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U.S. Department of Defense
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News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter December 19, 2015

Media Availability with Secretary Carter Aboard the USS Kearsarge

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: I just wanted to recap the last week. We've been to many of the locations from which this multi-axis attack on ISIL is going to be launched. As you know, I'm looking for ways to accelerate our campaign. We've identified a number of them in the course of travels to Iraq, to Turkey, even to Afghanistan yesterday. But this is a multi-mission trip, and this visit to the Gulf illustrates, first, the campaign against ISIL. I'll come back to that in the minute. But we can't forget there's a larger mission of deterrence, maintaining freedom of navigation, countering Iranian maligned influence. So these vessels here have a number of missions out here.

But countering ISIL is one of the reasons for our forces in this region. In that connection, it was very, very significant to me to be able to visit the Charles de Gaulle. That's the French vessel which has been participating in air strikes against ISIL, the first mission, and is now down here in the Gulf second mission, keeping the peace, deterring aggression, ensuring freedom of navigation here, during a period of time when there's not an American aircraft carrier here, there's a French aircraft carrier. And that shows you how close our cooperation is.

I had an opportunity this morning to speak to the French Defense Minister Le Drian, who allowed me to go aboard his vessel, and sadly wasn't able to be here himself. He's meeting with President Hollande at this moment in Paris, so he couldn't be here. But we talked this morning. And we are completely aligned with France on the mission of defeating ISIL, the need to do so in Syria and Iraq, France's willingness to do more as we do more, both in the air and on the ground and here at sea, and both militarily and politically, we and France are completely aligned.

And that's the way it should be. That's the way it has been. And I was very gratified to see that in action out aboard the Charles de Gaulle, which, by the way, is commanding Task Force 50 out here now. So it's -- no kidding, there are Americans who are subordinate to French command out here. That's how close our cooperation is.

So, with that, let me take your questions.

Q: Can you tell us about your call with the Iraqi prime minister?

SEC. CARTER: Oh, I'm sorry. I left that out. Yes. Yes, I also had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Abadi this morning. I was conveying our condolences on the loss of lives of Iraqi servicemembers last night. I explained to him our regrets, and he and I agreed that this was an event that we both regretted and that there would be an investigation of it, but that these kinds of things happen when you're fighting side-by-side, as we are, and we recommitted ourselves to that campaign against ISIL.

So this is a regrettable incident. We both know that. These things happen in war. And he and I both expressed regret over the incident and also determination to continue the campaign to expel ISIL from Iraqi territory.

Q: Was it an American...

STAFF: Hold on a second.

Q: Was it an American aircraft that did this?

STAFF: Let's go Missy first.

Q: Just a follow-up (inaudible) what do you know about the incident and how it occurred? And secondly, Prime Minister Abadi is already under pressure from some in the Iraqi political space who oppose American -- deepening American involvement in the campaign in Iraq. What's your response to the potential for this to increase that pressure on Prime Minister Abadi?

SEC. CARTER: Well, I wanted to assure Prime Minister Abadi that I was aware of this incident, that we regretted this incident. I don't want to go into it, because you never know whether you know all the facts of an incident from the beginning. But it has all indications of being a mistake of the kind that can happen on a dynamic battlefield between two forces, ours and Iraqi forces, that are working so closely together.

In a way, this is a sign of how closely we are working together. And an accident happened. It's tragic. I expressed our condolences. But he and I both recognize that things like this can happen in war.

Q: Yeah, but what about the political effect this could have in terms for Prime Minister Abadi who's already under pressure from some people who oppose the American military participation?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the government of Iraq and Prime Minister Abadi are committed, as we are, to an effective decentralized governance of a single state of Iraq, and that includes importantly the common mission of defeating ISIL. This shows the -- this incident shows that things happen in wartime, but also the closeness of our relationship on the battlefield, and then shared with Prime Minister Abadi, as well. And I hope Iraqis will understand that this is a reflection of things that happened in combat, but it's also a reflection of how closely we are working with the government of Prime Minister Abadi towards a common objective.

Q: So it was an American aircraft?

SEC. CARTER: It was an American -- that's the -- I want to be very careful. That's the information I have now. It seems to be the case and, again, seems to be a mistake that involves both sides, and regrettable. It happens when you're working this closely together.

Q: Can you...

Q: Can you just speak to Syria -- excuse me, Turkey has slowed down, if not stopped their own contributions to the air strikes in Syria since the downing of the Russian jet. Just wondered if you could respond to that. And are you pushing Ankara to resume their contributions to the air strike campaign in Syria?

SEC. CARTER: Well, Turkey has made some contribution to the air campaign, both in Syria and Iraq. They have dedicated the bulk of their air campaign to the PKK, which is a group that we recognize are terrorists, as well, but we've been urging Turkey to do more against ISIL. When they do operate, they're part of our ATO, so we welcome the contribution. Of course, as we're doing more, we're urging all our partners to do more, including Turkey. And Turkey has a special role to play not only in the air war, but they have a special role to play because they share a border with both Syria and Iraq, a border that has been exploited by ISIL to its own advantage.

So one of the things that we're looking to Turkey to do and we're helping them with is work more to secure their border. That's a principal contribution that Turkey can make.

Q: Are you getting closer on that point?


STAFF: All right, we have time for one last question.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. CARTER: No, I can say -- this is on border control?

Q: Yeah, are they getting closer?

SEC. CARTER: There have been steps taken -- and we welcome those steps, but there are more steps that could be taken.

Q: Sir, your mission coming out here was to find accelerants to speed up the campaign. The only one I can think of is you agreed to accelerate some of the arms -- provision of arms to the Kurds, the two (inaudible) going to happen sooner than it might have otherwise. What new accelerants did you able to lock in as this trip?

SEC. CARTER: In addition, there are...

Q: Look to the camera, sir.

SEC. CARTER: Oh, I'm sorry. There are additional steps that we're prepared to take in the air. I was discussing that with the French today. I'd like to go to the details of those. There are additional steps involving special forces, involving training and equipping both Iraqi forces and Syrian forces. So you've seen some of the things we're doing. You haven't seen everything we're doing.

And there's going to be more to come, because one of the reasons I came here was to make sure that our commanders all the way down to the tactical level know that we're looking to them to find tactics and operational approaches to the defeat of ISIL, and when they do, let them know that we are behind them and they will receive approval and the resources to carry out those initiative steps. So there are going to be a lot of accelerants in this campaign.

STAFF: All right, thanks, everyone. Thank you. Got to get to a (inaudible) meeting.

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