And in particular, can you address what you want to do in Turkey?

SEC. CARTER: Yes. Let me start with the coalition part. First, there are lots of different kinds of contributions that coalition partners can make. You mentioned contributions to the air campaign. Those contributions themselves are various. They can be strike aircraft, they can be ISR, they can be support, like tankers, they can be transport aircraft.

So that's, in the area of the air campaign, a lot that others can do. But that's just a start. We look for them to augment our train, advise and assist mission. We look to them to advise our efforts to control borders and to assist, for example, just to take a non-Turkish example, the Jordanian border, which we've worked very hard with the Jordanians. There are things that others can do to assist us there.

Basically Lita, we're looking for contributions that draw on the distinctive strengths of individual countries so that they have a comparative advantage and they can see the distinctive and important role that they can play, and they can explain that to their publics and get support.

You know, since I wrote my letters to a number of coalition ministers of defense, there have been discussions within various coalition countries about this. That's a good thing, even as there are discussions in our country about our own contributions. If you think about the Afghan model, Afghanistan, for example, different countries made different kinds of contributions, either in different geographies or different functional areas according to their particular skills and national characteristics.

So for example, again, to take a non-Turkish example, I think that some of the Gulf countries could make very important contributions to encouraging and assisting Sunni communities subjected to ISIL rule to resist ISIL rule. Now, that's something that obviously they can do that it's harder for other countries to do.

So again, different countries are -- can make different kinds of contributions, and over this trip and in the subsequent weeks and months, I'll be asking them each to make the strongest, most robust possible contribution that they can and draw on their own comparative advantage.

Q: Does Turkey have a -- (inaudible)?

SEC. CARTER: Well, Turkey has an enormous role to play and then in their case too, we appreciate what they're doing. We want them to do more. They're hosting us at Incirlik airbase which is an extremely important contribution.

But there's more that needs to be done besides coasting our forces and other coalition forces. We want Turkish forces to join in the air and the ground and as appropriate. And also, very importantly, the single most important contribution that their geography makes necessary is the control of their own border.

Q: Thank you. Just to follow up on Lita's question about coalition contributions. In the past few weeks, there have been announces about new military steps by France and Germany, but we haven't seen the same kind of new military activities from some of the air partners, specifically, the gulf countries.

Are you going to be asking for and do you expect to secure new military steps or activities on behalf of the Gulf countries and are there specific things you're asking for?

SEC. CARTER: Yes, we'd like the Gulf countries to do more and yes, as in the case of all the coalition partners, we're giving them some specific ideas. Now, we want them to also be creative and think about what they can do, but in each of the cases in the letters I sent, I made some suggestions about things that I thought that they could contribute.

And by the way, your question wasn't exactly this but at occasion, something else that's important, which is that -- and it was discussed this morning at the National Security Council meeting, in addition to my asking ministers of defense how they could contribute to the military campaign.

There needs to be and there actually is an extensive outreach by my other colleagues to their counterparts in law enforcement, homeland security. We need more out of the coalition in those non-military areas as well.

There's much more that they can do to cooperate and even though I can't speak to those in then, this specific way I can to the military contribution. I realize I left that out and wanted to come back to that.

Q: Hi Mr. Secretary. One of the things that's been discussed extensively is the U.S. can do in terms of assets to bring to the fighters of these Apaches. But the Iraqis seem very ambivalent about making the request of the U.S. to receive these helicopters.

I was wondering if you could kind of speak to what you think they would bring to the fight. Are you going to be encouraging that while you're in the region and why are they so ambivalent?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the use of that kind of capability, either attack helicopters or anything else, depends very importantly, first of all, upon circumstances. You have to have circumstances in time and place wherein additional capabilities would make a distinctive difference, having basically a strategic effect.

And secondly, of course, anything we do in Iraq is subject to the concurrence of the Iraqi government. We operate that way because it's a sovereign nation and respecting the sovereignty of Iraq is something that we think is important because we don't want to, in anyway, encourage sectarianism in Iraq.

Which is what brought this circumstance of ISIL -- it was an important factor bringing it to pass in the first place. So it requires both circumstances that make the use of attack helicopters or anything else, decisive and a strategic effect. That is the circumstances in time and place and also the concurrence of the Iraqi government. Both of those.

Q: Hi, can you talk a little bit about cyber capabilities? You mentioned this last week in your testimony.

Can you talk about the importance of it in the fight? And also balancing that with intelligence gathering information, particularly on social media?

SEC. CARTER: Yes. The -- I was referring to the use of our Title 10 CYBERCOM forces as part of the military campaign. I think that's an important dimension of the campaign that we can use more.

That's different from the second part of your question, which is something that our law enforcement officials and our Homeland Security officials have discussed also. That's a separate matter; that has to do with the legal authorities here at home to detect plotting, radicalization -- now, that's an important part -- thing to do, but there's an important thing to balance, which is Internet freedom and Internet privacy, and so forth.

But that balance on the homeland front was not what I was referring to. I was referring to Title 10 use of CYBERCOM -- great use of CYBERCOM, and actually prosecuted the campaign.

Q: You said you would like to see more of it? What sort of things would you like to…

SEC. CARTER: You'll have to wait until we devise that, I'm not prepared to talk about that right now, but I gave you the characterization of what kind of capabilities I mean.

Q: Mr. Secretary, one area that has long been of concern has been this -- Manbij Pocket, this 98 kilometer border strip that you and others have long had an interest in closing.

Is the United States able to use, at this point in time, all of the air that it would like to use in that strip of -- in that border area? Are any of the Russian Federation's air operations in Northern Syria interfering with what you would like to do in that border strip?

And are any of the Syrian government actions interfering with what you would like to do in that area?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the Manbij Pocket is the name given to the one piece of the very long border between Syria and Turkey that has not been secured on the Syrian side yet by fighters opposed to ISIL.

So, it is an area of interest, of tactical and -- interest to us. Has been, has been the object of our air operations for a long time. And of course, one thing that's important to say about that, Michael, is that that is a border with Turkey, so an important part of securing that area is to secure the Turkish border in that area.

And with respect to the conduct of air operations there, we continue to conduct and strengthen air operations there. And in fact, in all of Northern Syria -- and by the way, also in -- in Southern Syria.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a lot of the changes that you have announced over the past month or so have involved, incrementally at least, putting more troops on the ground, and putting troops in harm's way a little bit more regularly.

Are you going to be talking to commanders during this trip about more of the same? To what extents are you going to talk to them about the option of building on that, and putting more troops on the ground?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I think we've made clear, and the president has made clear and I've made clear that if opportunities can be found, where U.S. advise and assist forces can make a difference, we're prepared to do that.

The president has shown that now on a number of occasions. And I just want to remind you that there are 35 -- sorry, 3,500 troops on the ground in Iraq. There are American troops on the ground.

And -- so, it's not a new part of our thinking to be looking for opportunities wherein we could have an important tactical or strategic effect by assisting others on the ground.

That's very consistent with our strategy and has been. And boots on the ground, per se, is not at all a new fact, given that, what I just said -- which is in just one country, namely Iraq, but a very important one, there are, actually a little bit more than 3,500 U.S. troops.

And by the way, on that note, given that there are troops on the ground in the Middle East, many, many of them -- I'd ask all Americans to take a moment, some time over the next few weeks as they're celebrating the holidays to remember these folks, keep in mind they are there, they are on the ground, and they're protecting us while many Americans enjoy their holiday.

So, with that, thank you all very much for coming.


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